D. W. Griffith the Natural Film Maker

         One film maker that has truly changed the development of the cinema is D. W. Griffith. David Wark Griffith started his work in the theaters as an actor even though his real dream was to be a writer. Griffith, at first, did not think about the idea of writing for films but was interested more in plays and published articles or poems. However, when he was still struggling in this, according to A History of a Narrative Film, Max Davidson, an old friend, told him that he should try selling some of his writings to film makers. This is when his career in the film industry began

         In the first year of Griffith's career, he was able to direct six films for Biograph. But, Griffith's influences on the techniques of filming become clear when he began to experiment with 180-degree system. According to David A. Cook's A History of a Narrative Film, 180-degree system is a system "that assumes that a scene's action will always progress along a straight line from the right to left or left to right of the frame" (54). With this new developed system, Griffith also used medium long shots, full shots, medium shots, and extreme long shots to break up the scenes from his films. This gives added effect to given scenes because it was a dramatic difference from a medium shot to a full shot. By these techniques Griffith was leading the way in film making.

         Griffith was now also filming in a way of putting together in one film a plot through different characters point of views. This is the start for intercutting in the film industry because the films that Griffith directed using different shots and cutting them into the film were watched and then explored by other film makers. Also, credited to Griffith are the iris shot, mask, split screen and the soft focus shot. These techniques are used to add effect and visual texture to the films.

         While these are all great advancements that were made in filming, Griffith was just beginning to desire a longer film. Griffith's first two-reeler film was Man's Genesis and would lead the way for Griffith's most famous film, The Birth of a Nation (1915). This is a film that was based on the novel The Clansman and was based in South Carolina at Civil War times. Griffith never wrote any of his ideas and directions of this film down. He was able to develop the film in his mind, and then he carried it out without any directions. This was extremely hard because the film was long and because the actions were very difficult to do with a parallel structure. However, this film was clearly the best film of its time but was also reviewed as racist and very controversy. Even with some of the worst reviews, it was still watched by America and according to A History of a Narrative Film, it "would return more than $15 million" (65). Also, "President Woodrow Wilson, who was himself a professional historian, is reputed to have said, "It is like writing history with lightning." The comment that was made by President Wilson would aid greatly in making the film become popular even though he was later forced to recant his comment due to the film's racist view.

        There are several more films that Griffith directed, but A Birth of a Nation is his most famous of all films. Although almost of all of his contributions to the cinema can be seen in the one film, A Birth of a Nation, which has changed the filming industry even today. Griffith was able to produce films that were story like in the way they were seen on the screens instead of the choppiness that can be seen from films before intercutting. This intercutting was perfected by Griffith and then spread to other film makers. Griffith was able to make the films he produced look natural and added effects that had never been seen before but can still be seen today in the film industry.

Work Cited

Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004.

Dana Kennemore

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