First New York Showing of “Broken Blossoms” Is a Great Artistic Triumph – By Edward Weitzel, 1919

May 24, 1919 THE MOVING PICTURE WORLD

GRIFFITH OPENS HIS REPERTORY SEASON

First New York Showing of “Broken Blossoms” Is a Great Artistic Triumph for the Famous Director

By Edward Weitzel

Cohan Theatre Broadway-Times-Square-at-night-1911

George M. Cohan’s Theatre, Tuesday evening, May 13, D. W. Griffith set up another milestone on the moving picture’s road to full recognition as an art second to none.

He also established something new in the commercial standing of the screen by opening a repertory season during which three pictures will be shown in succession, each one affording a complete bill. “Broken Blossoms,” inaugurated the season. The showing was attended by representatives of the social and artistic life of the city and by nearly every prominent moving picture star, director and producer of the metropolis.

Broken Blossoms
Broken Blossoms

Hundreds of the general public were turned away. Inside the theatre the spectator was greeted with a Chinese atmoshphere in the decorations and the costumes of the ushers. The first note of the music, composed by Louis Gottschalk and D. W. Griffith, struck the same atmospheric theme and during the entire production kept to a high order of merit. The curtain went up on a full stage, seen dimly as grey draperies parted slowly and the weird Chinese wail of the orchestra kept up its subdued tones. Then followed a series of beautiful light effects that were novel and in harmony with the story to follow.

Broken Blossoms

A shrine to Buddha came slowly into view on the right; next, a couch upon which lay a young girl. At the back, a distant view of buildings that came and went as if by magic crept out of the darkness and as mysteriously crept back again. On the right, to the sound of Chinese musical instruments, a suggestion of the Orient made itself felt rather than seen. Most of the lighting came from tall candles that seemed never to glow and to die out as inexplicably as they appeared. The air of brooding mystery to the tableaux was a fitting prelude to the tragic story of “Broken Blossoms.”

Broken Blossoms
Broken Blossoms

Of the feature itself but one opinion was heard as the spectators were leaving the theatre : “Broken Blossoms” marks the highest altitude ever achieved by a moving picture. Adapted from a story by Thomas Burke, “The Chink and the Child,” in his “Limehouse Nights” tales, it takes rank with the class of literature that endures because of its truth and its clear insight into the soul of its subject. It is a tragedy as profound and relentless as ever has been written, and D. W. Griffith’s direction gives it a wondrous beauty by showing the flame of pure passion that burns in the midst of evil surroundings and lifts a little starved and beaten girl and a gentle heathen above the power of suffering and sin.

Broken Blossoms - Lillian Gish
Broken Blossoms – Lillian Gish

The entire daily press of New York unite in this opinion.

The Times : “A screen tragedy—not a movie melodrama with an unhappy ending—but a sincere human tragedy—that is what D. W. Griffith has had the courage and the capacity to produce. . . . This bare narration of the story cannot hope even to suggest the power and truth of the tragedy that Mr. Griffith has pictured. All of his mastery of picture-making, the technique which is preeminently his by invention and control, the skill and subletly with which he can unfold a story—all of the Griffith ability has gone into the making of ‘Broken Blossoms.’ Many of the pictures surpass anything hitherto seen on the screen in beauty and dramatic force.”

Broken Blossoms - Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish
Broken Blossoms – Richard Barthelmess and Lillian Gish

The Mail: “All of the fine skill of Mr. Griffith’s technique, all of the subtlety of his art, have answered his commands in the building of his picture drama. His story moves forward with the force and suspense of a Greek tragedy. ‘Broken Blossoms’ is the art of the photoplay revealed at the hand of the master of that art. It is Mr. Griffith’s greatest triumph.”

Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess in “Broken Blossoms” (Lucy Burrows and Cheng Huan “Chinky”)

Long continued applause brought the director in front o fthe curtain at the close of the showing. After thanking the spectators for their signs of approval he informed them that for the first time in their careers Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmass and Donald Crisp, the creators of the three leading characters, had come to New York to watch the premiere of a production in which they had taken part, and were out in front.

A detailed review of “Broken Blossoms” will be printed next week.

EDWARD WEITZEL.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess - Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – Broken Blossoms

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