- D.W Griffith American Film Master by Iris Barry – 1965
- With an annotated list of films by Eileen Bowser
- The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Film enthusiasts and scholars have come to regard this long out of print book as the chief source of information about a key figure in the development of the American film. It is now published in an edition that adds to the colorful observation of the original a wealth of illuminating factual data from Griffith’s personal and business papers.
D. W. Griffith: American Film Master first appeared in 1940 in conjunction with a pioneering retrospective exhibition of Griffith’s films at The Museum of Modern Art. As first curator of the Museum’s Film Library, Iris Barry had uncovered and re-examined the films Griffith made at the very beginning of his career, and it was she who first saw that in the four years following 1908 he had actually established all the principles on which the art of the motion picture as we now know it is based.
At the time of the exhibition Griffith had been inactive for many years, and even his acknowledged masterpieces like “The Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance” seemed to belong to remote history. It was Iris Barry’s hope to restore the fading fame of the “enigmatic and somewhat tragic figure” and to overcome the prevalent opinion which saw Griffith’s later films as less than art because they were made at vast expense for a mass audience. The book that she produced was an intensely personal one based on exhaustive conversations with Griffith and imaginative research into his Kentucky origins. That it received something less than a warm reception is reflective of how remote Griffith and his era must have seemed in 1940—even to people who thought of themselves as cultivated. Outside a small circle of film scholars it provoked little comment, and an abundant supply of copies of D. W. Griffith: American Film Master remained on the Museum’s shelves for years.
Time has certainly given Griffith his revenge for this period of comparative obscurity, and Iris Barry’s book has long had the acclaim that it deserves. In conjunction with a large new exhibition of Griffiths’ work, the Museum is reissuing her study supplemented by an addendum that more than doubles the size of the original work. This new section, which was prepared by Eileen Bowser, provides detailed annotation for all of Griffith’s films and includes new information on his career from documents that have only recently become available for scholarly use. In addition to comment ing on how each of the films came to be made and what it contributed to the medium, Mrs. Bowser presents new and enlightening facts about the complicated business dealings that having once put Griffith at the top of the movie industry may ultimately have forced him from it.
- The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street
- New York, New York 10019
- Distributed by Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, N.Y.