Intolerance -- After making his racially biased "The Birth of a Nation" (1914), D.W. Griffith shot a potboiler titled "The Mother and the Law" (1915). It is a moral tale of how a husband is sent to jail on planted evidence and his wife is deprived of her baby by three righteous old biddies who think that having fun of any kind is immoral.
On second thought, Griffith thought the project was too puny to follow the Civil War epic; so he first expanded it and then decided to add three other stories to show how Intolerance has always been with us and will someday vanish from society. What came out at the end was the more or less three hours of "Intolerance" (1917) and has become one of the milestones of cinema. One may now judge its strengths and faults on a restored edition on the Cohen Film Collection label.
With the use of the original tinted sequences and a new score by Carl Davis, this 167-minute presentation will take some tolerance from the viewer. As was true of the original audiences, the intercuts between the four stories -- the fall of Babylon, the Crucifixion, the slaughter of the Huguenots and the do-good groups in 1917 modern society -- make some of the plots hard to follow. Towards the end, the intercutting becomes so frequent that almost all sense of continuity is lost. Yes, it is exciting as a Huguenot man races to save his fiancée, as a warrior girl races to save Babylon, and as a speeding car races to save an innocent man from the gallows. On the other hand, one might smile at a good idea pushed too far.
The stories abound in stereotypes. Rather than names, Griffith called some of them by such descriptive phrases as the Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge), Brown Eyes (Margery Wilson), Beloved Princess (Seena Owen), and -- try not to giggle -- The Dear One (Mae Marsh). The males are identified as The Boy (Robert Harron) and The Musketeer of the Slums (Walter Long, who was to threaten Laurel and Hardy in many of their films in the near future). And that is Lillian Gish rocking the eternal cradle!
Given the extremes of silent film acting and the stereotyping, it is difficult to believe in any of these characters. To me, the exception is Constance Talmadge, the only female lead who doesn’t yield to despair and fall into faints. No, she puts on a helmet, grabs a bow and arrow and fights for what she thinks is right. (It happens to be Belshazzar [Alfred Paget], but let that pass.)
The moral message of the film is undeniably sledge hammer. And the final scene of soldiers throwing down their arms as angels approve from above is so overdone as to be laughable. Still, I can imagine its impression in 1917, when audiences were less jaded.
To anyone interested in the history of the cinema, "Intolerance" is a must. The booklet has excellent background material and should be read first.
Non-Stop to Nowhere -- I know that the decimals in the full value of the square root of 2 are infinite. I begin to wonder about the 78 and LP recordings available to "The Golden Age of Light Music" series of CDs from Guild. The 206th set in the series is "Non-Stop to Nowhere." It consists of 26 selections having to do (as far as I can ascertain) with no binding theme whatsoever and is nevertheless (as are all CDs in this series) a joy to "be-hear."
The program notes describe the disc as "simply an assortment of all kinds of Light Music, with a proportion of it included at the special request of music lovers who have purchased previous CDs in this long running series." If this means that Guild is repeating itself, I am sorry to hear it. But if that is so, I wonder how many actually own and have memorized the contents of the earlier 205 sets!
Among the selections from original discs released from 1942 to 1962 are "On the Side of the Angels," "Antilles," "Grasshopper," "Poppet," "Candy Floss," "Follies Parade" and "Starlight Special." Among the orchestras heard are those of Alfred Newman, Florian Zabach, Mitchell Ayres, Bruce Campbell and Percy Faith.
So all aboard for restful and pleasant listening!
Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays.