D. W. Griffith Criticism - Essay

D. W. Griffith (essay date 1924)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Movies 100 Years from Now," in Film Makers on Film Making: Statements on Their Art by Thirty Directors, edited by Harry M. Geduld, Indiana University Press, 1967, pp. 49-55.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1924, Griffith speculates on a number of innovations he believed will occur in filmmaking during the next one hundred years and predicts that movies will become an influential social force.]

They say I am a realist—a man who functions best when reproducing in the films life as he sees it or knows it. Whereupon the editor promptly assumes that fantasy will be perfectly easy for me, and propounds a question that scarcely can be answered...

(The entire section is 2643 words.)

Peter Noble (essay date 1946)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Note on an Idol," in Sight and Sound, Vol. 15, No. 59, Autumn, 1946, pp. 81-2.

[In the following essay, Noble outlines the racist trappings of The Birth of a Nation.]

Griffith has one of the great poetic minds of the cinema. He ranks with Chaplin, Von Stroheim and René Clair among the immortals of the screen, and it is in no way meant to decry his genius that I draw attention to a facet of his work which has not been fully examined. I refer to his anti-Negro bias, as demonstrated in that otherwise superb film The Birth of a Nation and in such of his later films as One Exciting Night. He is indeed a pioneer, but a pioneer of...

(The entire section is 1998 words.)

Sergei Eisenstein (essay date 1949)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today," in Film Form: Essays in Film Theory and The Film Sense, edited and translated by Jay Leyda, Meridian Books, 1957, pp. 195-255.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1949, Eisenstein explores Griffith's innovative use of montage as well as film techniques which can be traced in literary form to the works of Charles Dickens.]

"The kettle began it.…"

Thus Dickens opens his Cricket on the Hearth.

"The kettle began it.…"

What could be further from films! Trains, cowboys, chases… And The Cricket on the Hearth? "The kettle began it!" But,...

(The entire section is 20087 words.)

Everett Carter (essay date 1960)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cultural History Written with Lightning: The Significance of The Birth of a Nation," American Quarterly, Vol. XII, No. 3, Fall, 1960, pp. 347-57.

[In the following essay, Carter points out thematic flaws in The Birth of a Nation which prevent the film from being an artistic success.]

On February 20, 1915, David Wark Griffith's long film, The Clansman, was shown in New York City. One of the spectators was Thomas Dixon, the author of the novel from which it was taken, who was moved by the power of the motion picture to shout to the wildly applauding spectators that its title would have to be changed. To match the picture's greatness, he...

(The entire section is 4660 words.)

Bosley Crowther (essay date 1967)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Intolerence: 1916," in The Great Films: Fifty Golden Years of Motion Pictures, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1967, pp. 17-20.

[In the following review, Crowther praises Intolerance for its ambitious scope and complex editing while acknowledging the film's failure to rise above melodrama.]

Would success spoil D. W. Griffith?

That thought surely never occurred to anyone at the time The Birth of a Nation was vaunting the fame of the great director throughout the land. Such a triumph must certainly have seemed evidence of his infallibility. And, of course, people were not then as knowing about the evanescence of screen success as they...

(The entire section is 2247 words.)

George E. Dorris (essay date 1967)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Griffith in Retrospect," in Man and Movies, edited by W. R. Robinson, Louisiana State University Press, 1967, pp. 153-60.

[In the following essay, Dorris looks back thoughtfully at Griffith's oeuvre.]

When the Museum of Modern Art announced its D. W. Griffith retrospective in the spring of 1965, I decided to attend the complete series. But I had no real idea of what I was letting myself in for. Like most filmgoers, I knew the legend of the shattered titan, living out the last years of his life as a virtual recluse. I had seen The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance and been moved by the beauty, the dramatic sweep, and the emotional...

(The entire section is 2736 words.)

Pauline Kael (essay date 1970)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Great Folly, and a Small One," in Going Steady, Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1970, pp. 42-8.

[In the following essay, Kael reflects on Griffith's pioneering cinematic accomplishments.]

"She is madonna in an art as wild and young as her sweet eyes," Vachel Lindsay wrote of Mae Marsh, who died on Tuesday of last week. She is the heroine of D. W. Griffith's Intolerance, which came out in 1916 and which will soon have its annual showing at the Museum of Modern Art. Intolerance is one of the two or three most influential movies ever made, and I think it is also the greatest. Yet many of those who are interested in movies have never seen it....

(The entire section is 1805 words.)

William Cadbury (essay date 1974)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Theme, Felt Life, and the Last-Minute Rescue in Griffith After Intolerance," in Film Quarterly, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, Fall, 1974, pp. 39-49.

[In the following essay, Cadbury asserts that a mature artistic vision is present in Griffith's earlier films.]

There have come to be two positions on D. W. Griffith, a modern orthodoxy and a much-needed revisionism. The orthodoxy is a picture of Griffith the great innovator, whose values and intentions however amount only to a style for his times. When those times changed (it happened with startling suddenness, Karl Brown reminisces, between the making and exhibiting of Intolerance), Griffith's values...

(The entire section is 6587 words.)

John Dorr (essay date 1974)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Griffith Tradition," in Film Comment, Vol. 10, No. 2, March-April, 1974, pp. 48-54.

[In the following essay, Dorr surveys key movies, by Griffith and other directors, which were inspired by a filmmaking style known as the "Griffith Tradition."]

