- D.W Griffith American Film Master by Iris Barry
- With an annotated list of films by Eileen Bowser
- The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Griffith had been absent from Hollywood almost two years when he returned after launching hearts of the world. His next important film was to be very different. From the large canvas he turned to an intimate photoplay based on The Chink and the Child,” a short story in Thomas Burke’s Limehouse Nights. Like most of Griffith’s films and all of his best ones, it carried a message. The earlier picture had been his contribution to war, but this fairy tale of nonresistance in opposition to violence spoke of international tolerance. The part of the London waif might have been made to measure for Lillian Gish and the choice of Richard Barthelmess as the Chinese boy was fortunate. Work went unusually smoothly and, after the customary period of rehearsal, the film was completed in eighteen days.
WAY DOWN EAST proved to be one of the most profitable pictures ever made. The master had once more turned the trick. The public was drawn to see an old favorite in a new guise and found its familiar melodramatic qualities heightened beyond expectation. While sticking faithfully to the bones of the play, Griffith had very rightly adapted it to suit the newer medium—notably at the beginning, by adding material to establish the background of the characters, and at the end to give full rein to the last-minute rescue, developed in purely visual terms and heightened through artful photography and cutting. It was a device which had seldom failed Griffith in the past and stood him in good stead now.
The first time Lillian Gish ever heard the words “film library” was when an English lady named Iris Barry asked her to use her influence to get D.W. Griffith to give her some of his films. At Lillian Gish’s suggestion, D.W. Griffith complied, and so began the film library at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In a similar fashion, Ms. Gish convinced Mary Pickford of the importance of preserving her Biograph films, which Ms. Pickford subsequently donated to the Library of Congress collection.