Paolo Cherchi Usai, general editor, The Griffith Project.
D. W. Griffith. Biograph Shorts. Special edition, David Shepard and Bret Wood, producers. New York: Kino Video, 2002. 376 minutes including bonus shorts. DVD. $29.95.
The Griffith Project was organised in 1996 under the joint sponsorship of the Cineteca del Friuli, the British Film Institute, the Library of Congress, New York's Museum of Modern Art, and the George Eastman House, and was commissioned by the annual Pordenone Silent Film Festival. The purpose of the project was to recover, conserve, and annotate 'all of the films where D. W. Griffith was credited as director, actor, writer, producer and supervisor' (Cherchi Usai, vol. 9, vi) in conjunction with a chronological exhibition at Pordenone (1997-2008) of as many as possible of the hundreds of Griffith films that survive. Drafts of the project's critical essays served as programme notes at the festival, thereby inviting comments and questions from other scholars before final revisions and publication in the dozen volumes reviewed here.
Aware that I was reading the volumes of The Griffith Project for this review, a theatre historian friend asked me, 'So where do we [progressive-thinking liberals] stand on him now'? This is the elephant in the parlor: D. W. Griffith's 'masterpiece maudit' (Keil, vol. 8, 62), The Birth of a Nation, looms so large that many people sidestep Griffith entirely or merely acknowledge his contributions in popularising (if not always inventing) techniques that have become classic film structure. They are uneasy engaging with him as a subject of study. Only a decade ago the Director's Guild of America renamed its highest honor--which had been created as the D. W. Griffith Award--because of the offensiveness of Griffith's racial stereotypes and the abhorrent and harmful ways in which (unconnected with Griffith) The Birth of a Nation was used after its release in 1915 as a rallying film by the Ku Klux Klan and, into the 1950s, revived by segregationist groups or communities. (1) Defending, explaining, or analysing Griffith's merits and continuing the use of his name as a measure of greatness had become too complex an issue outside the film industry, the D. G. A. believed, and even within its own organisation.
Engaging with racism, ethnic stereotypes, and gender prejudice, theatre historians, when examining uncomfortable areas of performance studies--like minstrel and Tom shows, ethnic acts in vaudeville, and sexist or homophobic portrayals of gender--often have been able to displace their discussions from head-on involvement with the offensiveness of the content, stereotypes, and people and culture that produced them and focus, instead, on the tensions between transgressive artists and the negative societal messages they played against, thereby presenting to our modern sensibilities historical people we can root for against a past that we are unable to relate to or that makes us ashamed. This cannot be done with Griffith. His films are alive and immediate in a way that past theatrical performance is not, and in a number of them we have to witness and react to portrayals that repulse us but often were accepted as true, or at least palatable, by the majority of people who originally attended them.
'Otherness' and questions about tolerance, acceptance, and reconciliation were themes that continually occupied Griffith and permeate his work, not only in his defensive or amends-making post-The Birth of a Nation films such as Intolerance (1916)--titled in its preview, The Downfall of All Nations, or Hatred the Oppressor--and Broken Blossoms (1919)--in which, Russell Merritt points out, there are allusions to 'the dark side of American provincialism' and 'racial bigotry is a target for bitter reproach' (vol. 9, 214)--but also from the beginning of his career, as can be seen on the Biograph Shorts DVD by Kino. For instance in The Massacre, a 1912 Western, the double-edged title refers to an unprovoked and pointedly unjustified slaughter of an 'Indian village' by the U.S. Cavalry, as well as the retaliatory attack of a wagon train by the Native American survivors; Griffith's sympathetic shots of a Native American family, which mirror those of a pioneer family, and the actions of a main character before the military's assault suggest a critique of U. S. policy beyond the particulars of the film's plot (Simmon, vol. 6, 89). Similar to Ibsen although perhaps less nuanced, Griffith also 'flips' or 'inverts' situations from film to film. Merritt brings this up in his entry for The Idol Dancer (1920), one of 'Griffith's cheesiest products', describing the film's portrayal of miscegenation as flipping that in The Birth of a Nation to a 'relaxed attitude toward racial co-mingling' (vol. 10, 64-65). Tom Gunning writes of Griffith 'exploring the