Monday, October 19, 2015

Intolerance (1916)

The Sacking of Babylon (Scene from Intolerance)
D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance is his three-and-a-half hour black and white silent masterpiece, presenting four separate stories illustrating society’s intolerance of others.

I’d seen portions of the film before, but never sat down to watch it in its entirety, until I DVR’ed it last week when it was on Turner Movie Classics. I’ll admit here and now that it sat there in the DVR queue just waiting for me to find a large-enough chunk of time to watch it.

I finally committed myself to the movie on Sunday afternoon.

It’s not easy to watch silent films. In fact, I find it difficult to wrap my brain around the stories. Silents to me require greater concentration (can’t let my mind stray for a second or I’ll lose the train of thought).

Intolerance tells four interwoven stories:

1. An American modern story (c. 1914), about average Americans trying to survive in a society of clashing capitalism and striking workers, made more intolerable by puritanical morals and crime.

2. The fall of magnificent Babylon (539 B.C.) caused by a conflict between Belshazzar of Babylon and Persia’s Cyrus the Great. Each side has its own religion and cannot tolerate that of the other.

3. The intolerance of French Catholic royals who perpetrated the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 of Protestant Huguenots during the Renaissance.

4. A Biblical “Judean” story about how intolerance toward outcasts and religious threat led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Tying them together is the symbolic mother played by silent-movie icon, Lillian Gish, who represents the passing of generation as she rocks her baby in a cradle. Her participation probably helped the film’s popularity, despite the fact that she’s hardly recognizable at all.

Intolerance is a somewhat captivating film once you get into it. Many of the scenes drag on and on, but that’s the way they did it in those days. Would I watch it again? No, but I’m glad I sat through it at least once.

I think that’s pretty tolerable of me.

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