Last Showing at Opera House for “Hearts of the World” (San Bernardino Sun, 1918)

  • San Bernardino Sun, Volume 48, Number 90, 13 June 1918
  • Last Showing at Opera House for “Hearts of the World”

Robert Harron, the Boy, and Lillian Gish, the Girl, have for this picture done the best work of their respective careers. As the daredevil American of the French troops, Robert Harron wins favor by his unostentatious bravery and Yankee pluck. He is the central figure in numerous hand-to-hand fights that for ferociousness are different from screen encounters heretofore shown.

Lillian Gish and Riobert Harron – Hearts of the World

There has been a very noticeably change in Miss Gish’s style of acting, and this is by far the greatest work she has ever done. Dorothy Gish, as the little disturber, a strolling singer, was applauded- almost every time she appeared on the screen, each time with more enthusiasm.

Dorothy as “The Little Disturber”

Dorothy Gish has been popular heretofore, but this play will make for her a niche in stardom few actresses have been successful in attaining. As the boy’s companions of the French company, Robert Anderson and George Fawcett were easily the other favorites of the male contingent of the big cast, while little Ben Alexander, age about four years, steps forth as an infant prodigy.

Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World

Those who saw “The Clansman” remember George Siegmann’s “Lynch,” and will find him giving a characterization equally as remarkable. His role is that of Von Strohm, the German secret service agent. Other former Griffith players seen to advantage in this most recent success are Josephine Crowell, Kate Bruce and Anna May Walthall.

Hearts of the World – Photo Gallery

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Defy Perils of War to Get Scenes Shown in “The White Sister” (Santa Cruz Evening News, 1924)

  • Santa Cruz Evening News, Volume 33, Number 107, 5 March 1924
  • Defy’ Perils of War To Get Scenes Shown In “The White Sister”

One of the most exciting and dangerous locations ever used in the making of a motion picture was visited by Henry King’s production unit of “The White Sister,” the .Metro Inspiration special, opening a two day’s engagement at the New Santa Cruz theater, today, in which Lillian Gish stars. It was necessary to get some desert scenes, and in order to do this the company was forced to go to Algeria, where the natives were warring on the Italian government. Under military guard night and day, the actors were constantly in danger of being attacked by wild Mohammedan, fighters. As if to emphasize the danger, they were incurring, the actors and mechanical staff were treated to the sight of a troop of Italian cavalry bringing into Tripoli, the capital city, 500 prisoners who had been captured in a severe engagement the preceding day.

The White Sister – behind the scenes

Have Pleasant Dreams

It was in the country where this battle had been fought that the actors were going to get color for the stirring scenes of the story dealing with the capture of the hero by Arabs. “We could not wait for the rebellion to end,” said Ronald Colman, who played the role of Giovanni, “and against the advice of Giuseppi Wolpi, the governor-general of the province, -we concluded to go out to our location on the desert forty miles from the capital city. So serious was the fighting that the city was surrounded by barbed wire entanglements. Owing to the co-operation of the Italian government, though, we were given a military escort, a battalion of 500 infantrymen and 150 native loyal camel-troops under command of officers were assigned to us.

The White Sister – behind the scenes

Taste of Real Thing

“It was most aweing to see the prisoners being brought in by the victors. It was a taste of real warfare. The prisoners were sullen and defiant. We took possession of the block house which, had been captured by the Italian troops and there for six days, constantly being disturbed by rumors of the approach of the insurrectionists -we shot all the scenes necessary. “Regular military discipline was maintained and every precaution taken to guard against surprise. Every day scouts from the camel troop pushed into the desert to make reconnaissance. It is most inspiring to see these ungainly beasts start out. They are used on the desert because horses can not stand the going of the sand. The camels make speed that seems incredible.  Warned of attacks, outposts were established and wire entanglements were stretched about our encampment. Several times we were warned that bands of insurrectionists were preparing to attack us, and the troops made ready for a desperate engagement, as the fanatical rebels defied death in their struggle against Italy. Detachments from our guard put a force to rout without firing a shot, as the rebels recognized the superior force. “All of us at one time or other have been locked out of our homes, but never before have I been locked out of a city. When we had finished our work in the desert we started back for the city. The journey of forty miles took longer than we had calculated. The gates of the city are locked at 9 o’clock and we found them locked against us on our arrival. We had to go back six miles to a block house and telephone in to have the gates opened for us.” “The White Sister,” by F. Marion Crawford, is a Henry King production, made by Inspiration Pictures, Charles H. Duell, Jr., president, and is released through Metro.

The White Sister – behind the scenes

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The Most Talked About Play in The World! (Napa Valley Register, 1928)

  • Napa Valley Register, Volume 111, Number 124, 17 April 1928
  • The Most Talked About Play in The World!

Here’s the Channing Pollock war play that set the whole world arguing. Powerful, moving, truthful its now a screen masterpiece you just can’t ignore. Drum-beats heart-beats; Gish’s finest triumph! LILLIAN GISH with RALPH FORBES

Based on the play by Channing Pollock. Adaptation by Willis Goldbeck. Continuity by Agnes Christine Johnston and ; Willis Goldbeck. Titles by John Colton.

The Enemy – Napa Valley Register Advert 1928

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HEARTS OF THE WORLD – Program

  • HEARTS OF THE WORLD
  • Opened at the 44th Street Theatre, New York, April 4, 1918. 12 reels.

Directed by D. W. Griffith; scenario by M. Gaston de Tolignac, translated into English by Capt. Victor Marier (both pseudonyms for D. W. Griffith); photographed by G. W. Bitzer; technical supervision by Erich Von Stroheim; music arranged by Carli Elinor and Griffith.

