Book / Article : D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance: Revisiting a Reconstructed Text

Film History: An International Journal, Volume 25, Number 3, 2013, pp. 57-89 (Article)
Published by Indiana University Press


D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance:
Revisiting a Reconstructed Text

ABSTRACT: By presenting new information about sound effects, stage lighting, film
length, speed of projection, and motivation for the changes to D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance
(1916), this article rebuts the conclusions presented in Russell Merritt, “D. W. Griffith’s
Intolerance: Reconstructing an Unattainable Text,” Film History 4, no. 4 (1990): 337–75.
My analysis argues that composer Joseph Carl Breil’s score for Intolerance could become
functional again only with the MoMA reconstruction of a very early version of the film. I
establish how important music was for Griffith and therefore how necessary the orchestral
scores are for any assessment of his motion pictures. By focusing on the heretofore
minimized role of Griffith as showman, this article unearths rich documentation about
his film presentation practices and publicity, which significantly alters the way his films
should be perceived and presented. Griffith’s emphasis on orchestral scores also played a
role in the elevation of the cinema and in the pressure for bigger, more luxurious movie
theaters in the United States and Great Britain.

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