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A Deep And Complex Moral Lesson But Also A Splendid Film
on 17 February 2001
D.W. Griffith's previous great 'Birth of a Nation' had aroused such controversy that he decided to fight back. Intolerance is a superb piece of filmmaking and one that I most strongly recommend to all true lovers of the cinema. The lesson is made in four stories: The first story is of how the Priest of Bel betrays Belshazzar in ancient Babylon, with the final conclusion being the savage destruction of the great city. The battle scenes more than rival those of Ben Hur, Alexander the Great or any other tale of heroism in old times. The second story is that of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and of those who allowed it to happen. This story is not explored upon much and is given less treatment than the other three, although its impact remains potent. The third story takes place in renaissance France, where the Catholics slaughter the Protestants. The massacre is more violent than one would expect from a film of 1916, and despite its rather crude delivery, it still manages to shock and appal. The final story is set in what was then the modern world. A group of women fighting for decency and a proper society reduce life to a boring and monotonous existence. A man is to be hanged for a murder committed by one of the women who does not confess and when she finally does, a gang of men rush to save the boy just in time. All these stories are linked by an image of Lillian Gish rocking a cradle, symbolic of the innocence she protects.
Intolerance is extremely meaningful and poignant with good performances and shocking moments throughout. Its breathtaking sets and scenes are enough to keep anyone entertained, and this film comes to a superb climax four times. However, it also has to set the scene for four different stories which makes the first forty minutes very dull, but stick with it as it improves.
Griffith could hardly hope to match the brilliance of The Birth of A Nation which was released a year before this, but this film alone is enough to make him worthy of remembrance.
Eureka Videos has done a superb job in restoring this great film. Of the three silent films I owned before this (Nosferatu, Phantom of the Opera and Metropolis) all were badly in need of restoration, which reduced the viewing pleasure. The picture quality is very clean and adds to the experience. The film is also tinted for those of you who prefer a more colourful look, I however do not and always turn off the colour on my TV with tinted films, either have it in colour or in black and white is what I say.