On a warm and sunny summer's day, a mother and father take their young daughter Dollie on a riverside outing. A gypsy basket peddler happens along, and is angered when the mother refuses to... See full summary »
On a warm and sunny summer's day, a mother and father take their young daughter Dollie on a riverside outing. A gypsy basket peddler happens along, and is angered when the mother refuses to buy his wares. He attacks mother and daughter but is driven off by the father. Later the gypsy sneaks back and kidnaps the girl. A rescue party is organized but the gypsy conceals the child in a 30 gallon barrel which he precariously places on the tail of the wagon. He and his gypsy-wife make their getaway by fording the river with the wagon. The barrel, with Dollie still inside, breaks free, tumbling into into the river; it starts floating toward the peril of a nearby waterfall . . . Written by
Thomas McWilliams <email@example.com>
This is where it began: The first picture of arguably the most important director if not the most important single figure in cinema history. Is it any good? Well, no, of course not. No genius ever arrived on a scene fully formed. Considered in itself and of its time it is much like anything else an inexperienced director might have produced for the Biograph company in 1908. But with hindsight DW Griffith's background was in theatre, which set him apart because many of the earliest film pioneers were essentially technicians. This is in part the reason why a lot of visual effects were perfected before narrative and acting style. Silent cinema as it was then however differed little from stagecraft, especially since mime was then a lot more common, and with this crudely melodramatic tale Griffith is essentially directing broad pantomime, full of exaggerated gesture to overcompensate for the lack of speech.
However, Griffith appears to acknowledge one difference between cinema and theatre, one that was to become key to his style ever after, and that is the use of depth. Virtually all the movement in The Adventures of Dollie is towards or away from the camera, as oppose to across it. The long static takes particularly highlight this approach. This is before editing within a scene or using inserts were common methods, and this means we get some odd-looking (and very theatrical) set-ups, as in the scene where Dollie is kidnapped, the father walks away and the gypsy approaches all within the same shot, meaning our sense of logic tells us that the father can't be more than a dozen paces away when his girl is snatched. Griffith is still using the concept of stage wings for entrances and exits, imagining that once someone has walked out of sight they are out of the scene, which looks unnatural for cinema. However, rather than having them at left and right as on a stage, the father exits walking straight into the foreground, while the gypsy emerges from the bushes in the background. It still looks illogical, but it shows a willingness to work on solutions towards a non-theatrical style.
In doing this, Griffith is showing nothing entirely new and certainly nothing exceptional, but he is showing a certain tendency, a particular way of thinking about the medium that would later lead to amazing things. And Griffith also displays his quality as an ideas man that transcends all technique and experience. For example, when the father searches through the gypsy caravan, the gypsy is resting his foot on the barrel in which Dollie is hidden, cockily flaunting the secret before his enemy. It's little touches like this, giving a scene that little bit of character, that separate the great directors from the merely good ones.
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