D. W. Griffith Fallen and Can’t Get Up

         “Well, I certainly did not think that I could do worse.” D. W. Griffith.

         Well, you did. D. W. Griffith is considered by many a master storyteller and filmographer of the 1910s, who did important things like help found United Artists and produce revolutionary and classic movies such as his 1915 The Birth of a Nation. However, as his career went on he did little else to improve or revolutionize film.

         Griffith’s peak in cinematic history would have to have been around the time of The Birth of a Nation or the founding of United Artists. Quite literally past that every movie that he did had no significant impact. Griffith himself has worked on hundreds of movies…most of them shorts. But after The Birth of a Nation very few movies got any recognition at all. Intolerance: Love’s Struggle throughout the Ages (1916), won one award by the National Film Registry. Past that no extremely important movies were made by him, it is as if he fell off the planet.

         Some say it was his racist attitude, in my opinion it was his not escaping the silent film genre while so many other “talkie” movies were being made. It is as if he was not able to adapt to the times. His last movie had talking in it, but some critics claim: “It is a sorry attempt at a movie by a bitter old man.” That movie was The Struggle. (1931). In some arenas though and by some people they said that The Struggle was a great movie and highly underappreciated. One critic even claimed it groundbreaking by saying:

         “There are several innovations in the use of sound. At the time actors were careful to talk one after the other because it was thought that people talking at the same time would be too confusing for the audience. Griffith used overlapping dialog and a party scene with multiple background sounds of music and talking as well as dialog. This sounded far more natural. Also at this time actors were being told to use artificial elocution and diction when speaking on screen. They usually sounded either foreign or very upper crust. Griffith had his actors used natural accents. Hal Skelly and Zita Johnson sound like normal people who talk fast use slang and sometimes slur their words.”

        However, some claim those are just mistakes by a careless director. Who knows? Unfortunately, the premier of The Struggle went badly, and it never had a good release. It did however premier actress Helen Mack, who has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

         Overall, Griffith’s failed attempt at adapting to a changing Hollywood proved that he was unable to make it as a serious director past The Birth of a Nation.

A. J. Casey

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