Intolerance (1916)

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Released 15-Nov-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Biographies-Crew
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1916
Running Time 177:43
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (89:14) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By D.W. Griffith
Studio
Distributor
Wark Producing Corp
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Lillian Gish
Constance Talmadge
Elmer Clifton
Alfred Paget
Walter Long
Tom Wilson
Ralph Lewis
Mae Marsh
Robert Harron
Fred Turner
Miriam Cooper
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $32.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    On extremely rare occasions a film will leave you with a deep-seated and very tangible sense of greatness. Often it will go against your own preferences, and may not show itself until the final scene has been shown, but you will feel from the bottom of your stomach that the filmmakers have created something that has transcended mere celluloid entertainment and has achieved legitimate art. No single factor will be responsible for this, but rather the story and the way it is told, the direction, the quality of production and a myriad of other things must combine perfectly to achieve something that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

    Intolerance is such a film.

    At almost exactly three hours in length, with few lighter moments and often with the stilted style of acting that characterized films of the silent era, this is not an easy film to get through. Certainly it will take a fair degree of fortitude to sit down and view for simple pleasure. I can also say that if it weren't for my role as a DVD reviewer, I would never have seen this film, and that would have been a great shame.

    D.W. Griffith's films were huge undertakings and portrayed entire worlds that were far removed from the lives of the viewers. The great difference between Griffith and modern filmmakers is that he worked without a century of film history and practice to guide him. At that time very few techniques had been developed for presenting a story on film. Stage craft ruled by default, and this often produced very static and two dimensional results. By comparison, the images here are almost modern, comprising panning, fading and crane shots.

    Griffith created Intolerance after the storm of criticism that arose for his previous film, The Birth of a Nation. His approach, which would be bold enough even for modern audiences, involved the telling of four entirely independent, intertwined stories each of which (in the words of the introduction to the film) "shows how hatred and intolerance, through all the ages, have battled against love and charity". The two major stories are titled "A Modern Story" (set, of course, in 1916) and "A Babylonian Story" (set in 539 B.C. at the time of the destruction of the city of Babylon at the hands of the Persians). The two lesser stories, both in terms of the time devoted to their telling and in their magnitude, are "A Judean Story" (set during the life of Jesus Christ whom the film describes as "the greatest enemy of intolerance") and "A French Story" (telling the terrible story of the St Bartholomew Massacre in the late 16th century).

    It took some little while to become accustomed to the fast cutting between the stories, and to grasp the role of the main characters, but once this was achieved the style posed few problems. I was not left with any great feelings for the latter two stories, largely I think because their brevity left little room for detailed development of character. The first two are a very different story, for very different reasons.

    The Modern Story centers on the beautiful Dear One (Mae Marsh), daughter of a worker in the Jenkins mill. Mrs Jenkins (Vera Lewis), the sister of the mill's owner, is an embittered old spinster who is urged to spend her wealth on reforming society. (One of the film's more memorable subtitle boards proclaims "When women cease to attract men they often turn to Reform as a second choice".) This translates to the removal of those parts of society that the upper class finds less attractive. Thus the Dear One and her father are forced at gun point to leave home and seek work in the city along with the other mill workers. She meets and falls in love with a young man (Robert Harron) in a similar position, only to lose him as he is imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. She is further persecuted as the Reformers steal her child when they deem her, again unfairly, unfit to be a mother. The story unfolds in a series of crises, and eventually provides the ultimate conclusion for the film with a level of tension that many modern films try and fail to achieve. This story, far more than the other three, provides the true emotional presence of the film.

    In stark contrast, The Babylonian Story provides action and imagery on a massive scale. With apparently no expense being spared, the magnificence of ancient Babylon is shown in its massive fortress walls, its temples, royal palaces and public spaces. Battle scenes are shown complete with siege towers and artillery weapons. The number of extras would be enough to drain a small city in its own right. It is remarkable that such filmmaking was even remotely possible, or imaginable, 85 years ago. Yet, even here, the story is told at a personal level so that we can see the ambitions and emotions of both highly and lowly born. The central character is The Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge), a brave and loyal subject of Prince Balshazzar (Alfred Paget), ruler of the city. In spite of the mighty strength of the city and the efforts of The Mountain Girl and others like her, the city is betrayed and conquered by the evil High Priest of Bell (Tully Marshall).

