Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages ★★★★½

Turmoil through time
As man's follies teeter
Like a rocking cradle.
Humanity's failings
Intimate as cosmic.

Was originally hoping to go long form on this, but time has passed too much and I have other stuff on my plate. It’s weird to think how often we talk about the epics of Griffith than what came before that, which is where he, despite the work of so many film researches finding other cases to be true, was pioneering or at least mastering a film language. (Trigger Warning: gratuitous name dropping to follow) I emailed Kristin Thompson after seeing this and we got onto how much the various two reelers like Pig Alley and A Girl and Her Trust are really the height of Griffith’s cinematic command, and the epics after Biograph like Intolerance is already moving toward a different type of style that will be more influential on Soviet Montage and early Dreyer than classical Hollywood.

What is the ambitious and “breakthrough” or innovative part of Intolerance is the integration of the narratives, which is actually more carefully handled than I remembered. What’s curious is how little the middle stories—the Christ narrative and the St. Bartholomew’s Day narrative—don’t really serve as full blown out narratives as much as interludes to help tie things in thematically. This kind of makes the French story slightly frustrating, because it seems much larger in scope with the characters it presents, but I wish we had spent a little more time so they could break out from archetype set (though that final tragedy makes it worth it). But the rest is fantastic, and I’m always struck by the screen performances that Griffith creates, which are much more subtle than a lot of other silent films I’ve seen from this era. In particular, his close-ups can be quite haunting, and as I got into on Facebook here, the tears he shows have a tactile presence that had me awestruck. Anyways, maybe I’ll go long on this one day, but there’s also a fantastic chapter on the film by Miriam Hansen in this anthology. What’s said is that this is melodrama at its key, and I actually had to breathe near the end at the hanging because the parallel edits have such a rhythm and unique precision that they truly kept me in suspense of the action, and damn near crying near the end.