Hearts of the World (Paramount, 1918) – Herald

Cast:

  • The Grandfather – Adolphe Lestina
  • The Mother – Josephine Crowell
  • The Girl, Marie Stephenson – Lillian Gish
  • The Boy, Douglas Gordon Hamilton – Robert Harron
  • The Father of the Boy – Jack Cosgrave
  • The Mother of the Boy – Kate Bruce
  • The Littlest Brother – Ben Alexander
  • The Boy’s Other Brothers – M. Emmons, F. Marion
  • The Little Disturber – Dorothy Gish
  • Monsieur Cuckoo – Robert Anderson
  • The Village Carpenter – George Fawcett
  • Von Strohm – George Siegmann
  • The Innkeeper – Fay Holderness
  • A Deaf and Blind Musician – L. Lowy
  • A Poilu – Eugene Pouyet
  • A French Peasant Girl – Anna Mae Walthall
  • A Refugee Mile. – Yvette Duvoisin of the Comedie Frangaise, Paris
  • A French Major – Herbert Sutch
  • A Poilu – Alphonse Dufort
  • A Poilu – Jean Dumercier
  • Stretcher Bearers – Gaston Riviere, Jules Lemontier
  • A Poilu – Georges Loyer
  • A German Sergeant – George Nicholls
  • A Refugee Mother – Mrs. Mary Gish
  • Woman with Daughter – Mrs. Harron
  • Wounded Girl – Mary Harron
  • Refugee – Jessie Harron
  • Boy with Barrel – Johnny Harron
  • Dancer – Mary Hay
Hearts Of The World Press Book – The Bride Gish

Not credited on the original programs: Erich Von Stroheim as a Hun in several scenes, and Noel Coward as the Man with the Wheelbarrow and as a Villager in the Streets.

Publicity men created myths about the production of Hearts of the World, claiming that it consisted largely of on-the-spot recording of events. For the most part, Griffith recreated scenes which he witnessed or learned about first hand—Lillian Gish trying to guide her confused grandfather to safety as the village is bombarded; the orphaned children burying their mother’s body in the cellar. The only Americans who joined Griffith for filming in France and England were the two Gish girls and their mother, Robert Harron, George Fawcett, George Seigmann, Ben Alexander and his mother, and Bitzer with several assistants; even Von Stroheim was not hired until the company returned to California. The scenes in which other members of the Griffith company appeared must have been shot on the West Coast, and, though Griffith and Bitzer toured the front lines photographing action scenes, Griffith added stock footage later.

Download “Hearts of the World” – Program – in PDF version

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Icons of American Popular Culture [D.W. Griffith] – Robert C. Cottrell (2010)

  • Icons of American popular culture : from P.T. Barnum to Jennifer Lopez
  • Icons of American Popular Culture
  • Robert C. Cottrell
  • Copyright © 2010 by M.E. Sharpe, Inc.

A nation’s story can be captured in numerous ways. Historical accounts of economic developments, military conflicts, domestic debates, and natural disasters all help to shape images of a land and its people; but so too does an appreciation of the sublime and the ridiculous, the heroes and heroines, and fads and frivolities that make up the popular culture of a mass society. Popular culture in an advanced, industrialized country such as the United States reflects the intellectual, social, cultural, political, and demographic currents of the time. Using popular culture as a lens on history is enlivening and illuminating and recaptures something of the “lightning in the bottle” effect that characterizes particular individuals, events, and happenings. This is especially so with regard to the remarkable pantheon of American popular cultural figures, whose life stories, accomplishments, and difficulties often mirror those of the nation they represent. What follows is an admittedly abbreviated, subjective presentation of several of the most iconic individuals in American popular cultural history. Another historian undoubtedly would have chosen at least some other figures. This author reluctantly left out many personal favorites, including Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball, Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda, Richard Pryor, Angelina Jolie, and Tiger Woods, to name a few.

D.W. Griffith

Lillian Gish termed him “the father of film” and stated he “was the movie industry. It had been born in his head.” Charlie Chaplin considered Griffith “the teacher of us all.” Cecil B. DeMille declared that Griffith “taught us how to photograph thought,” while Orson Welles praised Griffith as “the premier genius of our medium.”

As American cinema flourished in the early twentieth century, its pace, style, and tenor increasingly influenced other popular cultural venues, including literature. The director of The Birth of a Nation offered techniques that authors soon emphasized, including fade-ins, fade-outs, close-ups, and flashbacks, all of which, of course, were not entirely new literary devices.

On January 22, 1875, David Wark Griffith was born in Crestwood, Kentucky, the fourth son of Mary Perkins Oglesby Griffith and Jacob Wark Griffith, a former colonel in the Confederate army. Jacob practiced medicine, fought in the Mexican War, joined the Kentucky legislature, and became a hero to Confederate forces. Griffith began to refine American cinema, assisted by cameraman G.W. Bitzer. Following the lead of Porter, notwithstanding claims to the contrary, the director began offering close-ups, camera movements, switchbacks (later called flashbacks), and fade-outs, while presenting a smooth, extended story line. Social messages crept into several of his films in keeping with the era’s progressive movement, which sought to address some of the worst injustices associated with industrial capitalism. Griffith offered films like A Corner in Wheat, which, drawing from Frank Norris’s novel The Pit, dealt with class divisions in American society, and The Musketeers of Pig Alley, an examination of the Lower East Side. He also directed films such as The Redman and the Child and The Battle at Elderbush Gulch that cast Native Americans in a favorable light. But those films were the exception, as Robert Skylar notes, with other Griffith works celebrating the rich and vilifying Indians. Lillian Griffith, Blanche Sweet, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Harron, and Henry B. Walthall appeared in his Biograph films, along with the previously undiscovered Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, and Dorothy Gish. While Griffith employed a star system, Biograph proved unwilling to feature those performers or the director himself, to his mounting dismay. Partially shot in Biograph’s new studio on 175th Street in the Bronx, Judith of Bethulia, Griffith’s final film for the motion picture company, starred Sweet, Lillian Gish, and 2,000 actors or extras, and required four reels.

Movies in America – Judith of Bethulia (Her Condoned Sin)

Griffith was envisioning a new film that would transform American cinema by its scope, grandeur, and ability to appeal to Americans of all classes. The storyline hearkened back to the Civil War and Reconstruction, times of glory and ruin for the Griffith family. In conjunction with childhood memories of stories spun by his father, Griffith drew on a pair of novels by the Reverend Thomas E. Dixon from North Carolina, which focused on those traumatic developments. The books. The Clansman and The Leopard s Spots, afforded Griffith the plot line for his projected film, which was obviously intended as an affirmation of his father’s life and beliefs. Although Mutual appeared unlikely to provide the $50,000 financing Griffith considered necessary, Aitken guaranteed that level of support for the director’s newly formed Epoch Film Corporation. Griffith’s new film, featuring Henry B. Walthall, Lillian Gish, George Siegmann, and seemingly innumerable extras and horses, cost over $100,000 and netted $5 million in profits. One-quarter of the actors were African-Americans, and Griffith, employing “military discipline, set up “a camp for the whites and a camp for the black,” along with a pair of commissaries.