new possibilities of a new device' in his discussion of Death's Marathon (1913)--included on the Kino DVD--as an inversion of The Lonely Villa (1909) and in the context of Andre de Lorde's Grand Guignol one-act, The Last Torture, and Au Telephone (vol. 7, 59-60). Viewers of Biograph Shorts can compare inversions of greed in The Usurer (1910) (2) and The Miser's Heart (1911). The opening intertitles introduce the theme of the former as 'WINE DISTILLED FROM THE BLOOD OF UNFORTUNATES ... VIANDS PAID FOR WITH THE TEARS OF THE NEEDY', where the latter film's theme is 'HOW WEALTH IS MEANINGLESS WHEN DANGER THREATENS LOVED ONES'. Although this is not indicated explicitly, would audiences of the early teens have identified H. Ryker, the rich and heartless moneylender in The Usurer (1910), and character-actor Adolph Lestina's kindly, tenement-dwelling miser in The Miser's Heart (1911) as Jewish? Is Griffith also portraying, then reversing an anti-Semitic stereotype? If we dismiss Griffith, we dismiss the complexities of prejudice and the ways in which society in the U. S. (and elsewhere) grappled with 'otherness' in the early decades of the twentieth century--horribly and viciously at times, but also inconsistently, curiously, and aware of the kind of exceptions that eventually and cumulatively would prove bigotries false. We also lose a valuable resource not only for social study, but also with which to examine dramatic forms, character types, acting techniques, and stage practices that co-existed and were incorporated in early film, and which invigorated Griffith's later work and provided grounding structures to which he returned constantly--to be embraced, reshaped, dismantled, or opposed.
Film historians do not dismiss D. W. Griffith; they hold him accountable for his views while holding early-twentieth-century culture accountable as well, contextualising Griffith's work with that of other filmmakers, playwrights, writers, and artists, and exploring how early film embodies the social attitudes of the early twentieth century.3 Film historians cannot dismiss Griffith. His expertise, talent, and worldwide influence on motion picture development cannot be ignored. Nor can the sheer volume of his work that survives. Griffith's career came to a close just as institutional efforts were begun to preserve silent films; even with these efforts, the survival rate of early films generally ranges between ten and twenty per cent of all films made. Remarkably, nearly all of Griffith's films are still extant, although not necessarily in their original forms or entirety. With well beyond 500 films distinguishing him as one of cinema's most prolific directors--over 200 for which he wrote the screenplays--and a myriad of credits as a film producer, supervisor, editor, actor, composer, designer, and invention patentee--the output of David Wark Griffith during his film career is staggering. We can add to his resume an early (less successful) apprenticeship in the theatre as an actor and playwright, as well as an active public role for many decades of the twentieth century as an authoritative voice in discussions about motion pictures, their place in the arts, and censorship.
Although D. W. Griffith and his work have been the subjects of hundreds of journal articles and books, it is only in the volumes of The Griffith Project that, one by one, the films are examined and discussed in one place. A distinguished team of forty researchers, providing insights nuanced by their diverse areas of expertise, has contributed to this ambitious reference collection, verifying 'the filmographic information published in modern scholarly books and essays with the data gathered from primary sources and, whenever possible, through the analysis of the prints viewed' (Cherchi Usai, vol. 9, vi). The first ten volumes are comprised of 633 film entries (including newsreels and home movies), spanning 1907-1946; volume 11 is devoted to a selection of Griffith's writings, including the scripts of two plays, A Fool and a Girl (1906) and War (1907); while volume 12 is an edition of essays about D. W. Griffith written by members of the project team and other invited scholars.
The general editor of this massive undertaking is the silent film historian and preservationist, Paolo Cherchi Usai, whose credits at the time of publication included Director of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, director and co-founder of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman House, co-founder of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, and author of notable articles and books on early cinema, including David Wark Griffith (2008). Cynthia Rowell, assistant/co-editor with Cherchi Usai, was trained in film preservation at the Selznick School and currently produces DVDs for New Yorker Films.
