Cohen Media Group has detailed the Cohen Film Collection release of D.W. Griffith's silent cinema milestone, Intolerance, starring Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Elmo Lincoln, Robert Harron and Constance Talmadge. The groundbreaking 1916 epic arrives on Blu-ray on November 5th.
D.W. Griffith changed the course of film history with his 1915 Civil War blockbuster
The Birth of a Nation. Spurred on by its colossal success, and stung by charges of glorifying racism, Griffith decided to make his next film a plea for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. he went even bigger on his next epic: the ambitious Intolerance, which links four centuries-apart stories of universal suffering, social injustice and the effects of intolerance through the ages.
"The Modern Story," about a working man wrongly accused of a crime, was later issued as a separate film (The Mother and the Law, 1919). "The Judean Story" tells of Jesus' conflicts with the Pharisees and Rome. "The Medieval Story" is about the effects of the massacre of 16th-century French Huguenots. And "The Babylonian Story," about the conquest of Babylon by Persia, was also issued later as a separate film (The Fall of Babylon, 1919). Skillful cross-cutting (Griffith was the technique's most renowned practitioner), and linking shots of a figure representing Eternal Motherhood rocking a cradle, bring all four stories to a tense climax. Wishing his principal characters to be seen as emblematic of human types rather than individuals, Griffith gave them no names but instead referred to them as the Dear One, or the Boy, or the Musketeer of the Slums, or the Mountain Girl.
With the profits from The Birth of a Nation, Griffith spared no expense on Intolerance, constructing huge sets and hiring thousands of extras for spectacular crowd scenes; the most iconic representation of this lavishness remains the sequence set at the immense walls of Babylon. Famed film critic Pauline Kael called it "perhaps the greatest movie ever made," adding, "it is charged with visionary excitement about the power of movies to combine music, dance, narrative, drama, painting and photography - to do alone what all the other arts together had done." And Orson Welles said, "No town, no industry, no profession, no art form owes so much to a single man."
Intolerance also proved to be an important training ground, with several of its assistant directors going on to important directing careers of their own, including Victor Fleming (The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind), Allan Dwan (Sands of Iwo Jima), Sidney Franklin (The Good Earth) and Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks).
The Cohen Film Collection presents Intolerance on Blu-ray via a new 2K restoration, 1080p video presentation and two audio options: an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 musical soundtrack mix and Carl Davis' orchestral score in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Special features include:
Two 1919 full-length features drawn from Intolerance, accompanied by new scores by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
The Fall of Babylon
The Mother and the Law
New featurette with film historian Kevin Brownlow
New essays by Cineaste editor Richard Porton and historian William M. Drew
Intolerance is historically significant but it's also over-wrought and a bit of a chore to watch. From an academic perspective it's worth owning for any serious movie collector but I fear, like many of the Keatons I own, it wouldn't even make it out of the shrink wrap. Still, it's great to know movies like these are receiving attention and aren't fading away like so many other movies from the silent era.