Way Down East Sure, D.W. Griffith is the father of American movies. But are his films- recently restored and rereleased on tape-still worth watching? Made more than 80…
Video Review

Broken Blossoms;The Birth of a Nation;Way Down East;Judith of Bethulia & Home, Sweet Home

Sure, D.W. Griffith is the father of American movies. But are his films- recently restored and rereleased on tape-still worth watching? Made more than 80 years ago, are they compelling, entertaining, meaningful? Yes, yes, and yes. But they do require something unfamiliar to most modern audiences: concentration. The staid camera work demands close attention to the details in Griffith's carefully staged shots. Unfortunately, those details, as well as the editing rhythms, lose much on the small screen. Begin with his great romantic tragedy, Broken Blossoms, a mesmerizing film that achieves a crescendo of violence as Lillian Gish cowers in a tiny closet under assault from her savage father. The Birth of a Nation is sickeningly racist, but the thrill of a new storytelling language coming into its own is not to be denied; at 21 2 hours Way Down East is too long, but anyone excited by modern action films will marvel at the chase over the ice floe; the inspirational epic Judith of Bethulia and the parallel situations of Home, Sweet Home are interesting as preludes to Griffith's Intolerance-the most spectacular of all invocations to ancient history. As Kino did with the rest of the tapes in its multivolume Masterworks of D.W. Griffith, the company has done a fine job of restoration (only Judith of Bethulia is substandard), providing the original orchestral scores and the original color tints. Yet many acting credits are omitted, and some of the images are poorly centered-pesky stains on essential video documents. Broken Blossoms: A+ The Birth of a Nation: A Way Down East: B+ Judith of Bethulia & Home, Sweet Home: C+ -Gary Giddins

Originally posted Jun 11, 1994 Published in issue #174 Jun 11, 1993 Order article reprints
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