An elderly carpenter is told by a doctor that his wife is seriously ill. Soon afterwards, an insensitive shop foreman lays him off from his job because of his age. Unable to find work, and ...
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An elderly carpenter is told by a doctor that his wife is seriously ill. Soon afterwards, an insensitive shop foreman lays him off from his job because of his age. Unable to find work, and with his wife's condition getting worse, he soon becomes desperate. Written by
In What Shall We Do with Our Old? we can see Griffith grasping towards a perfect expression of poignancy in his short features. Here, his approach is all about subtlety and simplicity.
The fact that the story can be conveyed through just a handful of intertitles allows for more realistic and emotional acting. In many early silent pictures (Griffith's included) half the performance was about revealing plot or character through ridiculous pantomime. Here, there is no need for that, and the acting is much more purely about conveying mood and tone, with the slow, sombre movements of the elderly couple. Later on, the bustle of the courtroom and the prison cell give a more frantic feel. By now a brilliant master of pace, Griffith slows things down again for the final scene.
Griffith's shot composition was also becoming increasingly refined. He arranges extras in lines that draw the audience's attention to particular points of action. It's also great how the even the set design matches the pace of each scene the home is bare and Spartan, the workshop, courtroom and prison cell are full and layered.
Being a kind of social protest piece, What Shall We Do with Our Old is in a similar vein to 1909's A Corner in Wheat. However, while Griffith has clearly moved on in his direction and arrangement of actors, it lacks the dynamism of the earlier film. It's a shame, because having more fully rounded characters (as opposed to A Corner in Wheat's faceless crowds) it should have a greater impact. Having said that, with several scenes apparently lost it is difficult to judge what we are left with.
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