The film backgrounds of the forty contributors are varied, which makes their scholarly essays especially interesting. Like the editors, Scott Simmon has a background in film preservation and restoration, as has Kevin Brownlow; Brownlow and Stephen Bottomore each have experience as producers of documentary films, which has shaped their perspectives and approaches as film historians. Similarly, Karen Latham Everson has been an independent filmmaker, as well as an archivist, and joins film historians Eileen Bowser, Cooper C. Graham, Steven Higgins, Richard Koszarski, Patrick Loughney, Mike Mashon, Roger Smither, and Paul Spehr in their hands-on involvement with original sources in service as curators and archivists for the Library of Congress, George Eastman House, Museum of Modern Art, American Museum of the Moving Image in the U. S., and the Imperial War Museum Film and Video Archive in the U. K. Musicologists/orchestral conductors Gillian B. Anderson and Philip C. Carli bring experience in film score reconstruction and silent film accompaniment to the project. Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film's former editor, David Mayer--long interested in film and theatre influence/confluence/interstices--contextualizes Griffith's cinematic work in theatrical traditions, and his excellent entries detailing theatrical sources for films in The Griffith Project led to his publication of Stagestruck Filmmaker (2009). Film scholar David Robinson is director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Two doctoral students, promising to the field of film, Claire Dupre la Tour and Philippe Gauthier, contribute research on intertitles and film editing. William M. Drew, Scott Eyman, and Joyce Jesionowski, independent scholars and writers about silent film and D. W. Griffith, join their academic counterparts, as does the pop culture specialist, the late Francis Lacassin. The remaining contributors are well-known as film historians associated with major film studies programmes in colleges and universities internationally; many are responsible for introducing the study of early cinema as a discipline and their critical work on silent film and Griffith has been foundational: Richard Abel, Ben Brewster, Harold 'Rusty' Casselton, Helmut Farber, Andre Gaudreault, Lee Grieveson, Tom Gunning, Sumiko Higashi, Lea Jacobs, J. B. Kaufman, Charlie Keil, Arthur Lenig, Russell Merritt, Charles Musser, Jan Olsson, Kristin Thompson, Yuri Tsivian, and Linda Williams. Some contributors served as fact-checkers and experts for only a few entries or for a limited number of volumes. Bowser, Brewster, Gunning, Higgins, Jacobs, Jesionowski, Kaufman, Keil, Mayer, Merritt, Simmon, and Thompson deserve recognition for their participation in half or more of the volumes.
Besides applauding the years-long work of the scholars, interns, student assistants, film festival organisers, and archivists who saw this project through, my point in drawing attention to the names and backgrounds of the contributors and editors is to suggest we take the Griffith Project as a model and an inspiration for collaborative work in terms of scope and scale, in gathering a group of specialists from related but different areas of interest to examine material that links them, and in creating a discussion that readers may share. Perhaps we may do more than share, actively engaging by offering our own expertise to the discussion. In his foreword to volume 12, Paolo Cherchi Usai writes that the questions raised and issues 'only introduced or barely mentioned' arising from the research for The Griffith Project could 'fill several more volumes ... but we are confident that what we have called the "Griffith Project" will continue--at the Giornate [Pordenone Silent Film Festival] and elsewhere--with more research and newly found or preserved prints' (vii). The Griffith Project entries embody this spirit of open-ended research and collaboration. Refreshingly, Cherchi Usai allows the reader to view the process of interactive study and discernment that comes with the multiple viewpoints in a group endeavor. A large number of the entries have more than one contributor. Excerpts from correspondence are included or amended in editor's notes in instances where questions have arisen or contradictory information found. The scholars do not always agree on information or interpretations. Definitiveness and consensus are not the point of the project; instead, inquiry is respected as the foundation for--and spur to--ongoing exploration of the material. The inquisitive reader, then, will consult The Griffith Project not only for its solid research, but also for its sketched trajectories.
Designed as a reference tool, rather than an integrated historical work, these twelve volumes are not the type of books the reader is likely to study cover to cover or consecutively. Granted, a rough narrative emerges, following the steps and stages of Griffith's career and growth as a director, as well as stages involving technological advances in filmmaking and organizational practices of the motion-picture business, varying presentation styles and formats, and changes in audience tastes, so there is a general connectedness to the entries that is unlike a film or theatre encyclopedia. Developments become apparent in the analysis of one film after another, as time is seen to progress--as Griffith learned his trade, technology generated new methods and approaches to filmmaking, entrepreneurs discovered new markets and streamlined the motion picture industry, and culture embraced and made demands upon the medium. At the same time, these skeins of progression do not constitute a deliberate, interwoven development of a through-line. Each entry in The Griffith Project is focused on a single film and its unique set of circumstances, problems, or offerings. In many (but not all) of The Griffith Project entries, an effort has been made to summarise the films' critical literature. Some of Griffith's motion pictures receive scholarly assessment for the first time in these volumes. Occasionally, in entries where there are multiple authors, information is repeated; a greater degree of consultation and planning among the editors and contributors could have tightened these entries' cumulative effect. Also, since there is no standard guideline for the content of the critical analyses, the researcher hoping to find in one entry a specific type of information found in another might be disappointed. However, that which on one hand may be seen as a disadvantage, on the other hand may be viewed as a treat: the scholar who delights in details unique to the special interests of the contributing critics will be pleased.
