AFI Top 100: No. 49 Intolerance

Intolerance is a 3 hour 17 minute film from 1916… needless to say, I was not looking forward to it. Much to my surprise, it was interesting and the production value (especially for the time period) was quite impressive. A three hour movie is long by any standards, and fortunately for us, the movie itself was split into two acts, of which we took advantage.

There were four different stories that the director, D.W. Griffin, intermixed with each other. The oldest of the stories was about the fall of Babylon, the next about the days prior to the crucification of Jesus Christ, followed by the massacre on St. Bartholomew Day and finally a “modern” tale about a couple. The story of Jesus was hardly touched upon, likely due to the universal knowledge of it. The other three were more prominent, especially the modern tale. The goal of the film is to show that intolerance and terrible things to good people has happened throughout the ages, and I actually enjoyed the back-and-forth between the stories to showcase how this is an ongoing tradition. It’s still very relevant to this day and Griffin’s style of cutting the scenes makes the movie still extremely watchable.

As aforementioned, one of the most significant parts of the film was the production itself. The set designs were massive, and the amount of talent in the movie was grandiose. With four stories included from four completely different eras in time, the detail to the costume design was also notable. Much like I mentioned in my write-up on LOTR, I was in awe of the sets, especially the Babylonian one. The scale of the production was truly ahead of its time (and therefore put the director into debt, whoops).

With silent films, you always hope that the acting is sharp. The two I was most impressed with was “Mountain Girl” and the “Dear One.” Mountain Girl’s awkward lumbering and boyish manners made me chuckle throughout the movie while I truly felt sad for the Dear One several times as well. The story I felt least connected with, until the sad ending, was the St. Bartholomew massacre. Overall, I was quite impressed with the emotion the actors attempted to portray. Their sorrow, happiness, anxiety and relief were shown and I found myself at the edge of my seat a few times.

I did my usual investigating following the film and found that originally it was not Intolerance on the Top 100 list but Griffin’s earlier and more notorious film, The Birth of Nation. Frankly, I’m glad I did not have to watch that but, judging by how impressive the production of Intolerance was, despite how terrible the message of The Birth of Nation is, I’m sure it truly was quite a milestone in filmmaking. Obviously Griffin made an impact on films and I’m glad I was able to actually enjoy Intolerance.

Next Up: Rear Window.

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