    Thus we have, in a single film, both the personal tragedy of the shattering of the lives of an innocent couple and the spectacle and horror of the fall of a great city and the death of its citizens. I don't believe that the film is successful in leading the audience to consider the significance of man's intolerance, but it sure is one hell of a film. It is ironic that after the furore of The Birth of a Nation, which still generated millions of dollars, Intolerance was virtually ignored. Perhaps this was because its structure was too radical for audiences of the day. In any case, it didn't seem to harm Griffith's career, and has since come to be accepted as one of the greatest American films ever made.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Of course we are dealing here with a film from the early days of the artform - and certainly one that has well and truly outlived its creators. It is not in a pristine state but, to be fair, we are fortunate that we even have a complete copy of the film all these years down the track. All of the comments on the picture quality should be read in this light. Please don't take any of them to mean that the film is unwatchable - we have here a perfectly serviceable 84 year old film recorded forever on a digital medium.

    The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio, although Griffith made much use of various shaped mattes on his pictures, so you will find a whole range of shapes and aspect ratios appearing. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

    You would never describe the image as being sharp, although in a few places the clarity seems to lift a couple of notches. There is no real consistency in this respect with some scenes being quite smudged, while most occupy a broad middle ground that, on the whole, is quite acceptable. This may be the result of the quality of the remaining film elements that made up the finished print. Shadow detail is extremely poor, but that should come as no surprise. There is only one point at 71:05 where the entire image becomes smudged out of existence for a few seconds. For an 84 year old, 3 hour film, this isn't worthy of criticism.

    The film is tinted in a mild sepia colour, although this is not always evident. The "blacks" are sufficiently deep in most cases, although again, the scenes I've already referred to as being smudged lack such solid definition. These are very much in the minority.

    Of some surprise and disappointment to me were quite frequent cases of MPEG compression artefacts. These manifested themselves in a form of motion induced macro blocking. These may not be detectable on smaller screens, but I found them most obvious and annoying.

    Of course, the major artefacts to appear are the snowstorms of film scratches, tears, stains, mould growths and every other type of mark possible on film of this age. They are present on every frame, but they're a fact of life, and aren't so serious that they destroy the image.

    The disc is formatted as an RSDL disc with the layer change coming at 89:14 between chapters 21 and 22. The change is noticeable but not overly intrusive.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This is a silent film, so by rights any discussion of the audio track might be expected to end here. However we're treated to 3 hours of theatre organ accompaniment, just like the real thing. The composer and organist aren't credited, nor is there any comment on the age of the composition, although I understand that the music on the R1 disc was composed by Gaylord Carter, one of the great theatre organists of history. I have no idea whether we have the same music on the R4 disc.

    I found the music wonderful, providing more than a small reminder of the many wonderful evenings I've spent in the glorious State Theatre here in Sydney, with its Wurlitzer organ. As music of this form should, it more than kept pace with the onscreen activity. While probably not suitable for entertainment at your next BBQ, it does stand as a real record of the musical form of the silent film era. As an extra treat, the music is surround encoded to add atmosphere to the experience.

    As might be expected, the subwoofer gets no attention with this film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio

        A short loop of the feature's music accompaniment. My wife threatens that if I play this at her funeral she'll climb out of her casket and destroy the disc.

Biography - D.W. Griffith

    An interesting short biography of D.W. Griffith.
 

    An added feature made possible by the abilities of DVD seamless branching is the option of watching each of the four stories as continuous short films. This would clearly detract from the intent and impact of the complete film, but might provide other advantages in terms of viewing time and continuity.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   The R1 version of the disc advertises the inclusion of Extra Footage, Copyright Registration Frames, Publicity Materials and Background and Publicity photographs. However, there is a suggestion that these actually don't make it onto the disc, given the comments from one online reviewer. In their absence there appears to be no difference between versions, save the PAL/NTSC difference.

    The choice would therefore seem to be to risk the better PAL picture for the slim chance that the R1 version has the extras that its packaging suggests.

Summary

    Intolerance is a film that provides spectacle the likes of which the modern industry is incapable of reproducing. Intolerance is a film that also plays with your feelings as easily as many modern works. Don't sit down to watch this as light entertainment, but rather reserve a night when you wish to partake of a piece of significant film history. If you love film I believe you will be amply rewarded.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Murray Glase (read my bio)
Monday, January 01, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D906S
SpeakersRichter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)

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