The films, catalogued in volumes 1-10, are arranged in shooting order, instead of by their release dates (which sometimes were delayed after films were completed--even for years, such as for The Massacre [Simmon, vol. 6, 87]). These numbers also are used in the indexes at the back of the volumes, where a bibliography for each volume is found. Entries include:
* the program sequence (shooting order) number and production company name, located in the upper right-hand corner of the entry's first page, which makes it easy to flip through pages to locate titles.
* filmographic information, which is more detailed than in many databases and catalogues. Besides script sources, cast, crew, length, copyright, and distribution information, there is (attractive for research purposes) a list of the archival sources of the films and--in an increasing number of cases beginning with Judith of Bethulia in 1913--specially composed musical scores. Additionally supplied are data (when available/ applicable) regarding location shooting sites and filming dates, previews and premieres, names of historical advisors for several of the period films, and Cherchi Usai's editor's notes with interesting informational tidbits that are extraneous to the critical analysis of the film.
* a plot summary from a historical source--such as film company bulletins, copyright submissions, or entertainment trade magazines.
* a plot synopsis based on the entry writer's personal viewing of the film, which was possible for the majority of entries.
* analysis of the film, often including references to major critical works, as well as period articles.
Most entries are two to five pages in length, but entries run from one page--for most of the newsreels and 'home movies'--to over sixty for Intolerance and The Birth of a Nation. Other major films, such as Orphans of the Storm (1921), Way Down East (1920), and Sally of the Sawdust (1925), also are examined in depth.
Because the volumes of The Griffith Project were published over many years, the indexes are limited to the film entries in a given volume and the cumulative entries up to the point of publication. This can be frustrating if you know the name of a film but not, offhand, the year that shooting was completed. Fortunately, in volume 10 all of the films are listed alphabetically, so this is the best index to consult, covering the years 1907-1946. Besides selected writings of Griffith, half of volume 11 is devoted to corrections and to lists: the (merely!) fifteen lost fiction films plus a 'home movie' of Lillian Gish and David Belasco, as well as Gish in a Liberty Loan appeal; films that were not available for viewing by the contributors; films formerly attributed to Griffith; and films about Griffith or containing footage from his films. Additionally, volume 11 has an index of The Griffith Project's entry contributors and a useful 115-page index of film credits for production personnel. Regrettably, there is no general index to locate other names, subjects, and films mentioned in multiple entries. Locating these cross-references, then, is a matter of guesswork and chance.
The lengthy critical analysis for Intolerance may serve as an example of the variegated interests of The Griffith Project's multi-scholar approach. Russell Merritt's section, 'Production and Distribution', outlines the history of the film's releases; Griffith's ten years of editing, which continued after the opening of the film in an effort to make this spectacular pageant coherent to audiences who were stunned, thrilled, and confused by the film's four inter-cut stories; his changes to the musical score; the film's complex road-show that featured a 'forty-piece orchestra and chorus ... a specially-designed lighting system to tint the screen various colors, and a baggage carload of sound-effects machinery', including explosives, all of which involved 134 people 'in the theatre presentation' (vol. 9, 42); and Griffith's excerpting of two of the original stories to create separate films with 'road-show attractions': The Mother and the Law and The Fall of Babylon, which was presented with 'an elaborate prologue and live acts interspersed between movie sequences' (vol. 9, 44). 