“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“The fragrant mystery of your body is greater than the mystery of life.”
In 1915, director DW Griffith pretty much invented the feature length motion picture with The Birth of a Nation. An ugly movie about the heroic formation of the Ku Klux Klan to help suppress uppity black men in the south after the American Civil War, it really is one of the most tone deaf movies I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen The Boondock Saints. I’d always heard that Griffith’s follow up, Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Through the Ages, was a response to the criticism he copped for The Birth of a Nation. So even though he had made this racist movie, at least he had the decency to acknowledge his mistake and try to remedy it in some way.
Turns out, that’s not quite the case. DW Griffith did make Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Through the Ages as a response to the criticism he copped for The Birth of a Nation. But he didn’t make it as an apology or an attempt to make amends. No, it turns out this asshole made it as a big fuck you to all the people who talked shit about The Birth of a Nation. He thought they were intolerant of his (racist) ideas, so the big baby went ahead and made a three hour epic about the concept.
Telling four parallel stories spanning a couple of thousand years, things kick off in the then present day, 1916 America. A bitter old spinster convinces her brother, the owner of a large factory of some sort, to indulge her by funding a charity. When the charity drains too much money, the brother is forced to cut wages, which leads to a strike, which leads to a riot, which leads to good people being forced to do bad things just to survive.
Jump back to 539 BC, and Prince Belshazzar of Babylon is getting ready for war with Persia. With people worshipping different gods and refusing to recognise each other’s right to do that, shit gets real. Move ahead a few centuries and we get to the story of Jesus Christ, from the magic wine trick to his crucifixion. Meanwhile, in 1572 France, the Catholics and Protestants are going at it.
Obviously Intolerance is well regarded, or else it wouldn’t be in this AFI Top 100 list. It’s also been put in the American Congress archives. So, it’s a pretty big deal. But none of that could make me give even the slightest shits about any of the stories it tells, or the characters who populate them. And I don’t think it’s just the silent movie aspect of it, or the fact that it’s so goofy by modern standards. Because I’ve watched silent movies before and can still appreciate them. But Intolerance is just too pompous, preachy and pleased with itself.