Requiring twelve reels and running for an unprecedented two and a half hours. The Clansman opened in Los Angeles on February 8, 1915. Appearing in New York at the Rose Garden, located on Fifty-third Street, it soon boasted a new title. The Birth of a Nation. The ticket price was two dollars, the cost of admission to many Broadway shows. After the film opened at the Liberty in early March, the New York Times called Griffith’s effort “elaborate” and “ambitious,” offering “an impressive new illustration of the scope of the motion picture camera.” Griffith employed many of his now standard techniques, including crosscutting, flashbacks, close-ups, and fade-outs, but the film itself was a standard melodrama, complete with blackface. Reflecting on film as a whole following the completion of his latest masterwork, Griffith believed “there are no limits to its possibilities in artistic work. This is only child’s play.” Purportedly drawn from interviews with Civil War historians, the narrative centers on the trials endured by a Southern family and a Northern family as the nation divided. Griffith strove for authenticity in producing battle scenes, employing artillery, cavalry, and foot soldiers, and he erected a handful of Southern communities. The director presented burning towns, dying soldiers, mobs, and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Much of the film highlights cross-sectional romances that suffered when the war broke out, while the conclusion resulted in the unfortunate developments associated with Reconstruction, as presented by Griffith. The New York Times review bemoaned the film’s inclusion of “inflammatory material” from Dixon’s novel and “the sorry story rendered by its plucking at old wounds.” Stock figures were aplenty, including uppity blacks, conniving carpetbaggers from the North, and Southern scalawags ready to sell out their home region. All but inevitably, innocent white womanhood in the film became imperiled, with rape looming, while determined Southerners began to fight back, led by the noble figures that joined the Ku Klux Klan. Writing in The New Republic, Harold Stearns discussed the film’s denouement when silhouetted Klansmen galloped on horseback. As that scene appeared on screen, “every audience spontaneously applauds.” After President Woodrow Wilson watched a special screening of The Birth of a Nation at the White House, he allegedly exclaimed, “It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” Thomas Dixon, a classmate of Wilson’s at Princeton, acknowledged that his purpose in supporting the film adaptation of his novel “was to revolutionize Northern audiences . . . [to] transform every man into a Southern partisan for life.”.

Lillian Gish as Elsie Stoneman in Birth of a Nation

The highly favorable treatment of the Klan, the denigrating depiction of African-Americans, and the casting of wooden images of the Reconstruction South enraged many, leading to riots in Boston and Philadelphia among other locales. Public officials in New York City insisted that various controversial scenes be removed. Jane Addams of Hull House fame proved “painfully exercised over the exhibition.” The Nation’s Oswald Garrison Villard decried the film’s “deliberate attempt to humiliate 10,000,000 American citizens and portray them as nothing but beasts.” The Illinois state legislature considered a measure to ban artwork that “tends to incite race riot, or race hatred.” The recently established National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sought injunctions to prevent the showing of The Birth of a Nation, which the organization decried as “vicious.” The Boston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) put out a lengthy pamphlet, Fighting a Vicious Film: Protest Against The Birth of a Nation, condemning “the foul and loathsome misrepresentations of colored people and the glorification of the hideous and murderous band of the Ku Klux Klan.” The pamphlet underscored Thomas Dixon’s admission that he had hoped “to create a feeling of abhorrence in white people, especially white women, against colored men” and “to have all Negroes removed from the United States.” When asked if complaints might lead to the film’s suppression, Griffith responded, “I hope to God they stop it! Then you won’t be able to keep audiences away with clubs!”

Theatres advertising “The Birth of a Nation”

Griffith, who believed his presentation of The Birth of a Nation was “the truth,” was beset by considerable anxiety, $300,000 in legal fees, and numerous attacks on his reputation. He insisted that the film’s true villains were the carpetbaggers, not blacks, and pointed to the fact that he had grown up with African-Americans and been “nursed by a Negro mammy.” Griffith defended his movie during interviews, insisting that it offered a historical lesson. Then in a pamphlet, The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America, he blasted calls for censorship, which confronted cinema in the United States from the outset. Institutions of higher learning opened their doors to only “the limited few,” Griffith wrote. Motion pictures by contrast could impart lessons about “mistakes of the past … to the entire world” at little cost while entertaining the masses. Consequently, efforts to censor cinema were wrongheaded, in addition to violating First Amendment rights regarding freedom of speech and the press. Censorship, that “malignant pygmy,” endangered “the growth of the art.” This had occurred although film afforded “a medium of expression as clean and decent as any mankind has ever discovered,” Griffith wrote.

Intolerance – Babylon

Responding to continued criticisms that came his way, Griffith abandoned his original intention to produce a film about labor relations and chose to make another epic that he called Intolerance. Determined to present a panoramic look at bigotry and prejudice over the generations, Griffith initially intended this to be his final motion picture. He worried that “the story for Truth … has become barred from” movies, in contrast to the theater, where “freedom of expression” might still be found. Griffith maintained sixteen-to twenty-hour workdays in making Intolerance. Many critics thought he succeeded spectacularly with his latest offering. Current Opinion indicated that “the superman of the American movies” had pulled off his “greatest achievement.” Writing in Life, James S. Metcalfe claimed, “He has carried the picture play to the limit of its possibilities so far as doing everything that can be done with the motion picture.” Film Daily affirmed that “as a spectacle Intolerance is the greatest offering ever staged.” In viewing the three-hour-long epic—which demanded the construction of elaborate sets, featured thousands of extras along with stars Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, and Robert Harron, required thirteen reels, and cost $1.9 million—critics appeared particularly taken with Griffith’s depiction of ancient Babylon.

