FIFTY FAMOUS FILMS – BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE (INTOLERANCE)

 

FIFTY FAMOUS FILMS – BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE (INTOLERANCE)

  • NATIONAL FILM THEATRE
  • FIFTY FAMOUS FILMS
  • 1915—1945
  • BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE
  • NATIONAL FILM ARCHIVE
  • Printed by Cox & Sharland Ltd.
  • London and Southampton

FOREWORD

the publication in a single booklet of the Programme Notes covering fifty major films in the history of the Cinema drawn from our own National Film Archive and the Film Archives of other countries is one of several innovations. We believe our members will find it more convenient to have the Notes in this form. Apart from being less expensive for those who come regularly to the theatre, it is hoped that the booklet will have some value as a permanent reference work.

James Quinn – DIRECTOR

Intolerance – Babylon

INTOLERANCE

All Ages:

  • The Woman Who Rocks the Cradle – Lillian Gish

Modern Story (1914 a.d.):

  • The Dear One – . . Mae Marsh
  • Her Father, a mill worker – Fred Turner
  • The Boy – Robert Harron
  • Jerkins, mill magnate – Sam de Grasse
  • Mary Jenkins, his sister – Vera Lewis
  • Strike Leader – Monte Blue
  • Two Crooks – Tod Browning, Edward Dillon

Judean Story (27 a.d.):

  • The Nazarene – . . Howard Gaye
  • Mary, the mother – Lillian Langdon
  • Mary Magdalene – Olga Grey
  • First Pharisee – Erich von Stroheim
  • Second Pharisee – Gunther von Ritzau
  • Bride of Gana – Bessie Love

Medieval French Story (1572 a.d.):

  • Brown Eyes, daughter of a Huguenot family – Margery Wilson
  • Prosper Latour, her sweetheart – Eugene Pallette
  • Charles IX, King of France – Frank Bennett
  • Catherine de Medici – Josephine Crowell
  • Marguerite de Valois, sister of Charles IX – Constance Talmadge
  • Due d’Anjou, heir to the Throne – Maxfield Stanley

Babylonian Story (539 B.C.):

  • The Mountain Girl – Constance Talmadge
  • The Rhapsode, her suitor and secret agent of the High Priest of Bel – . . Elmer Clifton
  • The Prince Belshazzar – . . Alfred Paget
  • The Princess Beloved, adored of Belshazzar – . . Seena Owen
  • The King Nabonidus, ancient apostle of religious toleration – Carl Stockdale
  • The High Priest of Bel, who conspires against the Throne – Tully Marshall
  • Cyrus, emperor and war lord of the Persians,world-conqueror – George Siegmann
  • Gobyras, the Mighty Man of Valour,Belshazzar’s bodyguard – Elmo Lincoln
  • Captain at the Great Gate of Imgur-Bel – . . Ted Duncan
  • Solo Dancer – Ruth St. Denis
Intolerance

Slave Girls, Dancers, Hand-Maidens from Ishtar’s Temple of Love : Virgins of the Sacred Fires of Life : Entertainers at Belshazzar’s Feast, etc., etc.

Alma Rubens, Carmel Myers, Pauline Starke, Mildred Harris Chaplin {Mrs. Charles Chaplin), Eve Southern, Winifred Westover, Jewel Carmen, Colleen Moore, Natalie Talmadge, Carol Dempster, Ethel Terry, Daisy Robinson, Anna Mae Walthall {Anna Mae Wongl)The Denishawn Dancers and other Players from the Triangle Theatre.

Triangle Theatre “stars” and featured players, who played “bit” parts or “extra” roles:

Douglas Fairbanks, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, De Wolf Hopper, Frank Campeau, Donald Crisp, Nigel de Brulier, Wilfred Lucas, Owen Moore, Andre Beranger, Tammany Young, Francis Carpenter.

Supported by a cast of some 20,000 “extras” players, engaged from the populations of the Californian coastal towns and suburbs.

