David Wark Griffith was in many ways the first film director -- a master craftsman who invented modern film editing and camerawork and originated many (most?) of the cinematic devices used today. His silent epics are lavish, impressive spectacles. Griffith's films suffer less from the technical limitations of silent movies than from their ideology-addled screenplays and crudely rendered morals which are half-lost in confusing action and broad humor. In short, Griffith's films have pretty much the same flaws as a lot of Hollywood movies today.
Intolerance was Griffith's follow-up to The Birth of a Nation, the first important commercial motion picture. Nation cost $100,000 and made ten times that, and was praised by President Woodrow Wilson, among others. But the movie's endorsements of segregation and the Ku Klux Klan received some criticism (go figure). Like so many egoistic auteurs after him, Griffith took the criticism badly while letting the praise go to his head. Griffith blew a Titanic budget (for the time) making Intolerance, a self-indulgent, confusing ten reels about man's inhumanity to his fellow man. If Birth of a Nation was the first blockbuster (and the birth of the movie industry, in fact), Intolerance was the first Ishtar -- i.e., the first reminder that when it comes to making art or even entertaining the public, Hollywood doesn't have all the answers.
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