1 Year, 100 Movies: #49 Intolerance (1916)

Intolerance

For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!

Intolerance is the oldest film on AFI’s list, and while showing its age, is still a interesting film. It’s crazy long, clocking in at two and a half hours, and being made in 1916 it is also a silent black and white film. Image quality is a real issue- the film is almost one hundred years old and the celluloid film stock of the time did not age well. The transfer/restoration of this film leaves us with some very degraded images- a number of times the titles are almost indistinguishable from the background.

Hopefully that didn’t scare anyone off. Intolerance is a complex film that focus on four different stories of intolerance – they are Modern day, Judean, French and Babylonian. The first half of the film is slow, but the story picks up in the second half. The Judean tale tells the story of Jesus and how intolerance against his teachings ultimately lead to his crucifixion. The French tale is the story of 16th century France and how Catherine’s massacre of the Huguenots over religious differences destroys a budding romance of two individuals with different religions. The Babylonian tale focuses on a political dispute between the followers of two different Babylonian gods, which leads to the fall of Babylon. The Modern tale is the focus of the film, and the other tales bolster or reinforce particular moments within the modern tale.

In the Modern tale, a young woman and her family fall victim to the greed of radical capitalists who are trying to reform and ‘uplift’ the less fortunate of society. The Dear One (Mae Marsh) and her Father (F.A. Turner) have a happy life until a strike at the mill turns into a riot. They move to the city and the Dear One meets and marries the Boy (Robert Harron). The Boy turns to crime because of his inability to find work. When his new bride has a baby on the way he tries to get out of his criminal lifestyle, but the local Musketeer (Walter Long) frames him for robbery. The Dear One is left to raise the baby on her own. The “Uplifters” who were responsible for the ‘reform’ of the mill town turn their attention to unfit mothers, and check in on the Dear One, eventually they take her baby. Jesus waits for Pilate’s verdict, Catherine moves to secure permission to destroy the Huguenots, invading forces camp outside Babylon’s walls. So ends Act One.

The Boy is released from prison and returns to his wife, but the Musketeer makes unwanted advances. The Musketeer’s ‘girlfriend’ the Friendless One (Miriam Cooper) shoots and kills the Musketeer in a moment of rage. The Boy is blamed for the murder, and he is sentenced to death. While the Dear One races to catch the Governor and secure a pardon, Jesus carries the cross to Golgotha, the Huguenots are slaughtered, and Babylon’s destroyers race to the city. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s well done.

Motion pictures as an artistic medium had existed for only about 10 to 20 years prior to this film, yet the director Griffith interweaves four distinct stories together seamlessly. You can imagine what the original viewers must have been thinking- especially with one of the Babylonian shots- using 3,00o extras, all in full costume. Even though the first half of this film is slow, the complexities of the story and the stunning scope of the film make it worth a watch.

In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns:

two_half-stars_0

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