The first strain of the American filmmaking tradition grew directly from the all-pervasive influence of the early work of D. W. Griffith. This essentially nationalistic tradition of dramatic narrative was rooted in the simple, direct montage principles that Griffith evolved in his Biograph one- and two-reelers. In 1915, The Birth of A Nation became the official lexicon of these principles....

(The entire section is 5309 words.)

John B. Kuiper (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Growth of a Film Director—D. W. Griffith," in Wonderful Inventions: Motion Pictures, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound at the Library of Congress, Library of Congress, 1985, pp. 11-16.

[In the following essay, Kuiper describes Griffith's early film career at Biograph Studios.]

During the early part of 1908 an unusual man of thirty-three years began to work at the old Biograph Studios, 11 East 14th Street in New York City. Author, poet, and playwright by predisposition and a reasonably successful actor by practice and experience, David Wark Griffith began his work in the motion-picture medium first by acting in a short picture for the Edison Company and...

(The entire section is 1735 words.)

Jean E. Tucker (essay date 1985)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Voices from the Silents," in Wonderful Inventions: Motion Pictures, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound at the Library of Congress, edited by Iris Newsom, Library of Congress, 1985, pp. 31-9.

[In the following essay, Tucker creates a portrait of Griffith by drawing on memories and reflections from several of his contemporaries.]

The origins of the motion picture as an art form can be traced to the turn of the century. Since the late 1800s, motion pictures have drawn what they have needed from the other arts—music, literature, and the theater—and have attained an artistic maturity of their own in a relatively short period of time. The artistic attainment has...

(The entire section is 8934 words.)

William M. Drew (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Artistic Influences," in D. W. Griffith's Intolerance: Its Genesis and Its Vision, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1986, pp. 63-101.

[In the following essay, Drew highlights the various artistic influences Griffith drew upon during the making of Intolerance.]

Utilizing elements from music, painting, theater, poetry and novels, Griffith produced a twentieth-century masterwork, adapting and synthesizing the art forms of the nineteenth century into the new medium of cinema. In addition, he was stimulated by the work of the European filmmakers, absorbing some of their techniques in spectacle and costume productions. As a result, Intolerance is...

(The entire section is 16311 words.)

William Rothman (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "D. W. Griffith and the Birth of the Movies" and "Judith of Bethulia," in The "I" of the Camera: Essays in Film Criticism, History, and Aesthetics, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 11-17, 18-30.

[In the following essay, Rothman discusses Griffith's early post-Biograph film work, with an emphasis on Judith of Bethulia.]

Film was not invented to make movies possible. The Lumière brothers' first public screening in 1895 was the culmination of innumerable technical developments that finally allowed films to be made and projected, but the invention of film did not immediately give rise to movies as we know them. Within ten years, film had become a sizeable...

(The entire section is 6457 words.)

Michael Rogin (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Great Mother Domesticated: Sexual Difference and Sexual Indifference in D. W. Griffith's Intolerance," in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 15, No. 3, Spring, 1989, pp. 511-54.

[In the following essay, Rogin analyzes the sexual undercurrents of Intolerance.]

A giant statue of the mother goddess, Ishtar, presides over Intolerance (1916), the movie D. W. Griffith made after his triumph with The Birth of a Nation (1915). Ishtar sits above Babylon's royal, interior court, but the court itself is constructed on so gigantic a scale that it diminishes the size of the goddess. Perhaps to establish Ishtar's larger-than-life proportions,...

(The entire section is 11930 words.)

Kenneth S. Lynn (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Torment of D. W. Griffith," in The American Scholar, Vol. 59, Spring, 1990, pp. 255-64.

[In the following essay, Lynn recounts the production history of Broken Blossoms and other films, focusing on Griffith's relationship with actor Lillian Gish.]

The first masterpiece by an American director to emerge from the post-World War I search for a new art of film was D. W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms, which had its premiere in New York in May 1919. Filmed in constricted studio settings under artificial lights, rather than in the open expanses of California fields in which Griffith had mounted so many of the scenes in The Birth of a...

(The entire section is 7524 words.)

Vance Kepley, Jr. (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Intolerance and the Soviets: A Historical Investigation," in I nside the Film Factory: New Approaches to Russian and Soviet Cinema, edited by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie, Routledge, 1991, pp. 51-9.

[In the following essay, Kepley evaluates the influence Intolerance had on early cinema in the Soviet Union.]

Tracing lines of influence in film history is one of the most popular endeavours among film scholars; it is also one of the most treacherous. The appearance of similar styles or conventions among different schools of film often invites premature conclusions about direct lines of descent. The historian, therefore, must penetrate below such...

(The entire section is 2881 words.)

Scott Simmon (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'The Female of the Species': D. W. Griffith, Father of the Woman's Film," in Film Quarterly, Vol. XLVI, No. 2, Winter, 1992-93, pp. 8-20.

[In the following essay, Simmon maintains that Griffith was the progenitor of the "woman's film" and probes the director's use of females in such movies as A Flash of Light and The Painted Lady.]

Traditionally, D. W. Griffith is credited as "father" of a host of cinematic techniques and Hollywood patterns. If he is to be given progenitive tags at all, he deserves a more surprising one as "The Father of the Woman's Film"—and deserves too all the psychosexual conflicts such paternity entails.


(The entire section is 7498 words.)