'Narrative Structure', Tom Gunning's essay, involves a discussion of how 'parallel editing between stories in Intolerance performs a variety of roles ... including dramatic paragraphing, creating suspense, as well as drawing ideological contrasts or parallels' (vol. 9, 49), how 'he also maintains a sense of human behavior persisting beneath the monumental' (vol. 9, 51), and how the editing of the separate story segments relate to the film as a whole. Having applied computer technology (Cinemetrics, a software program) in researching his piece, 'Editing', Yuri Tsivian analyzes shot lengths and cross-cutting frequency--presenting quantifying data in graphs to further the discussion begun by Gunning. In 'Style and Technique', Charlie Keil examines how--in framing his shots--Griffith set up distinctly identifiable narrative spaces for each of the stories of Intolerance while linking them with echoes of technique and imagery. In 'Performance and Characterization', Joyce Jesionowski finds tension between the 'monumental space' of the sets and scope of the film and the actors' communication of an 'internal life' for each of their characters (as conveyed facially in 'the Griffith style' and in '[f]acial and body distortions' that she terms as 'nearly expressionist' [vol. 9, 63, 69]); added to this is the challenging mix of acting styles employed in the film: a combination of metaphoric image (Lillian Gish rocking the cradle), modern dance and mass spectacle (the Babylonian story), archetypal religious representation (the Judean Story), histrionic period acting (the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre story), and 1910s realism (the modern story). Gillian Anderson and Philip Carli, in 'Music', discuss the struggles between Griffith and his original composer for the film, Joseph Carl Breil, to agree on an approach to composition, since Griffith micromanaged all aspects of the film's production and presentation as his Gesamtkunstwerk. Contributor Claire Dupre la Tour, in 'Intertitles', traces changes in the wording of dialogue and narrative intertitles during Griffith's prolonged reediting process, and she looks at practical, thematic, and symbolic aspects of their visual appearance. In a second essay for the Intolerance entry, 'Archaeology', Yuri Tsivian contextualizes the design for the Babylon sequence in terms of museum sources and historical texts, nineteenth-century 'orientalist' painting, contemporaneous Italian epic films, and 'the folk Egyptology of everyday trivia' of the 1910s; additionally, he revisits the topics of modern dance and, in some detail, the prologues of Intolerance and The Fall of Babylon (vol. 9, 94-96). Finally, in 'Critical Reception', Scott Simmon reviews reactions to the film, which were mixed in its own time yet were more favorable as modes of viewing and understanding became increasingly multi-layered in the twentieth century. (4)
The road show and prologue information of the Intolerance entry touches upon my own interest in stage-and-screen multi-media performance--an interest that fuels my hope that other theatre/dance/popular entertainment scholars will be enticed to study the relationships of the performing arts and film, particularly during the period of film's infancy, when motion-picture structures, presentation formats, venues, distribution, etc., underwent a great deal of experimentation, much of which drew upon practices already established by other arts and entertainments, some of which involved various types of intermedial experimentation, and far too little of which has been accurately accounted as joint history. Interdisciplinary research burgeoned in the 1970s when popular culture became a subject of exploration for historians in the performing and filmic arts. The study of film history has retained an interdisciplinary focus, particularly with pre-cinema and early film research, and in certain areas its scholars are leading discussions that would benefit from an interchange with theatre and dance historians. One of these encompasses film acting: its connection to a nineteenth-century 'pictorial' or 'histrionic' mode of performance and how this transformed before the camera. Contributors to The Griffith Project reference Ben Brewster and Lea Jacobs' discussion of 'pictorial' style in Theatre to Cinema (1997) and Roberta E. Pearson's discussion of the 'histrionic' mode in Eloquent Gestures (1992); these authors ask superb questions, but tend to group periods together, as well as formats like melodrama, in which acting styles varied widely. David Mayer's essay, 'Acting in Silent Film: Which Legacy of the Theatre?' in Alan Lovell and Peter Kramer's Screen Acting (1999) begins to address the nuances that must be understood to analyse film acting more accurately, and with Carrie J. Preston's article, 'Posing Modernism: Delsartism in Modern Dance and Silent Film', in the May 2009 issue of Theatre Journal, another interdisciplinary link is added to this chain of discussion. However, for the conversation to flourish, input is needed from additional scholars, from a variety of disciplines, who have specialised knowledge of Victorian and early-twentieth-century performance.