Intolerance

They were somewhat less impressed with his presentation of the life and death of Jesus and the massacre of French Huguenots on St. Bartholomew’s Eve, which occurred late in the sixteenth century. The film opened at the Liberty Theatre in Manhattan on September 5, 1916, and led to a decidedly mixed review from the New York Times. The paper termed Griffith “a real wizard of lens and screen” but pointed to his latest film’s “utter incoherence, the questionable taste of some of its scenes, and the cheap banalities into which it sometimes lapses.” The Times did applaud “the stupendousness of its panoramas, the grouping and handling of its great masses of players,” which “make it an impressive spectacle.” Audiences responded in an equally ambivalent fashion to Intolerance, undoubtedly wowed by its glorious sweep but confused by the separate episodes, which hardly presented a seamless thread. The scenes of nudity or near-nudity, along with the condemnations of both battlefields and prisons, proved disturbing to many viewers. Despite experiencing early record attendance figures, the film soon bottomed out, to Griffith’s chagrin. The result was a commercial failure that subsumed even the large profits earned by The Birth of a Nation. It also led to the dissolving of his business relationship with Aitken and Griffith’s moving over to Artcraft Pictures (later, Paramount Studios).

DW Griffith with war correspondents 1918 – France

Hoping that Intolerance would receive a better reception abroad, Griffith sailed to London in mid-March 1917 as the third full year of hostilities in Europe approached. Griffith also was responding to a request that he produce a propaganda film for the British government. On the very day Intolerance premiered in London, Griffith received word that the United States had entered the war. He proceeded to offer a showing of Intolerance for the royal family and met Prime Minister Lloyd George, who repeated the call for Griffith to deliver a film for propaganda purposes. In preparation for his latest work, the director toured battlefields in France where he witnessed actual combat for the first time. Griffith later revealed that he experienced “something of the stir and thrill of the movie battle. Artillery is in motion, ambulances come tearing down the roads with the dying screaming as they take their last ride. Streams of prisoners are marching in tatters and dejection back to the bases; wounded soldiers are making their own way. Motor-cyclists are speeding to and from.” At the same time he realized that the trenches contained “nothing but filth and dirt and the most soul-sickening smells. The soldiers are sometimes almost up to their hips in ice-cold mud. The dash and thrill of wars of other days are no longer there.”

Griffith and the Great War 2

The returning soldiers would recall trenches, replete with lice and “reeking vile odors . . . horrible with filth and mud,” Griffith predicted. First appearing in New York on April 4, 1918, Hearts of the World starred Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Robert Harron, and Erich von Stroheim. The New York Times indicated that the film—three-quarters of which was shot back in Hollywood—strove “to make the war a big reality” and apparently succeeded in that regard, as evidenced by the audience reaction. The Times declared, “Sometimes one does not know whether what he is seeing is a real war or screen make-believe” thanks to “the pictures of hand to hand fighting in the trenches, the bursting of shells from big guns, and demolition of buildings, the scouting trips and raids into enemy trenches.” Elected to head the Motion Picture War Service Association, Griffith also called for the purchase of Liberty bonds to support the Allied cause.

DW Griffith shooting a scene from The Great Love 1918

Griffith presented a series of films in 1918 and 1919, including The Great Love, The Greatest Thing in Life, A Romance ofHappy Valley, The Girl Who Stayed at Home, True Heart Susie, Scarlet Days, Broken Blossoms, and The Greatest Question. Particularly celebrated was Broken Blossoms, the first Griffith film to appear under the auspices of United Artists. A relatively low- budget affair costing less than $90,000, Broken Blossoms presents the story of a Chinese Buddhist who in the midst of World War I ventures to London to foster support for nonviolence. Played by Richard Barthelmess, Cheng Huan falls in love with the Lillian Gish character, Lucy Burrows, who has been abused by her father. The film’s dark quality turned off Adolph Zukor of Artcraft. After viewing Broken Blossoms, Zukor exploded: “You bring me a picture like this and want money for it? You may as well put your hand in my pocket and steal it. Everybody in it dies. It isn’t commercial.” Zukor proved wrongheaded about that. He allowed Griffith to purchase the film back from Artcraft for $250,000, and eventually Broken Blossoms resulted in profits of $700,000 for United Artists. It also received glowing reviews, with Film Daily offering, “This film is a poetic tragedy given a masterly production; it is a masterpiece of its kind.”

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – Broken Blossoms

His battles with movie moguls convinced Griffith of the need for greater artistic freedom, which he believed required commercial independence. That sensibility had led Griffith to join with three of the greatest stars in Hollywood’s early days—Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks—in creating their own production company: United Artists. Demanding still more autonomy, Griffith left Hollywood for Mamaroneck, New York, where he set up his new studio. There he completed The Idol Dancer and The Love Flower, in addition to filming Way Down East, which came out in 1920, cost just over $1 million, and proved highly profitable. Again starring Barthelmess and Lillian Gish, the melodramatic Way Down East features an ill-treated young woman who gives birth to an illegitimate child who dies. Played by Gish, Anna meets a stolid farmer who loves her and saves her from an ice storm.

Actress Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Kate Bruce, D.W. Griffith, Mrs. David Landau, Burr McIntosh, Lowell Sherman in a scenne from the movie “Way Down East” (Photo by Donaldson Collection) – cover

Griffith had received international acclaim in the period since the release of The Birth of a Nation. Erich von Stroheim, Raoul Walsh, and Sergei M. Einstein were among the many filmmakers who drew from his work. The April 1921 issue of The American Magazine delivered a lengthy article titled “The Greatest Moving Picture Producer in the World,” in which the master director indicated that “making a moving picture is like painting with lights.” He remained a workaholic, even toiling around the clock on occasion. In The Mentor, Griffith wrote a piece called “Motion Pictures: The Miracle of Modern Photography,” recalling that he had directed 500 pictures during a thirteen-year period. He indicated that “great motion pictures” required “good audiences, too.”

Orphans of the Storm – Filming team on the set

Griffith followed up Way Down East with the well-liked Orphans of the Storm (1921), One Exciting Night (1922), The White Rose (1923), America (1924), the acclaimed Isn’t Life Wonderful (1924), and The Joyless Street (1925), the last film that he produced independently. Over the course of the next several years, Griffith made a series of motion pictures for United Artists but had seemingly lost his touch. Still, according to an article in the May 1928 issue of Overland, Griffith’s associates considered him “their ‘Master,’” one who possessed “almost hypnotic power.” In 1930 Griffith sought to produce another epic, Abraham Lincoln, a talkie starring Walter Huston. The reviews by critics proved mixed, at best, and audiences also responded tepidly.

