Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Richard Barthlemess, Donald Crisp, Dorothy Gish, Henry B. Walthall, Ralph Lewis, Miriam Cooper, Margery Wilson, Constance Talmadge, Robert Harron, Elmer Clifton, Tully Marshall, Joseph Schildkraut, Mary Pickford
Written by: D.W. Griffith, Frank E. Woods, Anita Loos, Thomas Burke,
Directed by: D.W. Griffith
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 1000
Date: 19/03/2013

Griffith Masterworks (2002)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Birth of a Legend

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Griffith Masterworks on DVD.

History has had a difficult time with D.W. Griffith. Racist. Visionary. Old-fashioned. Ground breaking. Inert. Puritanical. Master filmmaker.

Anyone seriously interested in film must own this DVD package celebrating the work of arguably the cinema's most important figure. Even Orson Welles and John Ford could tell you that much; they credited Griffith as their inspiration again and again during their lifetimes.

The Kino box set is hugely essential, due to the sheer quantity of film it contains. It begins with Griffith's most notorious film, arguably the most historically significant ever made, The Birth of a Nation (1915). It was one of the first films to experiment with long form, and the first bona-fide American blockbuster.

As an answer to the racist charges that The Birth of a Nation caused, Griffith followed it with Intolerance (1916), an even bigger and more impressive film -- a true masterpiece. It takes place over four historical eras, from Ancient Babylon to modern day, and the sets alone are enough to make your eyes bulge. Still, Intolerance flopped and caused Griffith to struggle for the rest of his career.

Even so, Griffith managed to deliver the outstanding Broken Blossoms in 1919, a beautiful film about the battered daughter (Lillian Gish) of a prizefighter who finds refuge with a peaceful Chinese shopkeeper (Richard Barthelmess). It's less than half the length of the epics and keeps its story small, but it's another masterpiece.

Gish returned with her sister Dorothy for Orphans of the Storm (1922), also included in this set.

The box finishes off with a two-disc set of two-reelers, notably two of his most famous and revolutionary, A Corner in Wheat (1909) and The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912), the latter of which helped inspire Martin Scorsese with Gangs of New York.

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