I’m not a racist but…

49. Intolerance (D.W. Griffith, 1916)

This poster is straight ballin’, which is no shock given how cool pre-WW2 German art looks, and the fact that 1910’s and 1920’s poster art has a certain feel to it that evokes the time very well. Something about the font, I am a big font guy.

Anyway I enjoy the irony of Griffith following up his awesomely racist epic “The Birth of a Nation” with a film titled “Intolerance“. I guess the title isn’t so ironic, but the content is. For those who don’t know Griffith essentially created the American movie with Nation, a film so impressive in scope and polish that in spite of the despicable portrayal of the KKK as babyfaces liberating the South from the oppressive rule of the black folks, it still lives on as one the greatest films ever made.

The backlash against Nation was such that although it did break box-office records, Griffith felt compelled to film a response that would shut up the critics who accused him of racism. This is Intolerance.

The film intercuts 4 stories throughout the ages to promote tolerance. You have religious strife in Babylon, the crucifixion of Jesus, religious strife during the French Renaissance, and moral and economic strife in contemporary America. Interestingly enough none of these stories involve black folk, or deal with race in any way at all. Griffith seems to be promoting a tolerance of ideas and religion, but not race. I’m not sure what to make of that.

The scope of the film is fantastic, Griffith built massive sets and used a literal cast of thousands, and the use of intercutting of 4 different stories from 4 different eras is well done and demonstrates Griffith’s mastery as a filmmaker. The dude was innovative if nothing else.

But something rings hollow about the film. At best it comes off as apologist for the ideologies of Nation, and at worst it feels disingenuous. For sheer spectacle it works fabulously, but as a statement on mankind it fails miserably.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 7/10.

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