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Intolerance: Collectors Edition (1916)
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Details At A Glance
Main Menu Audio-Extract from Theatre Organ score.
Alternate Ending-(1:10) Final scene added to The Babylon Story.
Booklet-16 pages of text and photos. Excellent.
More…-Separate Story play capability.
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
Wark Producing Corp
Beyond Home Entertainment
NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.
In this Eureka Video released through Beyond Home Entertainment production, we have a "fully restored" and "digitally remastered" edition of D.W. Griffith's "colossal spectacle" Intolerance, at present the oldest film on the AFI's 100 Greatest American Films. Exactly to what extent "restored" and "remastered" will be commented on later, but regardless here is another addition to the undisputed landmarks of silent cinema which are locally available on DVD.
Although it is Birth of a Nation (1915) which is generally considered to be director Griffith's masterpiece, that film has from the date of its first screenings created controversy. Birth's favourable depiction of the Ku Klux Klan caused accusations of bigotry and overt racism to be levelled at Griffith. The director's next film, The Mother and the Law, was already under production, and Griffith decided to expand this modern day drama into an extravagant epic which would dwarf all his work to date. It was to be an epic sermon, which would purge the hypocrisy that had subjected Griffith and his work to such vitriolic attack. Subtitled Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages, the film, as written by Griffith, was ultimately to consist of four separate tales revealing man's inhumanity to man. In the finished three-hour film these four tales are told simultaneously, with then revolutionary cutting between the four narrative strands. Visually the disparate narratives are linked and united by the image of a mother (Lillian Gish) rocking a cradle. The Mother and the Law was retained as the "modern day" story (1916) and endures as the most gripping and dramatically involving of the four. The most physically impressive of the four separate dramatic strands is the Babylon sequence (539 BC), with its justifiably famous Hall of Babylon scene. The scale of this set never fails to astound. These two stories dominate the film, and the running time. The Judean Story, depicting the life and crucifixion of Christ has less dramatic structure and remains an uninvolving collection of tableaux. The fourth story, set in France (1572 AD) and depicting the St Bartholomew's Day massacre, has little dramatic impact. Griffith's regular players appear, including Mae Marsh, Robert Herron, Constance Talmadge, Monte Blue, Bessie Love, Alma Rubens, Carmel Myers, Colleen Moore, Carol Dempster and Douglas Fairbanks.
Much of the film's visual style is static, but there are innovations that must have stunned its contemporary audience. Close ups on inanimate objects, searing close-ups of faces (140:50) and extraordinary physical achievements with the camera. For the above mentioned Feast of Belshazzar, King of Babylon, Griffith had constructed a set only surpassed by that for the castle in the 1922 Robin Hood. To capture the monstrous set, alive with three thousand extras, Griffith sent his cameraman Billy Bitzer aloft in a balloon, which was slowly "roped" back to earth allowing the camera to capture the very first "crane" shot. There are also a couple of remarkably clever special effects, actually two on screen decapitations, that demand replaying to make sure you actually saw correctly.
Ultimately to cost two million 1916 dollars to produce, a then unheard of sum, Griffith's mammoth epic failed to win public favour. Possibly audiences found it overwhelming, difficult to follow and emotionally uninvolving. America was preparing to enter WWI, and perhaps the pacifist sentiments of the film's ending were not want the public wanted to hear. Two years after its initial release Griffith released the modern and Babylonian episodes as two separate films. Unfortunately their box-office did very little to ease the burden of debt that Intolerance had placed on its creator.
This film is over ninety years old, and the print used for this release has extensive damage, although not of the kind that disrupts the narrative. Certainly there is not one frame that is "restored" in today's usage of the word, which implies a return of a print to its virginal, pristine state. This print has been "restored" in that all the elements of the film have been put back in place, after years of incomplete prints, and assembled according to the intentions of Griffith. What we have in this release is a running time as close to the original as has ever been available. The digital remastering has resulted in a multitude of unstable images, that are so pervasive that after about fifteen minutes you stop noticing them. It does appear that we have here the best print currently available. It is certainly extremely clean, and is most probably the same print as was used for the Region 1 Kino release, which, according to overseas reviews, has a sharper transfer.
You have to remind yourself that when Intolerance was filmed movies were in their infancy, with production values generally primitive and basic. Griffith's film is a genuine epic, with emotion as well as incident, and in which four different stories are creatively interwoven. With ever accelerating cutting, the four tales race towards their climaxes, with the contemporary, 1916, tale still having tremendous tension and emotional impact. With its innovative structure, Griffith's epic has been called "the only film fugue", and has had critics refer to it as a genuine and separate work of art, on a level with a masterwork from Beethoven or Da Vinci. Some films must be seen, and Intolerance is one of them.
Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.
This release uses the same print as used for the 2000 release by Force Video, with a rearrangement of chapters which reduces them from sixty-two to sixteen. This also appears to be the same source as that used by Kino in the US. Critics who have had the opportunity to compare the two transfers have credited the Kino with a slightly sharper image, which they attribute to the slower transfer rate used by Kino. That said, there have been numerous releases of this public domain title which have been incomplete, and taken from markedly inferior source material with more substantial damage than seen here. The restoration for this version, I would say, was restricted to the inclusion of all known elements and a physical clean up of the source.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.30:1, the original being 1.33:1. The image has been cropped vertically, with obvious loss at the bottom of most of the intertitle cards where the "DG" shield loses its bottom half, and there are numerous unintended decapitations (103:05 and 126:1 are two). In some scenes there also is noticeable image loss at the sides of the frame.
Given that the film is close to one hundred years old, and that there has been no restoration as we know it today, the transfer is quite acceptable. The physical damage to the source is, however, extensive, with countless scratches, blotches and other damage. The image is reasonably detailed, although there is a softness to the entire film. The worst is the crucifixion scene, where it is almost impossible to work out what is on the screen (171:05). Shadow detail is very poor, with many darker scenes dissolving into nothing - not to be confused with the many artistically "framed" shots featured throughout the film. Low level noise is quite prominent.
The entire film is tinted in various tones of sepia, which I found preferable to the switching to totally different hues, as was the case with the recently reviewed The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
MPEG artefacts were a problem, with countless examples throughout the three hour running time. Any scene with detail in the background has images "bouncing" as if there is a mild earthquake. The slick does warn : "Digitally remastered". After a rock solid main title card, the Telecine wobble is virtually constant, but is not distracting.
Film artefacts are virtually restricted to the actual damage on the film source, as there appears to be no dirt or debris anywhere. The source was obviously given a thorough clean-up. Physical damage is a different thing. There are many scratches, with three at once in one instance (93:01), and loads of black and white flecks. There is also the occasional jump where frames are missing.
The intertitles are in good shape, with some probably not original, as they do not have the "D.G." shield. Interestingly the author of the intertitles was Anita Loos, the same Anita Loos who gave us Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
This is a dual layer disc, with no layer change when viewing the film with all four stories intertwined. When viewing the stories separately there is occasionally an abrupt transition from one sequence to the next.
Video Ratings Summary
The disc has one audio stream, the organ music score in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoded at 224 Kbps.
Gaylord Carter's theatre pipe organ score was recorded in 1990. The theatre organ is not one of my favourite instruments. There is little variety in tone or texture - or volume, for that matter - but the whole thing is clear, clean and sharp, without any clicks, pops or dropouts. The incorporation of snatches of recognizable music, such as In the Good Old Summertime, I found jarring.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
The extras are limited, particularly for a film with such historical significance. Partially compensating for this, Beyond have once again given a silent classic an attractive and informative three-fold cardboard packaging.
Main Menu The main menu is extremely simple, using a still from the film and using the organ soundtrack from the film.
The options presented are : Play
Scene Selection : Opens to a series of four screens each with four thumbnailed chapters and no sound.
Extras : See below.
This is an excellent sixteen page booklet from Geoff Gardner, currently a member of the Sydney Film Festival Advisory Panel. Attractively designed, with approximately equal space given to text and pictures, topics covered are : Griffith and the Moralists; The Shock and Amazement of New; Photographed by G.W. Bitzer; A Modern Woman; The Surrounding Talent; Griffith as Provocateur; Ride to the Rescue, and Griffith and the Movie Business. Excellently written and fascinating content.
This is a short (1:10) final sequence to The Babylon Story.
Separate Story Capability
This feature allows the viewer the capability of watching each story separately in its entirety. the selections are :
A Modern Story
A Judean Story
A French Story
A Babylonian Story.
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view
non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
This Force Video release appears to use the same print as that used by Kino for their Region 1 release. The Kino release is claimed to have a clearer image.
In addition the Kino release has these extras : Filmed Introduction by Orson Welles
Excerpts from : The Last Days of Pompeii (1913)
The Fall of Babylon (1919)
Stills Archive of Promotional Material
An examination of the book seen in the opening of film.
The Region 1 release misses out on the capability to play each entire story separately and the short alternate ending.
© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
|DVD||SONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output|
|Display||Samsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD.
Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player.
Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
|Speakers||VAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)|