Main Menu Audio
|Year Of Production||1916|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (89:14)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||D.W. Griffith|
Wark Producing Corp
Beyond Home Entertainment
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
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.
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.
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.
|Surround Channel Use|
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.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
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.
|DVD||Toshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output|
|Display||Pioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Richter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)|