A future president confronts the evils of slavery in a lost scene from “Abraham Lincoln” (1930)

A harsher fate still awaited his final film, The Struggle, which came out in 1931. Griffith was soon reduced to a weekly radio program that lasted less than a year. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences delivered an honorary Oscar to Griffith in 1936, with the citation stating, “For his distinguished creative achievements as director and producer and his invaluable initiative and lasting contributions to the progress of the motion picture arts.” That same year he showed up at the set where his former assistant W.S. Van Dyke was shooting in San Francisco. Van Dyke asserted, “All I know I learned from you, Mr. Griffith.” In 1936 Griffith married Evelyn Baldwin, a young woman who had appeared in his movie The Struggle, although that marriage also would end in divorce. In 1938 he became an Honorary Life Member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA). He spent much of his time at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. The Museum of Modern Art published D. W. Griffith: American Film Master in 1940; the volume proclaimed Griffith “one of the greatest and most original artists of our time.”

The Struggle – D.W. Griffith

Notwithstanding some aborted efforts, Griffith’s name never again appeared on the silver screen as director of a motion picture. On July 23, 1948, the day after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage, he died. Actor Lionel Barrymore referred to Griffith as “Hollywood’s greatest,” while others bemoaned the fact that the film industry had closed its doors to him. Griffith received accolades from James Agee, the author, screenwriter, and film critic who wrote, “He achieved what no other known man has ever achieved. To watch his work is like being witness to the beginning of melody or the first conscious use of the lever or the wheel, the emergence, coordination, and first eloquence of language, the birth of an art: and to realize that this is all the work of one man.” The French film director Rene Clair asserted, “Nothing essential has been added to the art of the motion picture since Griffith.” The famed Austrian director and actor Erich von Stroheim claimed that Griffith “fully realized the education values of the film and felt personally responsible for the authenticity of everything in them.” In addition “it was Griffith who … put the motion picture on the same level with the best productions of the legitimate stage.” Von Stroheim termed Griffith “the greatest man the cinema had, or will ever have,” praised his generosity, and deemed him the master. Five years after Griffith’s death, the Directors Guild of America established the D.W. Griffith Award, its most prestigious honor. Honorees included Cecil B. DeMille, John Huston, John Ford, and Stanley Kubrick. In late 1999 the DGA discarded Griffith’s name, with its president explaining, “There is no question that D.W. Griffith was a brilliant pioneer filmmaker whose innovations as a visionary film artist led the way for generations of directors. However, it is also true that he helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes.”

DW Griffith in 1943

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The first reviews of “The Birth of a Nation” 1915

The first reviews of “The Birth of a Nation” or “The Clansman” as it was then known ever published following its first screening to the public in Riverside, California on January 1, 1915.

Riverside Enterprise Sunday January 2 1915

“The Clansman” Receives Enthusiastic Approval

Crowded Houses Audibly Express Approbation of Spectacular and Gripping Photoplay Depicting Strong Story

The biggest thing in the way of a thrill producer that has ever been seen in Riverside, or probably anywhere, is now showing in the Loring Theater – D.W. Griffith’s “The Clansman,” a picturized version of the book and play of the same name by Thomas Dixon Jr. It would be difficult to imagine more exquisite photography than has been achieved in this production. Of marvelous beauty are the settings against which the swift action of the story is thrown. Whatever may be the attitude of the audience toward the pro-southern ideas of the play, there is no denying that it grips the attention from the start and that it works up into a tremendous climax.

Below are presented the articles in their entirety, including the original newspaper pages of that time.

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Download “The Birth of a Nation” Kino Lorber restauration – NTSC Std low bitrate

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o5um_rE8qYhEz6pgC_Czf1bLDewRcSYn/view?usp=sharing

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FIFTY FAMOUS FILMS – BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE (Birth of a Nation)

  •     NATIONAL FILM THEATRE
  •     FIFTY FAMOUS FILMS
  •     1915—1945
  •     BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE
  •     NATIONAL FILM ARCHIVE
  •     Printed by Cox & Sharland Ltd.
  •     London and Southampton

This booklet is the work of many people who have been associated with the National Film Theatre during the past eight years. Apart from the contributions which are credited in the text, there are critical assessments by Lotte Eisner (Cinematheque Francaise), Penelope Houston (editor of “Sight and Sound”), Gavin Lambert (lately editor of “Sight and Sound”), Ernest Lindgren (Curator of the National Film Archive), Rachael Low (film historian and author), Liam O’Laoghaire (Film Acquisitions Officer of the National Film Archive), and Karel Reisz (film director). We take this opportunity of thanking them for their work which has helped so much to bring this present series of National Film Archive programmes into existence. In addition, these programmes could also not exist without the active co-operation of the entire film industry. Particular assistance has been given for the present series by:

  • Associated British Picture Corporation Ltd.
  • Avon Distributors Ltd.
  • British Broadcasting Corporation.
  • Contemporary Films Limited.
  • Mrs. Frances Flaherty.
  • Harold Lloyd.
  • Paramount Film Service Ltd.
  • Rank Film Distributors Limited.
  • Robin International (London) Limited.
  • Twentieth-Century Fox Film Co. Limited.
  • United Artists Corporation Limited.
  • Warner Bros. Pictures Limited.
  • John Huntley

(PROGRAMME CONTROLLER NATIONAL FILM THEATRE)

Birth of a Nation Final Battle – Henry B Walthall

BIRTH OF A NATION

  • U.S.A., 1915 12 reels
  • Production company I Epoch Producing Corporation (D. W. Griffith)
  • Direction D. W. Griffith
  • Script: D. W. Griffith and Frank Woods, from the
  • novel “The Clansman” by the Rev. Thomas
  • Dixon, Jnr.
  • PHOTOGRAPHY G. W. Bitzer

