MOTOGRAPHY September 23, 1916.
Current Releases Reviewed
D. W. Griffith’s Beautiful and Stupendous “Sun Play.”
Reviewed by Thomas C. Kennedy.
The manifold wonders with which D. W. Griffith has endowed “Intolerance” sufficed to accomplish something in excess of merely fulfilling the expectations of the first-nighters at the Liberty Theater on Tuesday, September 5, when the new creation of the producer of “The Birth of a Nation” began its New York run. The audience assembled there was prepared to witness extraordinary and overpowering photographic effects and that their appetites, craving lofty and exalted exhibitions of the motion picture art, were sated speaks volumes in praise of “Intolerance.” So gigantic is “Intolerance” that the spectator’s attitude after seeing it is that of bewilderment. One is stunned by a scope and vastness which paralyzes the significance of sounding words and phrases even when written in a spirit of flushed enthusiasm. A work which consumed years in being brought to completion cannot be comprehended in its entirety in one reading, and it is difficult to detail the several miracles of this picture when they all combine to make one great impression whose features are blurred by their own dazzling brilliance. Cogitation upon what has been seen tends only to throw one into a state of wonderment at the fact that such a work could ever be accomplished, granting the ambitious one who conceived it all the time and money available to the most hale and ingenious of men.
“Intolerance” is entirely the work of D. W. Griffith. The idea upon which the picture is based and its visualization owe their being to him. The picture can not be likened to any other work designed for the theater. Pageantry so moving and of such magnitude is something new under the sun. Described as “a sun play of the ages,” “Intolerance” is given to showing that our present society may trace its ills to that evil which proved the source of disaster in every step or age in the history of man. In depicting this theme Griffith visualizes four separate stories. The fall of Babylon, the Crucifixion of Christ, the massacre of the French Huguenots and a modern melodrama. In his scenario Griffith pays little heed to the accepted dramatic forms, his aim being to show incidents in each of the four periods as they might occur to one reasoning along these lines of comparison. The plots are developed simultaneously, thus the spectator is carried by means of the switchback from the modern to the ancient period and from there to the religious or historical age as an even unraveling of the plot thread requires.
It would naturally be supposed that this manner of telling four separate stories would result not only in confusion to the spectator but also lessen noticeably the dramatic force of each. But in “Intolerance” this is not the case. For, odd as it may seen, one follows the story of each period with consummate ease and there is the most conclusive’ evidence to prove that the last ounce of dramatic effect has been wrung from the four plays treated. As a drama proceeding from the premise that civilization has been and is even now being retarded by the failure of one man to accept, or rather respect the opinions or principles of another, “Intolerance” can hardly be considered vital. We were no surer that intolerance was the one great evil after seeing “Intolerance” than before. Babylon, the mighty city which Griffith has really reconstructed and destroyed again, might have fallen before the sword of ambition as much as the poison of intolerance for all this portion of the picture proves to the contrary.
The Babylonian and the modern are the most striking of the four periods. Of the former all one can do is to bow one’s head and ponder at its colossal and thrilling spectacular effects and the latter is a thoroughly absorbing melodrama. But as far as the plays are concerned, it is quite probable that the same material and scenario construction if given into the hands of any other producer would fail to attain remarkable prominence over the best that the screen drama has already offered. “Intolerance” cannot fail to drive home the fact that Griffith is the supreme master of motion picture production. Also, if the scenario really worthy of his talents ever comes within his grasp, the world shall see the camera’s art completely sounded. And then new and greater treasures will be brought up from its vastly depths. But it is difficult to dwell upon “Intolerance” and remain calm and analytical of a story which holds together marvels of an undeniable allure. Those who do not make possible the opportunity to see it are guilty of an offense against their own welfare and good.
There is one scene whose magnificent and inspiring artistry is well worth a long journey and twice the price of the rent of the choicest seat to view. This is the beginning of the march of Cyrus’s Persian hordes in their second martial advance upon Babylon. The picture seems little more than a flash, but what a flash of grandeur it is. The battle scenes in this period are equally great in their power to thrill. Strictly as battle scenes they cannot be compared with those of any other film production. They take up the pace where the best of the others left off, and, to be sure, they travel far from this advanced starting point. The pictures of ancient Jerusalem stir emotions of a more ethereal nature. They are as gorgeous as those of Babylon, but theirs is a splendor of simplicity and spirituality as against the bizarre and awe-inspiring glamour of the edifices and passions of those mighty men of the world who are reincarnated in the ancient story told by “Intolerance.”
The artificiality and pomp of the court of Charles IX of France as well as scenes of the reign of terror on St. Bartholomew’s eve are reproduced in striking reality in the historical period. The modern story is quite as notable as the others. It rather bitterly attacks certain forms of organized charity in a play whose central characters are of the working class. Nor is this story without thrills. The enactment of the murder for which an innocent is sent to the very trap of the gallows is most intense. And the auto racing to catch a train carrying the only man with the power to stay the hand of a law about to be put to misuse brought the audience to the foremost reach of the theater chairs. But in accounting for the influences which make the modern period of “Intolerance” a play of intensely interesting properties the observer would prove himself quite lax were he to make no note of Mae Marsh’s acting. Just as “Intolerance” surpasses all previous attempts so too does Miss Marsh set a new standard for the greatest of the actresses who are to come to the screen by her performance here.
The innovations which Griffith has introduced are as numerous as they are astonishing. These new devices are abstractly referred to for the simple reason that one visit to the screen holding “Intolerance” is not sufficient to enable a reviewer to point out and describe the most typical instances.
by Thomas C. Kennedy 1916