70 Years of Film History – 1976 – by Richard Lawton (PDF Download)

  • A World of Movies – 70 Years of Film History (1976) – by Richard Lawton
  • A Delta Special

Griffith began his film career with reluctance. A playwright and actor from the legitimate theatre, he was working at New York’s Biograph Studio out of necessity. (Theatre people considered movies “galloping tintypes” — a form of entertainment not likely to distinguish itself.) His first directorial effort. The Adventures of DoHie, followed the pattern set by Porter but was more successful. It led to a contract with Biograph at $1 00 a week. Griffith soon became interested in his work. He abandoned existing formulas and invented new ones. His cameraman, Billy Bitzer, would protest that something couldn’t be done— and Griffith would answer “That’s why we’ll do it.” In this manner, he advanced pictures from novelty to art form.

He photographed a scene from more than one setup. He brought the camera closer to his players (resulting in “half an actor” — disturbing to the front office, but accepted by the public). He timed shots for psychological effect. He focused on objects— or portions of players, such as their hands—to point up ideas. And he introduced a more natural acting style to fit the intimacy of the medium. Lillian Gish, in a recent interview, said Griffith “taught that you must not be caught acting. The audience won’t believe you if they catch you acting. You must be whatever [the character] is.”

The Birth of a Nation was a box-office hit. Intolerance— too complex for 1916 audiences— was not. In fact, Griffith spent years paying oft the debts of the latter. But the impact of both films on the future of the industry probably has no equal.

A world of Movies – 70 Years of Film History

Back to Lillian Gish Home page