CAST

  • Elsie Stoneman – Lillian Gish
  • Flora Cameron – Mae Marsh
  • Col. Ben Cameron – Henry B. Walthall
  • Margaret Cameron – Mirian Cooper
  • Lydia, Stoneman’s Housekeeper – Mary Alden
  • Hon. Austin Stoneman – Ralph Lewis
  • Silas Lynch – George Seigmann
  • Gus – Walter Long
  • Tod Stoneman – Robert Harron
  • Jeff, the blacksmith – Wallace Reid
  • Abraham Lincoln – Joseph Henaberry
  • Phil Stoneman – Elmer Clifton
  • Mrs. Cameron – Josephine Crowell
  • Dr. Cameron – Spottiswoode Aiken
  • Wade Cameron – J. A. Beringer
  • Duke Cameron – Maxfield Stanley
  • Mammy – Jennie Lee
  • General V. S. Grant – Donald Crisp
  • General Robert E. Lee – Howard Gaye
D.W. Griffith, internationally known movie director and producer, greets the press in this 1922 photo before sailing for Europe. (AP Photo)

Born in Kentucky, U.S.A., in 1875, Griffith had to start earning his living at an early age. Soon tiring of clerks’ and salesmen’s jobs, he decided he wanted to be a writer and attached himself to the “Louisville Courier”. He had several short stories and poems published, and a drama staged in Washington. This last success, though a minor one, was sufficient to rouse his interest in the stage, and at 27, after some experience as a stage actor, he became employed by the Biograph Company where he played his first film part in Edwin S. Porter’s Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest. Finding he could make as much as five dollars a day acting in the movies, and even more by writing for them, he stayed with the Biograph Company although his ambition to write—particularly for the stage—remained.

Griffith Early Biograph career

In 1908, owing to the illness of one of the directors of the Company, he began his own directing career when he took over the making of The Adventures of Dolly. For the next four years, until he left Biograph and began producing films on the epic scale, he directed films at an average rate of one a week. It was during this period that he explored and developed the use of film editing, and transformed the film from a primitive method of pictorial storytelling into an expressive medium of immense possibilities which were subsequently to be explored by later directors. Griffith’s methods sprang from a comparatively simple idea, namely that of moving the camera nearer to the actors to obtain a more detailed view of their reactions. This had, of course, been done before; he did not, as is sometimes claimed, “invent” the close-up. Unlike his predecessors, however, he instinctively realised that the close-up was something more than an insert, an interruption to the smooth flow of the dramatic action ; it was the key to a new technique of film-making. The close shot gives us a single detail of a scene, the rest being excluded ; but the rest can be supplied by other close shots of other details. In other words, instead of showing a dramatic scene in a single full shot, which is the method of the theatre, it can be built up, both in the director’s imagination and in fact, by a succession of shots of detail (technically made possible, of course, by the fact that it is quite easy both to cut cinematograph film, and to join separate strips together).

This method not only brings the spectator nearer to the dramatic action, indeed into the midst of it, and thus makes it more vivid. It also gives the director a far greater control over his material. It enables him to select only the most significant details of a scene, to show them from a wide variety of viewpoints (a small change of camera viewpoint in a long shot is hardly noticeable; in a close shot it can produce an entirely different picture), and to vary the length of his cutting pieces in order to control the pace and tempo of the scene. It replaces the artificial theatrical view of life seen through a proscenium by a method which corresponds much more to our everyday visual experience. As Lewis Jacobs expressed it, in his “Rise of the American Film”, ‘Griffith suddenly understood (that) in movie making, guiding the camera, even more than directing the actor, is the trick.’

DW Griffith and Robert Harron on set

In his two major films, The Birth of a Nation (1914) and Intolerance (1916) D. W. Griffith utilised his new discoveries with a maturity and power which astonished the world at the time, and which have seldom been equalled since, despite the great technical progress made by the cinema in other ways. Parts of The Birth ofa Nation were savagely attacked on the grounds that they showed an anti-Negro bias. Griffith denied this, and considered the attacks unjust. Intolerance, therefore, became in some measure a personal protest against the way he had been treated; at the same time, of course, it is very much more. For the purposes of generalisation it may be said that the cinema received its final recognition as a new artistic force on the occasion of the premiere of Birth of a Nation at the Liberty Theatre, on 3rd March, 1915. True, it had a previous showing in Los Angeles under its original title of The Clansman, but the New York run brought the film into the limelight of world opinion and the result was nothing short of revolutionary.

The Birth of a Nation – Massive troop movements wide shot

The film enshrined all that Griffith had learned about the visual presentation of a story during his apprenticeship as director of some hundreds of shorter films and less ambitious subjects. With one grand leap into the saddle Griffith took command of the film industry as its leading creative artist and led it to a position which it has never lost in the affection of cinema audiences. Not merely did Griffith establish the claims of the cinema to be an art but he challenged the supremacy of the theatre and presented it with a serious rival. From now on the cinema was regarded as a powerful artistic and social manifestation of the age.

In taking the novel “The Clansman” Griffith was committed to the depiction of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Period in the Old South in terms of Southern bias and anti-negro prejudice which, in effect, comes through pretty strongly in the film. The glorification of the by then notorious Ku Klux Klan and the scurvy delineation of the coloured race in the film are blemishes which no plea of historical accuracy can minimise. The showing of the film has been in many cases the signal for outbreaks of anti-negro feeling. On the other hand, it appears that Griffith, carried away no doubt by his personal allegiances and the creative ambition of his work ignored the implications contained in it and may be quite genuinely sincere when he claims that he was recording history and had no intention of defaming a race he had the warmest regard for. This is old controversy now and, as if to atone for misunderstandings, his next work was a passionate plea for tolerance. A charitable view may imply indiscretion rather than malice.

The vast scale of the film called for production in a way never before visualised in movies. The finance was provided by private backers and the film was really made completely outside the scope of the existing industry. Griffith’s company, Epoch Producing Corporation, expended 110,000 dollars on the film. This, a trifling sum today, was considered at the time to be a monstrous outlay. After six weeks of rehearsal, shooting commenced on the 4th July, 1914, and the first shots covered were those of the Civil War. Locations were mainly situated in the hills and valleys of Southern California. Interiors were shot at the Fine Arts Studio in the outskirts of Hollywood, then little more than a village. The total filming period ran from July to October. The tremendous organisation of personnel and shooting schedules, and the planning of photography were carried through by the indomitable will of Griffith. And when the three and a half months’ editing was complete the problem of distribution had to be tackled since the Hollywood producers refused to handle the picture.

