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Intolerance and its terrible effects are examined in four historical eras. In ancient Babylon, a mountain girl is caught up in the religious rivalry that leads to the city's downfall. In Judea, the hypocritical Pharisees condemn Jesus Christ. In 1572 Paris, unaware of the impending St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, two young Huguenots prepare for marriage. Finally, in modern America, social reformers destroy the lives of a young woman and her beloved. Written by
Erik Gregersen <email@example.com>
Constance Talmadge is credited as 'Georgia Pearce' for her performance as Marguerite de Valois in the French Story. She is credited under her own name in the role of The Mountain Girl in the Babylonian Story. See more »
Everything about this movie is fascinating, even its numerous flaws. It is as ambitious a movie as has ever been made, and if you adjust for the era, it might also be the most lavish, expensive, and painstaking. Even today the scope and detail stand out, despite the many technical limitations in its era. Likewise, the enormous cast list contains many names that silent film fans will recognize at once, with well-known performers even in some of the minor roles. Then, you could write many pages about the stories, which are filled with weaknesses, but which are also so interesting that you never want to miss what will happen next.
The concept behind "Intolerance" is as enterprising as it gets: no fewer than four complete, independent story-lines, with the movie switching back-and-forth among them, not necessarily in consecutive order but with a definite plan in mind, all in order to get across the idea suggested by the title - that is, that intolerance of others' beliefs or lifestyles has been a destructive force throughout history. It is generally understood that there is a strong dose of defensiveness behind this plan, since the ideas promoted in Griffith's previous film had earned for him some severe and well-justified criticism. This personal motivation could well explain why "Intolerance" is often so overblown, and it also is interesting in light of the stories chosen to illustrate the main themes.
The two most straightforward stories - the persecution of the Huguenots in 16th century France, and the persecution of Jesus Christ by the religious leaders of his day - are also the most believable, and yet they do not seem to get quite the screen time or the lavish detail of the other two. The contemporary story may have been the most important to Griffith, and it is a full-scale melodrama, full of heavy-handed developments and very unlikely coincidences, yet certainly a story that will hold your attention. The Babylonian story is at once the strangest choice, the most extravagant, and the most fascinating of all. As history, it is as distorted as (or more so than) any of today's movies. Trying to pass off Belshazzar of Babylon as a model of justice and tolerance is just weird, and the entire historical scenario is at best an imaginative embellishment of the truth. But the involved story that Griffith tells in this setting is so exciting and entertaining that you just can't take your eyes away from it.
Much, much more could be said, but anyone with an interest in silent movies or in cinema history will want to watch it and draw his or her own conclusions. Whether you want to analyze the vast array of themes, events, and ideas, or whether you just want to sit back and enjoy a fascinating spectacle, the three hours fly by very quickly, and it's a movie you won't forget.
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