THE FOUR STORIES

To illustrate the philosophy of history as thus outlined, Griffith chose four stories, separate in time and space, but interrelated by the common theme (intolerance), and projected through cinematic “cross-cutting in parallel sequence” {i.e. the action is not shown in the form of four separate stories; instead, the action constantly interchanges between the four stories, thus stressing the Theme common to each). The Four stories of Intolerance are as follows:

(1). THE JUDEAN STORY, or the life of Jesus of Nazareth {A.D.27). This depicts the conflict of Jesus with the Pharisees, the Jewish rabbinate and with Rome. The organized opposition of the rabbinate against the “Man of Men” (subtitle), with his revolutionary “New Law”, is cited as an example of ecclesiastical intolerance, affecting the lives of future millions of people.

(2). THE MEDIEVAL STORY, or the war between the Catholics and the Huguenots, in 16th-Century France {A.D. 1572). The story dramatizes the strife in the 16th century between the Catholic hierarchy of France and the rising Protestant movement; it culminates in a bloody climax—the massacre of the Huguenots, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572. Religious intolerance.

(3). THE FALL OF BABYLON, in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar—an epic of an act of treason by the established theological hierarchy under the dictatorship of the High Priest of Bel. The High Priest fears and fights the introduction into Babylon of new religions from without, and of new liberalising political or social ideas from within. Accordingly, when the State-religion of Babylon is threatened with rivalry—when it can no longer dictate, unchallenged, the pattern of the national culture—then the High Priest and his cohorts among the hierarchy betray Belshazzar’s empire-city to Cyrus, world-conqueror, emperor and warlord of the Persians. Imperialistic-political, religious, and racial intolerance.

(4). THE MODERN STORY (The Mother and the Law) (circa. A.D. 1914). Finally, the Modern Story, the opening sequences of which are the first to appear in Intolerance, dramatizes the struggle between Capital and Labour (class-hatred), in the early years of the 20th Century, in the United States of America. Economic and Social intolerance.

(5). EPILOGUE (The Future). Upon the conclusion of the four stories, there follows an Epilogue, in which Griffith prophesies in spectacular imagery a future Armageddon (or war) for the world; the bombing of New York City in an unnamed conflict of the future; weird modern instruments of war; the ultimate downfall of all worldly tyrannies ; the elimination of prisons and other places of incarceration ; the ultimate liberation of all men and all nations from every form of bondage; the advent of universal peace through universal love; and, at the climax of climaxes, an Apocalyptic vision. This final imagery follows the sub-title: “And perfect love shall bring peace forevermore.”

Intolerance – The End Scene

The theme of Intolerance is the age-old struggle of men against intolerance: or, as Griffith saw it, the struggle between intolerance and love (the film was publicised as “Love’s struggle throughout the Ages”). In order to emphasize that the conflict was a never-ending one, Griffith decided to present it in four separate stories, taken from four periods of history, told concurrently and intermingled as the film proceeds. The narrative is punctuated at intervals by the figure of a mother, rocking “the Cradle of Destiny”. This daring conception is not entirely successful. While it gave Griffith a vast canvas, and enabled him to secure some striking effects of tempo in the relating of one story to another, it also splits spectators’ attention insuperably between the various stories which is doubtless responsible for its ponderous and exhausting effect on most people.

Intolerance

Intolerance was a lavishly expensive film for its period, costing two million dollars to make, (one million came from Griffith’s own profits on The Birth of a Nation). The cost was enormous and no expense was spared to secure realism in the historical settings; the sets for the “Babylonian Story” were constructed full size and it is improbable that their like will be seen again since such effects in a modern film will be obtained more economically by the use of models and other special effects.

“The Modern Story,” in Intolerance was originally conceived by Griffith as a single complete film under the title of The Mother and the Law. It was undoubtedly the social implications in this story which caused Lenin to arrange for Intolerance to be toured throughout the Soviet Union where it ran almost continuously for ten years. It was closely studied by young Russian directors of the new Soviet cinema in the early ‘twenties and it exercised a profound influence on men like Eisenstein and Pudovkin.

Intolerance – Seena Owen and Alfred Paget

The following quotation from Film Notes issued by the Museum of Modern Art Film Library may be of interest.