Theatres advertising “The Birth of a Nation”

The presentation of the film in New York for a consecutive run of forty four weeks inaugurated what has come to be accepted as modern de-luxe film presentation. The film which contained 1,375 individual shots totalled twelve reels with a footage of about 12,500 feet. Griffith’s players had been familiar figures in his earlier films and many such as Donald Crisp, Raoul Walsh, Joseph Henaberry and Erich von Stroheim (who appears in a tiny coloured role) were to become important film directors in their subsequent careers.

Gilbert Seldes in his appreciation of the film wrote: “To this picture Griffith gave the fundamental brainwork which a work of art, however inspired, must have; it has structure, proportion, coherence and integrity. It can be separated into a dozen different themes or stories, but it obstinately remains one film, into which all the parts are woven . . . The rhythms are delicately felt ; the whole picture has pace and sweep.”

The correct use of technical devices subordinated to artistic effect distinguishes the film in many ways. The carefully chosen viewpoints, the camera flexibility, the use of natural scenes, the realism especially of the battle scenes and the emotionally expressive editing treatment were to set headlines for future film directors in both America and Europe.

Lillian Gish in – Birth of a Nation – Photo Gallery

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HEARTS OF THE WORLD – Iris Barry (1965)

  • 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
Hearts of The World

HEARTS OF THE WORLD

Opened at the 44th Street Theatre, New York, April 4, 1918. 12 reels.

Directed by D. W. Griffith; scenario by M. Gaston de Tolignac, translated into English by Capt. Victor Marier (both pseudonyms for D. W. Griffith); photographed by G. W. Bitzer; technical supervision by Erich Von Stroheim; music arranged by Carli Elinor and Griffith.

Cast:

  • The Grandfather – Adolphe Lestina
  • The Mother – Josephine Crowell
  • The Girl, Marie Stephenson – Lillian Gish
  • The Boy, Douglas Gordon Hamilton – Robert Harron
  • The Father of the Boy – Jack Cosgrave
  • The Mother of the Boy – Kate Bruce
  • The Littlest Brother – Ben Alexander
  • The Boy’s Other Brothers – M. Emmons, F. Marion
  • The Little Disturber – Dorothy Gish
  • Monsieur Cuckoo – Robert Anderson
  • The Village Carpenter – George Fawcett
  • Von Strohm – George Siegmann
  • The Innkeeper – Fay Holderness
  • A Deaf and Blind Musician – L. Lowy
  • A Poilu – Eugene Pouyet
  • A French Peasant Girl – Anna Mae Walthall
  • A Refugee Mile. – Yvette Duvoisin of the Comedie Frangaise, Paris
  • A French Major – Herbert Sutch
  • A Poilu – Alphonse Dufort
  • A Poilu – Jean Dumercier
  • Stretcher Bearers – Gaston Riviere, Jules Lemontier
  • A Poilu – Georges Loyer
  • A German Sergeant – George Nicholls
  • A Refugee Mother – Mrs. Mary Gish
  • Woman with Daughter – Mrs. Harron
  • Wounded Girl – Mary Harron
  • Refugee – Jessie Harron
  • Boy with Barrel – Johnny Harron
  • Dancer – Mary Hay

Not credited on the original programs: Erich Von Stroheim as a Hun in several scenes, and Noel Coward as the Man with the Wheelbarrow and as a Villager in the Streets.

Griffith introduced to Queen Alexandra 1918 – The war, the West, and the wilderness

On March 17, 1917, Griffith sailed for London to attend the opening of intolerance and to discuss a British offer to make a propaganda film for the war effort. On the same date he announced his Triangle severance and the signing of a contract with Artcraft, Adolph Zukor’s company that produced for Famous Players-Lasky (or Paramount, as it was to become known) . Zukor, whose firm had already swallowed most of Triangle’s directors and stars, put up some of the money for Hearts of the World in exchange for eventual distribution rights as well as a guarantee of future Griffith films. Thus began a long relationship between Griffith and Zukor.

DW Griffith with war correspondents 1918 – France

Although the latter did not function as Griffith’s boss, his suggestions had the force of coming from the man most interested in the financial success of the film. Nevertheless, Griffith retained ownership of hearts of the world, raising money for it on his own reputation. After it was completed, he supervised its presentation, distribution and the sale of rights in conjunction with Zukor. The financing of HEARTS as even more complicated than Griffith’s previous big films; nevertheless Griffith handled it personally. Hearts of the World has long been neglected as a major Griffith film. A shortage of good prints has probably contributed more to its disappearance than its immediate propagandist purpose and a nearly complete version now made should help to restore admiration for it. Griffith had several motives in making it. He was enormously impressed by the welcome he received in England (he became a confirmed Anglophile and a lifelong friend of Lord Beaverbrook) , and he needed money badly to recover from the debts of the Wark Corporation. But when he had toured the battlefields, slogged through muddy trenches and observed the suffering of soldiers and civilians alike, he was genuinely determined to recreate the scene for the benefit of Americans.

D.W. Griffith in the trenches on the western front

Publicity men created myths about the production of Hearts of the World, claiming that it consisted largely of on-the-spot recording of events. For the most part, Griffith recreated scenes which he witnessed or learned about first hand—Lillian Gish trying to guide her confused grandfather to safety as the village is bombarded; the orphaned children burying their mother’s body in the cellar. The only Americans who joined Griffith for filming in France and England were the two Gish girls and their mother, Robert Harron, George Fawcett, George Seigmann, Ben Alexander and his mother, and Bitzer with several assistants; even Von Stroheim was not hired until the company returned to California. The scenes in which other members of the Griffith company appeared must have been shot on the West Coast, and, though Griffith and Bitzer toured the front lines photographing action scenes, Griffith added stock footage later. When the war began a Captain Kleinschmidt, who had been lecturing here on his explorations and travels, filmed the German armies on the battlefield and showed them in New York. After the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies, Captain Kleinschmidt (an Austrian) was arrested as a spy, and Griffith paid him $16,000 for his films. An exchange of telegrams between Griffith in California and his New York office reveals Griffith’s use of the Kleinschmidt battle footage in hearts of the world. The question of how much of hearts of the world was shot by Griffith on the battlefields of France may never be solved. The audited accounts report that the Los Angeles charges against negative costs were more than twice those incurred abroad. The original purpose of the film was to convince Americans to enter the war, but before Griffith could begin work, America had entered. The S.S. Baltic, on which Bitzer, Robert Harron and Dorothy Gish sailed for England on May 28, 1917, carried as another passenger General Pershing.