In The Griffith Project there is much to pique interest on this subject. For example, the contributors describe acting performances with great sensitivity, and in detail, throughout the entries; Linda Williams' essay, 'Surprised by Blackface: D. W. Griffith, Blackface, and One Exciting Night' (vol. 12, 122-139), is a solid contribution to portrayals of race; and--although Griffith's film of Paul Armstrong's play no longer exists--in 'Microbes, Animals, and Humans: The Escape and the Politics of Undesirable Breeding' (vol. 12, 69-82), Jan Olsson presents some fascinating information, such as the cast's exercise in character preparation: Blanche Sweet and Mae Marsh roomed in a New York settlement house, and Donald Crisp and Robert Harron studied 'types' by living in a Lower East Side neighborhood. (5) In his entry for The Joneses Have Amateur Theatricals (1908), Richard Koszarski muses,
It is curious that the many commentators who have addressed acting styles in Griffith's Biograph films have apparently never considered his view of 'amateur' performance practice in this film. The untutored players here resort to the very broad declamatory gestures which later generations of viewers would characterize as either 'overacting' or 'gestural soliloquy', depending on their point of view. Despite the fact that this is a farce, the performances seen here outside the amateur production are fairly restrained, making Griffith's relative opinions of these varying performance styles fairly clear (vol. 1, 190).
Of course, it is by viewing the films that fresh observations like Koszarski's will be made, and Kino Video's Biograph Shorts is an appealing place to begin, with twenty-three of Griffith's films from 1909-1913, the years immediately following his failed stage career. David Shepard, film preservationist and historian, has produced the main films on this two-DVD set, (6) which also features supplemental shorts produced by filmmaker Bret Wood. (7) Shepard's archival work of more than forty years and restoration of over 150 classic films for video and digital media, in this volume of Kino's 'Griffith Masterworks' collection, (8) results in remarkably clear copies of the films arranged in a selection that demonstrates, in stages, Griffith's discoveries as he acquires technical control over his medium and finds his way in directing actors--the haunting shots evocative of Millet's paintings in A Corner in Wheat (1909), (9) early variations on cross-cutting and parallel editing for surer storytelling and indicating character interaction, the development of his ingenious blocking of crowds (it is amazing how much information and movement Griffith can pack into a shot while retaining focus on a scene's primary action), and so on. The graphic work on the discs' menus is clever, taken from (or written in the spirit of) period trade bulletins and advertisements. The appealing musical arrangements and performances by Robert Israel, Jon C. Mirsalis, and the Biograph Quartet support the moods and action of the films and respectfully convey a sense of the time period. If I might offer an observation a la Koszarski, notice the three styles of acting in Those Awful Hats--a moving-picture substitute for the pre-show lantern slide request for millinery removal familiar to audiences of 1909. The first style is used for the main gag--the film's snowballing comic 'bit'--where women appear in a movie theatre wearing ever-larger, view-blocking creations on their heads until the claw of a dredging machine comes down from the ceiling to remove the most monstrous hat (and the struggling woman attached to it). This business is played in the sloppy, unfocused, everyone-moving-around-at-the-same-time-trying-to-be-funny manner soon to be associated with Mack Sennett, who is one of the actors in the scene (and I would wager had a hand in directing it). In the background of this focal action, two motion pictures play consecutively on a screen as films-within-a-film (thanks to an inventively produced matte shot). (10) The first of these displays a second style of acting in a society drama rendered with flair and blocked as if for the stage. The action of the second film-within-a-film takes place at a theatrical audition (how interesting to see this portrayed!) where seated entertainers wait until they are called upon to perform; this probably was meant to represent a light comedy, but here the third style of acting is considerably more restrained than that of the foreground action of hat mayhem erupting in the auditorium.
Acting styles in film is only one point from which to begin interdisciplinary research for performance historians, to hold discourse, and perhaps to initiate multi-scholar projects with film historians. Likewise, D. W. Griffith is merely one of many American film directors and producers whose careers had roots in the theatre--e.g., J. Searle Dawley; William Selig; Jesse Lasky; Thomas, Ralph, and John Ince; Mack Sennett; Cecil B. and William De Mille; J. Stuart Blackton--and theatre directors and producers who made films--David Belasco, the Shuberts, William Brady, Daniel Frohman, Klaw and Erlanger--let alone the performers, designers, stage mechanics, stage managers, choreographers, and writers who crossed one-way or back and forth, from one medium to the other. The Griffith Project might serve us not only as a source of reference, but also of motivation.
(1) This occurred across the United States. In my own home borough, Lansdowne (a closely neighbored suburb of Philadelphia), in 1955 the local movie theatre emphasized a change in its management by hosting a benefit movie for the NAACP's Freedom Fund. The previous manager had rented the theatre 'to several conservative groups, which often sponsored speakers from the John Birch Society' and had run The Birth of a Nation months earlier. David Bjorkgren, "Yesterday's Papers/Facts and Fancies," News of Delaware County, August 31, 2005, 22.
