The Best Of D. W. Griffith.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 08/09/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 2 DVD set comprises 3 VHS tapes released by Kino International a few years back. It consists of 22 shorts made by Griffith for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company (now known as simply Biograph) between 1909 and 1913 when he left to make feature films. Although only a tiny fraction of his total output for Biograph (there were around 450 shorts), some of his very best work is included here.
These shorts represent Griffith at his most inspired. It is on these that his reputation as the "Father of Film" was made. What he was able to pack into these one reelers is truly astonishing. This is Griffith the master story teller along with cameraman Billy Bitzer and the Biograph stock company who were making it up as they went along. And what a stock company! Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Lionel Barrymore, Henry B. Walthall, and Blanche Sweet just to name a few who would go on to have major careers in the film industry that they helped to create.
Among the highlights are THE MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY, THE CORNER IN WHEAT, THE REDMAN'S VIEW, and THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES dealing with respectively tenement crime, greed, mistreatment of Native Americans, and survival skills. There are even shorts dealing with drug abuse, suicide, and the problem of taking care of the elderly. These are topics that still resonate with us today making these shorts not only timely but timeless. The transfers are of extremely high quality and the musical accompaniment is first rate. Yet another item that I have wanted to see on DVD and now here it is.
Unfortunately D. W. Griffith is very politically incorrect these days thanks to the racism in some of his features especially BIRTH OF A NATION. There is no such problem with this collection. Here almost 100 years later we can discover the birth of moviemaking with the same excitement that Griffith & Co. had in making it. This is truly the best of D. W. Griffith."
The beginnings of modern film
Gwen Kramer | Sunny and not-so-sunny California | 12/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"D.W. Griffith is considered by many to be the father of modern film. While he did not invent many of the camera techniques that were employed in his films, he was the first to use so many of them effectively. This collection is from his early days, thus the title, at Biograph studios. At this time in the history of film, movies were looked down on as third class entertainment. American movies often could not hold a candle to pre-WWI European films. This was truly the birth of cinema as we know it.
The set opens with a humorous short about the annoyances of Edwardian hats in a movie theater and then moves on to more serious fare. The Sealed Room is a good example of the Victorian macabre that was still so popular in those days. The filming is primitive and the acting is stagey but you can see that it is a quality piece of work. From this point forward, we see Griffith grow more and more sophisticated in his story-telling.
The collection is surely valuable to a student of film but as a casual dabbler, I also found it interesting. The movies have an innocent quality to them not to be found in any era since. It is not without irony that 1914 was the last year for the dominence of the short feature film.
The music in this series is both accurate and enjoyable. The commentary is good although I would have liked a bit more. Fans of later silent films will enjoy seeing favorites such as Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore (the former appears as an extra in The Sealed Room) in their early years.
My favorite films in this collection were The Sunbeam, a romantic comedy believe it or not; The Painted Lady, a psychological melodrama; The New York Hat, a Pickford/Barrymore film showing both at their best; and For his Son, an anti-cola propaganda film. The Unseen Enemy is great because it is the first screen appearance of the Gish sisters.
Not all of the movies are easy to watch by modern standard but all are interesting, if only to see the differences in the various locations in the space of 90 years!
Most of the films have good picture quality, though a few (Those Awful Hats, the New York Hat) have obvious fading and print damage.
A new set of D.W. Griffith films has just been released and it includes Birth of a Nation, Intolerence and Orphans of the Storm. However, iof you are just interested in his short films or already own his longer ones, a suggest buying this set."
A treasure trove
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 02/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Though there is a bit of overlap between this set and the other two-volume set of Biograph shorts, this set does contain six shorts that the other set doesn't. This set also has a big bonus in the audio commentary by Russell Merritt, which is very informative and answers and explains a lot of things. The only downside to the commentary is that some of the films only have commentary for the first few minutes before Mr. Merritt says something along the lines of "See you in [the next short]" or "I'll let you enjoy the rest of the film." A couple of shorts on the first disc are like this, but on the second disc, only the first short, 'The New York Hat,' gets a full-length commentary. I would have appreciated longer commentaries on films such as 'The Mothering Heart' and 'The Battle at Elderbush Gulch,' since their length and complexity are just begging for more historical background and explanatory comments, to add to one's appreciation and understanding of them.
After becoming familiar with his Biograph shorts, I can now say that I far prefer Griffith's shorts to most of his features. The issues I have with him either disappear or are minimised when he's only telling a story in a couple of reels and has to pack all of the character development, plot, and editorial commentary into a set time frame. A number of these early shorts even appear to have Socialist sympathies, what with depicting the plight of the poor and working-class and how they're exploited and treated by the ruling class, such as 'A Corner in Wheat,' 'What Shall We Do with Our Old?,' and 'One Is Business, the Other Crime.' That earns him some major points with me, these films with really progressive social justice issues. There's so much diversity in these shorts--Westerns, gangster films, social commentaries, adaptations of literature, and modern stories. They also feature many talented actors, among them people who became big-name stars, such as Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, and Lillian Gish. Film-making in the late Aughts and early Teens was a very exciting time, with so much diversity and the medium constantly undergoing so much evolution, and these shorts help to demonstrate just what was so wonderful about early film."
Great Early History
Victoria Rose | Burbank, California | 08/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you are an American history buff, not just a film historian, this is a wonderful exploration of the United States in the early 20th Century. The film images take you back to the hardships of early life. The subject matter is a wonderful exposure of the values and psychology of those early days. The enclosed booklet describes the importance of each film to the progression of the film industry. The combination of the film history and the images of early 20th Century American make these films a compleling exploration of American on many levels."