A Year: Day to Day Men: 5th of September

Mystical Smoker

September 5, 1916 marks the film release of D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance”.

“Intolerance” is an epic silent film directed by D.W. Griffith and regarded as one of the great masterpieces of the silent era of film.  The three and a half hour epic has four parallel story lines: a Modern melodrama of crime and redemption, a Judean story of Jesus’ mission and death, a French story of the 1572 Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the story of the fall of the Babylonian Empire. In the original print, each story had its own distinctive color tint.

Breaks between the differing time periods are marked by the symbolic image of a mother rocking a cradle, representing the passing of generations. The film simultaneously cross-cuts back and forth and interweaves the segments over great gaps of space and time, with over 50 transitions between the segments. Director Griffith wanted his characters to be emblematic of human types; thus, in the film many of the characters do not have names. The central modern female character is called “The Dear One”, her young husband “The Boy”, and the leader of the local Mafia is “The Musketeer of the Slums”.

“Intolerance” was a colossal undertaking featuring monumental sets, lavish period costumes, and more than 3,000 extras. The lot on Sunset Boulevard featured a Babylon set with 300 feet walls as well as streets of Judea and medieval France. The extras were reported to have been paid a combined total of $12,000 a day. The cost of producing the film was almost $386,000, which was financed mostly by Griffith himself, contributing to Griffith’s financial ruin for the rest of his life.

“Intolerance” had enthusiastic reception from the film critics at its premiere. Even though the film was the most expensive American film made up to that point and it did far less business than Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation”, it earned approximately $1 million for its backers, a respectable performance and enough to recoup its budget. In 1989, “Intolerance” was one of the first films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

In 1989 “Intolerance” was given a formal restoration by film preservationists Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. This version, running 177 minutes, was prepared by Thames Television from original 35 millimeter material, and its tones and tints were restored per Griffith’s original intent. It also has a digitally recorded orchestral score by Carl Davis. This version is part of the Rohauer Collection who worked in association with Thames on the restoration. It was given a further digital restoration by Cohen Media Group and was reissued to select theaters, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray, in 2013. This print contains footage not found on other versions.

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