Baldwin: The Bluegrass birthed the father of cinema
Greetings, my friendly filmophiles of Winchester.
In life, to appreciate the present in hopes of navigating down the right path towards a successful future, we must first learn to value where we come from.
The lessons of the past are the roots of what we should and shouldn’t do.
Everything in life has a beginning. During any span of time, there are individuals who stand out from the pack because of their vision.
The field of cinema is no different showcasing maverick artists. Kentucky’s own filmmaker, D.W. Griffith is one of those filmmaking pioneers.
Griffith was born in Floydsfork, Kentucky, in 1875 before moving to Louisville with his family as a teenager.
When Griffith was old enough, he ventured to New York City, where he tried his hand as a playwright and actor.
Shortly after, Griffith took to directing short films, moved out west and filmed the first movie ever in Hollywood, “In Old California” (1910).
Griffith would go on to become a successful producer and innovative technical filmmaker throughout his career.
Though Griffith was known for the use of the close up shot, he is more well known for creating one of the first feature length films, the controversial, “The Birth of a Nation” (1915).
“Birth” was adapted from a novel and play, “The Clansman,” and the film caused controversy because of its depiction of race relations and slavery in the south during the Civil War reconstruction.
To make matters worse, it glorified the Ku Klux Klan as heroes to their communities. Needless to say, Griffith missed the mark with this release and did not expect the negative response towards his character, though it did well at the box office.
In an attempt to right the wrongs brought out by the release of “Birth,” Griffith would go on release his next feature, the epic four-hour melodrama, “Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages” (1916). Released 102 years ago this week, “Intolerance” was an ambitious production of four tales covering four periods of history, Babylon, Judea, French Renaissance and Modern America.
The only connection of the intercut stories is their binding theme of how man is inhumane to his fellow man throughout history.
“Intolerance” is a sight to be seen, as Griffith pulled out all of the stops in regards to grandiose sets, camera angles and masterful editing that was not seen at that time in early Hollywood.
Now deemed by professors and historians as one of the most important films ever made, it was a box office blunder which caused Griffith to fall into debt for the rest of his life, as he financed “Intolerance” with his own assets at the time.
Griffith would later form United Artists with legendary actors, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.
Griffith’s masterful scene construction, camera and editing techniques are now the base of the modern film craft we have become familiar with and accustomed to expect. He is considered the father of modern cinema by the filmaking community.
If you are fan of old cinema or history, be sure to educate yourself on his filmography. For those daytrippers out there looking for a Kentucky road run, Griffith’s home in La Grange is still there if you are looking for a photo op or visit his plot where he was laid to rest in 1948 at Mount Tabor Cemetery in Centerfield.
Have a film-tastic day.
Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker and film/music historian. He is president of the Winchester-Clark County Film Society (facebook.com/WCCfilmsociety). Find more from Rick on Facebook at facebook.com/ricksrhetoric/ and online at theintestinalfortitude.com/category/reviews-editorials/ricks-rhetoric.