What a Difference Nine Years Make

†††††††† It is hard to choose only two movies out of all the ones we watched in class. I might not have been in love with them all, but it is easy to see why they are important to the history of the cinema and why the teacher chose them to show in this class.

I am going to discuss The Birth of a Nation, directed in 1915 by D. W. Griffith, and Greed, directed in 1924 by Erich Von Stroheim. †††††††† First I chose The Birth of a Nation. Besides my opposition to the racial issues it brings up, this film is important because it was one of the very first full-length movies ever. I have even learned about it in other classes. This film was made in 1915, before the depression of the industrial revolution when America made so many of its technological advances. This film is like a time capsule for style and technique, and serves as a great reminder how far film has come in nearly one hundred years.

†††††††† I also think it is interesting that Griffith chose to do a period piece about the Civil War. If he had done a movie that captured that time, I think it would have been even more interesting because we could have seen exactly what things were like in 1915, and it could serve as the first documentary of a time period in a way. It did, however, document the way many people (mostly the South) saw the outcome of the Civil War. It is a lot different from what we read about in textbooks today. We always learned that the South was pro-slavery, but we almost never get to see the Southern side of the story. I cannot say their view seemed very rational, but I guess every side deserves to have its story told.

†††††††† The second film I chose was Greed. This film came only nine year after The Birth of a Nation yet showed amazing technical advancements. It was still a silent film, sound would not be introduced for about another decade, but the story, shots, actors, and sets were ten times better than what had first been done. This movie also incorporated symbolism and more artistic direction, which I think puts this film way ahead of its time. The original directorsí cut was, I believe six hours long; and he and others had to cut it down until there was a suitable length to show to audiences. I guess Stroheim could have turned it into two or even three separate movies the way the film makers do today, so one has to buy two or three movie tickets just to see the whole story. I guess maybe back then directors had more than just dollar signs in their eyes. They wanted to be known as the first to master their field.

†††††††† Another thing that had noticeably improved was the acting. Before, almost all acting was done on stage, which is a lot different from acting on film. On stage the actors have to be louder to reach the whole audience. The actors have to be very dramatic with both their facial expressions and their body movements. On film, this type of acting did not look natural at all, which really defeats the whole purpose for watching a movie. The actors want to feel connected to the story and characters and lose themselves in their situations. In Greed, this really started to happen, especially with the character of McTeague (Gibson Gowland). I really felt for him and wanted him to end up happy at the end, but he had unfortunately gone way off the deep end.

†††††††† One of the most notable contributions this film has made was shooting on location. All the desert scenes at the end were shot in Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth. I think a desert would be acceptable to shoot on a set: there is not a lot to it, sand, buzzards and what not; but again, this movie was going for believable, and it got it.

†††††††† So those are two movies that have greatly contributed, and are important to the history of the cinema. They were some of the first, so filmmakers had to figure everything out and work out all the kinks so that we could get where we are today.

Paulina Combow

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