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Sunday: D.W. Griffith Act One

From Anonymity to Majesty

The first part of a two-quarter D.W. Griffith retrospective, this series will begin with Griffith's early work making shorts at Biograph from 1908-1913 and follow his groundbreaking career up to 1919.

Sunday, October 3 at 7:00 • 115m
Biograph Shorts
D.W. Griffith, 1908-13• Shorts from Griffith's years at Biograph. Including: The Guerrilla (1908, 12m); The Country Doctor (1909, 14m); A Corner in Wheat (1909, 14m); As It Is in Life (1910, 15m); Man's Genesis (1912, 15m); The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912, 15m); The Mothering Heart (1913, 30m). A selection of seven films representative of the variety of short work Griffith produced between 1908 and 1913 for the Biograph Company. While it would be impossible to assemble anything like a comprehensive survey of this period of Griffith's career, during which he personally directed over four hundred works, these titles represent some of his most acclaimed films. 16mm
Sunday, October 10 at 7:00 • 61m
Judith of Bethulia
D.W. Griffith, 1913 • A photoplay of the Book of Judith with Blanche Sweet as the titular heroine and Henry Walthall as the barbaric Holofernes. This initial feature would be Griffith's last film for the Biograph company. Shortly after its completion, he departed over disputes related to Biograph's reluctance to produce more films in a long form. At the time, many exhibitors felt films beyond 500 feet would bore the public. But Griffith saw the future in features, and Judith turned out to be a success with critics. Ironically, present-day scholars have tended to downgrade it, criticizing it on the basis of its length. 16mm
Sunday, October 17 at 7:00 • 78m
The Avenging Conscience
D.W. Griffith, 1914 • Freed from Biograph, Griffith became more ambitious. Alongside the 1913 German feature The Student of Prague, this experimental adaptation of two works by Edgar Allan Poe ("Annabel Lee" and "The Tell-Tale Heart") is one of the earliest psychological horror films, and it's excellent. Featuring a chilling use of multiple exposures and a hypnotic, moonlit sense of light and movement, the photoplay dramatizes the tortured mindscape of a Victorian youth (Henry Walthall in the performance that made him a star), whose conservative uncle stands in the way of a union with his sweetheart (Blanche Sweet). 16mm
Sunday, October 24 at 7:00 • 167m
The Birth of a Nation
D.W. Griffith, 1915 • The Avatar of early cinema, The Birth of a Nation is practically James Cameronian in its scope. One of the most important films in the history of cinema, it is also one of the most reviled for the awful racism in its unbridled portrayal of lazy blacks and devious mulattoes. Griffith, who portrays the Ku Klux Klan as literal white knights fighting against the anarchy of a South under black control, also pioneers that art of the camera in flight, the close-up, in a never-before-seen form. Lillian Gish stars as the daughter of abolitionists fighting against the Old South. The screening will be accompanied by an introductory talk and post-screening discussion. 16mm
Sunday, October 31 at 7:00 • 196m
D.W. Griffith, 1916 • In the wake of the controversy aroused by The Birth of Nation, Griffith set about his next project with the ambitious aim of creating a wider-reaching historical epic. Four different narratives unfurl in different eras and countries. One recounts the fall of a peaceful Babylonian kingdom at the hands of savage invaders; another depicts the biblical tale of Jesus' persecution by the Pharisees. The "French Story" depicts the bloody massacre of French Huguenots, and in the "Modern Story", a young couple's lives are torn by unjust accusations. Woven into a magnificent tapestry via ingenious crosscutting, Intolerance demonstrates the grandeur of Griffith's cinematic vision. 16mm
Sunday, November 7 at 7:00 • 146m
Hearts of the World
D.W. Griffith, 1918 • Made at the request of the British government, so as to fire American enthusiasm to participate in the First World War, Hearts of the World depicts the ravaging of a French pastoral village by a savage German army. Like The Birth of a Nation, it was perhaps too successful in its task: "It inflamed people," recalled Lillian Gish. "Its depiction of German brutality bordered on the absurd. Whenever a German came near me, he beat me or kicked me." But according to Gish, Griffith never forgave himself. " 'War is the villain,' he repeated, 'not any particular people.' " 16mm
Sunday, Nov. 14 at 7:00 • 76m
A Romance of Happy Valley
D.W. Griffith, 1919 • The late teens were a period of re-entrenchment for Griffith. He followed his bombastic WWI epic Hearts of the World with a series of "short story" pictures that would emphasize "the sun on the corn and the wind." This is the most nostalgic of the lot, harking back to Griffith's boyhood days in rural Kentucky. Lillian Gish stars as the faithful sweetheart of a brash young Bobby Harron, the son of a farmer who ventures north to make it big in New York City by designing a swimming toy frog! Many silent films are carelessly described as corny, but here is one film that deserves, seeks, and proudly wears that title. 16mm
Sunday, November 21 at 7:00 • 61m
True Heart Susie
D.W. Griffith, 1919 • Though uncharacteristically modest and low-key, this lovely, charming pastoral is considered by many to be their favorite Griffith film. Lilian Gish stars as Susie, a small-town girl who loves the boy next door (Robert Harron) and does all she can to promote his ambitions. Yet her painful sacrifices are ignored as Harron falls victim to the charms of a "painted" city woman (from Chicago, yet!). Griffith imbues this simple tale with warmth and luminousness; rarely did he achieve such casual mastery of landscape and performance. As one reviewer has noted, "Minor Griffith? If so, there are few major directors besides Griffith." 16mm
Sunday, November 28 at 7:00 • 89m
Broken Blossoms
D.W. Griffith, 1919 • In tinted color, Griffith tells the story of the innocent love between frail waif Lucy Burrows (Lillian Gish) and sensitive Chinaman Cheng Huang (played by Richard Barthelmess), who Lucy alone in Griffith's twentieth-century London recognizes as a human being like herself. A silent melodrama made up of Gish's helplessness, father Donald Crisp's crudeness, and Barthelmess's inscrutable exoticism, Broken Blossoms is the story of gentle, educated Eastern naïveté, as personified in Barthelmess's Buddhist character, crushed by the insular brutality of the West. 16mm

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