(2) The ending of The Usurer on Kino's Biograph Shorts DVD differs from that viewed and described by Charlie Keil in his entry for this film (vol. 4, 153-156). In Kino's version, debts are forgiven after the usurer's suffocation in his own vault, and promissory notes are returned to their owners on the directive of the usurer's sister, as indicated in an intertitle. Keil (who also identifies the woman as the usurer's wife) sees the widow taking 'solace in the wealth ... left behind' with the implication that 'the usurer's legacy will not end with his death'. Obviously, the Kino version included an extra shot, where one of the promissory notes was returned, which changes the tone and meaning of the film. Bret Wood produced this particular film for the Kino DVD, supplementing the body of films produced by David Shepard, who is well-known for silent film restoration. As a speaker at Millersville University (Millersville, Pennsylvania, November 7, 2009), Shepard addressed the practical need at times of commercial restorers to make choices about what material to include from existing (and accessible) negatives or prints, and he spoke as well about additions he had made writing subtitles to make surviving film footage comprehensible (his example was for Keaton's The Playhouse ). Questions arise as to whether intertitles were added to the Kino copy of The Usurer by restorers, whether the intertitles were original or from a variant print, and where the happy ending shot is located (in a private collection?). Variations in prints are often part of the puzzle of film research.
(3) See, for example, the multi-authored entry for The Birth of a Nation (vol. 8, 50-112). Since The Birth of a Nation is highlighted in other reviews in this issue, I mention it only as a note in my own. Among the essays in this entry, J. B. Kaufman, in 'Distribution and Reception', describes the film's 'wide range of reactions in 1915' (vol. 8, 92-93) in the U. S. and abroad: its critical and financial success and the unprecedented response of people of all races that led to protests, meetings with censorship boards, court cases, and city- and state-wide bans of the film--many of these actions initiated and organized by the young NAACP. Linda Williams argues 'that Griffith forged a new kind of white supremacist melodrama out of two antithetical stories: one that was full of love for the sufferings and kindness of slaves that was inherited from Harriet Beecher Stowe (an attitude demonstrated clearly in His Trust  on the Biograph Shorts DVD) ... and one that was full of race hatred inherited from Thomas Dixon' ("Politics," vol. 8, 100-101), while, in 'Theatrical Sources', David Mayer traces dramatic treatments of the Civil War from amateur plays by veterans through professional reconciliation dramas to Dixon's The Clansman, explaining how--from the latter two--Griffith reconfigured characters, plot devices, and themes and gained 'a synergy ... by yoking together the two antagonistic dramas' (vol. 8, 86) in The Birth of a Nation. Mayer develops further the premises of this essay and explains in greater detail the workings and effects of the 'synergy' in two powerful chapters of Stagestruck Filmmaker: D. W. Griffith and the American Theatre (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2009), 120-165.
(4) Additional essays about Intolerance by Helmut Farber and Arthur Lennig are included in volume 12.
(5) Perhaps someone will address Roberta Pearson's suggestion that a research project be initiated by 'someone familiar with both Griffith and Stanislavski' regarding parallel developments in rehearsal methods! See Eloquent Gestures: The Transformation of Performance Style in the Griffith Biograph Films (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 160 n52.
(6) Those Awful Hats, The Sealed Room, A Corner in Wheat--1909; The Unchanging Sea--1910; His Trust--1911; The New York Hat, An Unseen Enemy, The Musketeers of Pig Alley, The Burglar's Dilemma, The Sunbeam, The Painted Lady, One is Business, the Other Crime--1912; The Mothering Heart, Death's Marathon, The Battle at Elderbush Gulch--1913.
(7) The Adventures of Dollie (Griffith's debut as a director)--1908; The Usurer--1910; Enoch Arden, The Miser's Heart, The Last Drop of Water--1911; Friends, The Lesser Evil, The Massacre--1912.
(8) See www.kino.com for the list of twelve films by Griffith and the 1993 documentary, D. W. Griffith: Father of Film directed by David Gill and The Griffith Project contributor Kevin Brownlow.
(9) Tom Gunning places this in the context of tableaux vivants in his entry for A Corner In Wheat (vol. 3, 132-133).
(10) See Kristin Thompson's description of how this was done in the entry for Those Awful Hats (vol. 2, 8).
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|Publication:||Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2010|
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