This is the fourth DW Griffith film I’ve watched in my tour through film history, and the fourth starring Lillian Gish. It’s clear that Griffith spent each successive film figuring out how to highlight her electric charm. Because this movie rides or dies by Gish: When she’s onscreen, it’s magnetic. When she’s off, it’s a bit of a slog.
For the first hour or so of its 75 minutes, Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates is far more compelling as a historical artifact than as cinema.
DW Griffith, the premier American epic filmmaker of the 1910s, had his biggest financial stumble in the hugely ambitious, 3-hour Intolerance (my review here).
One fun part of my tour through movie history is experiencing various film movements and trends.
The problem with choosing “intolerance” as a theme for your time-sprawling opus is that it is so shapeless and blunt as to lose all meaning.
The film serial was an early cinema format that is, honestly, more familiar today than ever, though in a different mechanism:
I don’t even know where to begin. Imagine me staring speechless at a blank text box for several minutes as the prelude to this review.
As one of the first American narrative films, there is astonishing achievement and innovation in this 12 minute proto-western.
So I am thinking of beginning a likely-interminable quest to watch all of the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die, in chronological order.
Wish me luck on the 1910s in paritcular. Yikes.
I watched a hand-colored copy of the first movie on the list, A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune), which I found on YouTube.
This very short, very early film shows cinema in a prototype phase — it feels more like a filmed stage play for most of its duration, but a stage play with elaborate sets and physical effects, including a large rocket ship prop. The moon monsters vanishing into dust is perhaps the most cinematic trick here.
The iconic image of a rocket ship crashed into the man-on-the-moon’s eye is evocative and foreshadows animation. The hand coloring, while degraded, give everything a playful, fantastical look.
Despite its limitations, there’s true artistry in this film, even today. Passion and whimsy fill the frames. It’s delightful to see a very early take on fantasy and science fiction in film, clearly a work of love and inspiration.
Up next is The Great Train Robbery (1903).
April 2021 Update:
My 3-year-old daughter and I watched the first 4 episodes of Crash Course’s film history series, then watched this together. We talked about how the earliest movies had no sound or color. We narrated the story together — she laughed out loud when the moon monsters would disappear after being whacked by an umbrella. It made me love this even more!
I had a hard time connecting with this one.