‘Though Intolerance has been revived time and again, especially in Europe, unlike The Birth of a Nation it was not a popular success. Audiences find it bewildering, exhausting. There is so much in it ; there is too much of it ; the pace increases so relentlessly ; its abrupt hail of images—many of them only five frames long—cruelly hammers the sensibility; its climax is near hysteria. No question but that the film is chaotic, or that it has many faults. The desire to instruct and to reform obtrudes awkwardly. The lyricism of the sub-titles accords oddly with the foot-notes appended to them. The Biblical sequence is weak, though useful dramatically to point up the modern sequence. The French episode gets lost, then reappears surprisingly. And, as Pudovkin says, “There is a strong discrepancy between the depth of the motif and the superficiality of its form.”

‘Of the Babylonian and the modern episodes little adverse criticism is permissible and only admiration remains in face of the last two reels, when the climax of all four stories approaches and history itself seems to pour like a cataract across the screen. In his direction of the immense crowd scenes, Griffith achieves the impossible for—despite their profusion and breath-taking scale—the eye is not distracted, it is irresistibly drawn to the one significant detail. The handling of the actors in intimate scenes has seldom been equalled, particularly in the modern sequence. This searching realism, this pulsing life comes not only from Griffith’s power to mould his players but, in equal measure, from his editorial skill.’

Extras crowd – army from Intolerance

In conclusion, there follows a series of notes taken from the researches by the distinguished American film historian Seymour Stern, which provide further details on the immensity of the undertaking as a whole:

Absence of Film-Script. For reasons of secrecy, Intolerance, the most massive and complex film ever made, was shot from beginning to end without recourse to any form of written Scenario or Script of any kind ! As a result, the nature of Griffith’s film was kept a complete secret, from the first day of “shooting” until the time of its first public exhibition.

The Sets. These are celebrated throughout film history, especially the fabulous sets for the Babylonian story. These sets for “Belshazzar’s empire-city” were erected on a site of 254 acres … it can be said with truth that Griffith built a full-sized replica of the City of Babylon on this site, using for his material mudbrick and wood on stone basis. The towers of Babylon’s encircling walls reached a height of 200 feet, but Griffith’s masterpiece was his reconstruction of the “Hall of Belshazzar’s Feast.” This fantastically enormous set consisted of an immense outdoor Court, centred in terraced steps and lion-headed balustrades, and colonnaded on opposite sides with overtowering, over-life-size sculptured elephants; these were poised, forelegs aloft, on columnar bases fifty feet above the set-floor. The Hall was designed to accommodate, without crowding, five thousand persons at a time.

Crowd-Scenes. In these, as in the sets, everything was on a lavish scale. The largest ‘mass-shot’ in screen history is that depicting the final assault by Cyrus’s Armies on the Walls of Babylon; in this scene, more than 16,000 “extras” appear at one time on the screen. Griffith himself has stated that, during the two years of production, about 60,000 “extras” in all were employed; each was paid $2 a day for eight hours, plus a 60-cent free lunch.

Cost of Production. The total cost of the film, in 1916, was two million dollars. The greater part of the cost went on the Babylonian sequences, which cost in all some 650,000 dollars. Of this sum, some 250,000 dollars was spent on building the Hall of Belshazzar’s Feast, while the ‘Princess Beloved’s’ costume for the same scene cost 8,000 dollars.

Lillian Gish in Intolerance (1916) – The Cradle Endlessly Rocking

In 1936, twenty years after its original release, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ‘budgeted’ the film in an effort to estimate its cost under current conditions. The estimate revealed that if the same film were made in that year by that studio, shot-by-shot as it had been made in 1915-16, but with Union labour, stars’ salaries, etc, and with the addition of “sound”, the production cost would be around Twelve Million Dollars. On a relative scale, therefore, Intolerance remains the most expensive film ever produced in the History of the Motion Picture. The really significant feature of Griffith’s “Babylon” was the fact that, despite all its titanic dimensions, it was completely unplanned; G. W. Bitzer (in charge of Photography of the film) states: “Imagine setting out what were to be the mammoth sets for Intolerance without any sketches, plans or blue-prints at the beginning . . . Griffith, myself and Wortman (Set Engineer) would have a ‘pow-wow’ on the spot . . . that was the beginning of a set for Intolerance, to which, as it progressed and became a fifty-foot high structure, a hundred feet or more long, Mr Griffith kept continually adding . . . eventually, the walls and towers soared to a height of well over a hundred and fifty feet, although the foundations were originally intended for a fifty-foot height!”

Photo Gallery – Intolerance – Behind the Scenes

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