NOTABLE FIGURES IN THE 1920s: D.W. GRIFFITH

"I made them see, didn't I? I changed everything." -D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith is often called the father of the motion picture. Although he is best known for his feature-length silent Birth Of A Nation, he directed a great wealth of other films. His career spanned 50 years from the 1900s to the late 1940s. His unique artistry gave rise to some of the most ingenious film techniques seen at the time. Yet through his success he still managed to maintain an unenviable reputation.

Born in Oldham, Kentucky in 1875, David Wark Griffith initially set out to become a playwright but had very little prosperity in the field. In 1907, he traveled to Hollywood in an attempt to sell one of his film scripts to a movie producer Edwin S. Porter. After the producer’s refusal to purchase it, he found work as a writer and director in a small production company Biograph Studios in 1908. During a period of five years, he directed a touch over 400 short films.

 

Griffith soon had a yearning to create feature-length films. Unfortunately, his studio company would not allow it. The company eventually decided to get into the business of making longer pictures and hired stage directors to make them. Griffith was insulted. The ambitious filmmaker left the company and joined another in 1913, Harry Aitken's Reliance Majestic Company.

From there, Griffith created his most ambitious, most lauded, yet most controversial film Birth of a Nation (1915).  The three-hour, 12-reel film concerned Civil War Reconstruction and a not-so-publicly-favorable view of the Ku Klux Klan. The film was revered highly in all parts of the world, especially Russia where it inspired the great Soviet directors such as Eisenstein and Pudovkin. The film used landmark techniques such as flashback, fade-outs, and close-ups which are still used today.

 

Though the piece was memorable for its artistic merits, it was highly criticized for its seeming racial bias and its glorification of Klan ideals. In an attempt to silence the attackers, Griffith rebounded with Intolerance (1916) which explained that the history of man has constantly been plagued with other forms of intolerance and injustice.

Griffith went on to direct many films thereafter, all larger in scale but not in financial viability. Audiences soon became tired of his stories and settled for more action-oriented films. He lived out the remainder of his life alone and forgotten by the industry he helped create.

Birth Of A Nation and Intolerance stand as Griffith's greatest breakthrough works considering he made about 500 films in his career. They both utilize masterful film techniques that are commonly used in today’s industry. D.W. Griffith is indeed one of the great ones in the hundred-year history of the motion picture.


"Remember how small the world was before I came along. I brought it all to life: I moved the whole world onto a 20-foot screen." -D.W. Griffith