Griffith 50 yards from German trenches – The war, the West, and the wilderness

America was unprepared, however, and it was almost a year before her armies were well enough organized to help turn the tide. The propaganda aim became our transformation into an angry, fighting people. It was a short war for America, and Hearts of the World had not been released long before the Armistice was in sight. The picture made a lot of money quickly—its profit by the end of 1918 was more than $500,000 —before being drastically cut and altered to fit the peace. Zukor wanted a shorter film for Artcraft distribution, and while Griffith fought him for the major showings under his own supervision, wiring his New York office … if picture is big enough twelve reels is short enough . . .,” he consented to a shorter version for general distribution. The peacetime alterations naturally included eliminating scenes that would arouse hatred of the Germans. The film which had begun in twelve reels ended up in eight. Fortunately for archivists, complete shot lists exist for the original and subsequent versions, made up for the use of Griffith’s cutters when the heavy demand for prints prevented Griffith from supervising all of them.

Griffith – gas alarm 1918 – The war, the West, and the wilderness

“Viewed as drama,” Griffith said, “the war is disappointing.” Wisely, he chose to portray the awesome holocaust in terms of a few individuals in a small village that changes hands as the fortunes of war sweep over it. The organization of his film was discursive in the manner of the rambling nineteenth-century novels on which he grew up. In the abbreviated versions it was incredibly jumpy, but in the restored film there is time to elaborate the elements of the story.

Griffith discarded forever the brilliant pyrotechnics of Intolerance, settling down to an assured style in which technical means do riot often call attention to themselves. The spectator is moved by, though scarcely aware of, the beautiful slow camera movement that discloses Lillian Gish to the eyes of Robert Harron as he falls in love with her. The next few years might be called the “Gish period” in Griffith’s career, with Lillian Gish playing the lead in one film after another, continually growing in stature as an actress. But Dorothy Gish all but steals this film away from her. Without any really funny material to work with except her own elastic face and jaunty movements, she used her role to launch a magnificent career as star of a long series of comedies.

Picture-Play Magazine (Mar 1918) Griffith and the Great War 4

Griffith used long explanatory titles to avoid interrupting the flow of action with dialogue titles, the more popular method with other film-makers. As time went on he was much criticized for his titles even by critics who admired his films. Titling was a problem never completely solved in the silent period, and certainly not by Griffith.

As for hearts of the world’s effectiveness as propaganda, the young Kenneth MacGowan, writing in The New Republic of July 1918, while deploring the lack of restraint in bloody scenes of violence, said:

“Here we have an art of pure emotion which can go beneath thought, beneath belief, beneath ideals, down to the brute fact of emotional psychology, and make a man or a woman who has hated war, all war, even this war, feel the surge of group emotion, group loyalty and group hate.”

Griffith made several contributions to the war effort along with other Hollywood notables. He made personal appear ances to sell war bonds, and produced a one-reel film for the Liberty Loan Appeal starring Lillian Gish, and with Carol Dempster and Kate Bruce. The film was completed in September 1918. In it, Lillian’s mother urges her to buy bonds but she prefers to buy clothes until she has a dream of German atrocities which stirs her to patriotism when she awakes. No prints are known to exist today. Long before hearts of the world was ready for release Griffith set in motion a number of programmers for his Artcraft contract, and in December 1917 leased his old Fine Arts studio from Triangle. His first such Artcraft project, The Hun Within, was one with which his name was not formally associated. He wrote the script (with assistance from S. E. V. Taylor) under his old pseudonym Granville Warwick, and the film was directed by Chet Withey. Griffith probably made use in it of footage left over from Hearts of the World (which was to supply scenes for several of his next pictures) and he cast it with Dorothy Gish, George Fawcett, Erich Von Stroheim and other members of the stock company. He invested his own money in The Hun Within, and once again a separate organization, the F-4 Company, was formed to finance it. The completed film was later sold to Famous Players-Lasky at a profit of over $25,000.

Griffith Studios – Picture-Play Magazine (Aug 1920)

When Griffith returned to Los Angeles from the opening of hearts of the world he began directing his own Artcraft films. While he retained ownership of Hearts, the other films he made went to Paramount under the separation agreement at the end of the contract with Zukor. Because of the deterioration of the original negatives that were placed in Paramount’s vaults, only two of these films are known to exist today. At the same time that Griffith directed the Artcraft films he contracted with Artcraft to produce a series of comedies starring Dorothy Gish (wearing the same black wig she had worn in Hearts of the World) and work was begun on the series after the star completed a sensational personal-appearance tour with hearts of the world. Griffith spent more money on these comedies than he did on the films he was directing, but he declined to have his name attached to the series. The directors included Elmer Clifton, Chet Withey, F. Richard Jones, and Dorothy Gish’s sister Lillian, who directed remodeling her husband all by herself at the half-completed Mamaroneck studios while Griffith was off getting lost in southern waters. The co-star in the later films of the series was James Rennie, who became Dorothy Gish’s husband. Zukor advanced production costs in exchange for distribution rights, and the comedies provided a steady income for Griffith.

Hearts of the World (Paramount, 1918) – Herald

The results of fame : HEARTS OF THE WORLD and the films made for Artcraft Pictures

By now Griffith was at the height of his fame, and it is interesting to speculate on the effect the acclaim that greeted him everywhere may have had on his personality. Brought up in poverty and without adequate education, Griffith had aspirations to be a great writer, in particular a great playwright . Now he was hailed as the Shakespeare of the screen and he walked with the great of his time, the wealthy and the socially prominent. Although he knew he had poured his heart into the birth of a nation and intolerance, he must have been a bit bewildered to have achieved such success in the medium he had originally despised. He was an intuitive genius, and fame made him self-conscious. His deliberate striving for artistic excellence or for popularity in his later films led him at times to descend into mannerism.

The financial failure of intolerance made him painfully aware of the need to cater more to popular taste, yet he was never sure of what popular taste was. No amount of success quite gave him full confidence in his powers, and failure, when it did arrive, was what he had been half-expecting all the time. His written and spoken words at times became pompous, at times cynical. As the failures grew more frequent toward the end of his career, the cynicism predominated. (Iris Barry)

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