Posts tagged ‘Giovanni Pastrone’
November 24, 2009  |  An Auteurist History of Film
D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance
<i>Intolerance.</i> 1916. USA. Directed by D. W. Griffith. Acquired from the artist. Preserved with funding from the Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Fund

Intolerance. 1916. USA. Directed by D. W. Griffith. Acquired from the artist. Preserved with funding from the Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Fund

These notes accompany the screening of D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance on November 25 in Theater 2 and November 27 in Theater 3.

The humdrum life of a film archivist can occasionally be ameliorated by privileged moments. One of these was related to Intolerance (1916). Joseph Henabery (1888–1976) played Abraham Lincoln in The Birth of a Nation and had a small part in the French story of Intolerance. In 1916, under D. W. Griffith’s tutelage, he began a career as a director. Unlike some Griffith protégés (John Ford, Erich von Stroheim, Raoul Walsh), he never rose above the status of journeyman, although he did get to work with Douglas Fairbanks, Dorothy Gish, and Rudolph Valentino; he wound up making training films for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Due to happy accident, Henabery’s real legacy lay elsewhere. When Griffith set out to recreate Babylon for Intolerance, he took a leaf from the book of Giovanni Pastrone, director of Cabiria (1914), doing serious research to ensure the authenticity of his recreation. Henabery was assigned to gather together photos and drawings of Babylonian buildings and art and compile them in a scrapbook for Griffith’s use. When Griffith’s papers were acquired by the museum by Iris Barry, the scrapbook was included. Henabery visited the Museum shortly before his death, and my colleagues and I had the pleasure of looking through his work of nearly sixty years earlier with him. The Babylonian set and the introductory crane shot that Griffith and cinematographer “Billy” Bitzer devised remain stunning. The movies had offered nothing like it before, and seldom had since.

November 10, 2009  |  An Auteurist History of Film
Giovanni Pastrone’s Cabiria

These notes accompany the screening of Giovanni Pastrone’s Cabiria on November 11, 12, and 13 in Theater 3.

H. G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895, simultaneous with the birth of the movies. By sending out their cadre of globetrotting cameramen, the Lumière brothers quickly opened up the world of the present (replete with all its regional oddities and exoticism) to film audiences. Wells mastered the speculative future in the tradition of Jules Verne, but perhaps even more intriguing for filmgoers was the possibility film offered to travel back in time and retrieve the distant past.

D. W. Griffith had dabbled in this (with his In Prehistoric Days, 1913, for example), but the real heavy lifting was done by the Italians. This is appropriate, since the thousand-year history of the Roman Republic and Empire was unrivaled in its impact on the contemporary world; Italy practically owned history. This was accentuated for visual artists by the poignant beauty of surviving ruins and statuary, both in Rome and spread over three continents. Italy’s heritage contributed mightily to the seeming authenticity of its celluloid spectacles.

November 3, 2009  |  An Auteurist History of Film
D. W. Griffith Leaves Biograph
Blanche Sweet in <i>Judith of Bethulia.</i> 1914. USA. Directed by D. W. Griffith. Acquired from the artist

Blanche Sweet in Judith of Bethulia. 1914. USA. Directed by D. W. Griffith. Acquired from the artist

These notes accompany the D. W. Griffith Leaves Biograph program, which screens on November 4, 5, and 6 in Theater 3 as part of the two-year </em>An Auteurist History of Film</a> exhibition.</span></p>

1915 marked the publication of poet Vachel Lindsay’s The Art of the Moving Picture, the first serious attempt in English to come to grips with the medium that had outgrown penny arcades and nickelodeons and was now threatening to appear in venues that would rival cathedrals. In the preceding year, as extraordinary European films like Benjamin Christensen’s The Mysterious X (released as Sealed Orders in the U.S.) and Giovanni Pastrone’s Cabiria were arriving on American shores, D. W. Griffith had been tearing at the seams of his constraining Biograph contract. As with so many early commentaries on the movies, Lindsay struggled to find the language that would do justice to his thoughts. (One thinks of a young Eugene O’Neill groping for words, or of Griffith himself, trying to articulate something previously undefined and unrecognized.) In fact, in his enthusiasm for film, indicative of the heady atmosphere of the times, Lindsay waxed positively Biblical, informing filmmakers:

“All of you who are taking the work as a sacred trust, I bid you God-speed…. You will be God’s thoroughbreds…. It has come then, this new weapon of men, and the face of the whole earth changes. In after centuries its beginning will be indeed remembered. It has come, this new weapon of men, and by faith and a study of the signs we proclaim that it will go on and on in immemorial wonder.”