Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) Poster

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Excellent Historical Perspective
Lechuguilla8 March 2005
This silent film by director D.W. Griffith is well known to serious movie buffs and historians, but not to today's general public. I doubt that a lot of people these days would have the patience to sit through a film that contained three hours of silence. Nevertheless, the film's technical innovations inspired filmmakers in the 1920's and later, particularly in Russia and Japan. It also inspired filmmakers in the U.S., including Cecil B. DeMille and King Vidor. For this reason, and for other reasons, "Intolerance" is an important film.

The film's four interwoven stories, set in four different historical eras, are tied together thematically by the subject of "intolerance", a word which could be accurately interpreted today as "oppression", "injustice", "hate", "violence", and mankind's general inhumanity.

Griffith's narrative structure, though innovative, is uneven, because he gives more screen time to two of the four stories (the "modern" and the "Babylonian"). Equal time for three stories, thus deleting the fourth, might have worked better.

To me, the Babylonian story is the most interesting one because of its more complete coverage, and because of its elaborate costumes and spectacular sets. Even though there is no script, the viewer can easily discern the plot, which suggests that some of today's films might be just as effective, or more so, if screenwriters would downsize the dialogue.

What "Intolerance" offers most of all to contemporary viewers is a sense of perspective. Someone once said that despite the enormous advances in technology, society itself has advanced not at all. That may be true. In the eighty plus years since the film was released, technical advances in film-making have been obvious and impressive. But we are still plagued with the same old human demons of oppression, injustice, hate, violence, and ... intolerance.
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Fascinating - Even Its Flaws Are Interesting
Snow Leopard7 November 2002
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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Monumental Failure
Cineanalyst19 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"Intolerance" is D.W. Griffith's apologia for "The Birth of a Nation" mostly in that it surpasses its predecessor's epic scale, thus replying to his critics. "The Birth of a Nation" was a racist film, and nothing in "Intolerance" proves otherwise, but I don't think that's the point, either. And, while Griffith calls his critics hypocrites, it's just as easy to call Griffith one for his racism. Yet, I have no disagreement that his films are art despite their messages. "Intolerance" contains much more agreeable views than "The Birth of a Nation", anyhow: Christian pacifism; support of labor; moderated progressivism; and condemnation of intolerance, hatred and inhumanity throughout the ages.

The narrative structure of "Intolerance" was revolutionary and particularly surprising for a filmmaker who had cemented in cinema a traditional and theatrical form of linear storytelling with his previous work. In "Home, Sweet Home" (1914), Griffith linked four separate stories with a single theme, but with each story told in full before proceeding to the next. With "Intolerance", he employed parallel editing, thus continually crosscutting between time, suspending plots and commenting on stories with other stories, and I think it's ingeniously congruent considering the stories are supposed to run parallel in their morals, or messages on the general theme of intolerance.

The four stories include a modern story, which features a fictional representation of the Ludlow massacre of strikers and a progressive era foundation of busybody reformers that indirectly causes the massacre and directly applies suffering on the central characters. It was originally intended as a complete film in itself and was later released as such under the title "The Mother and the Law". Then, there's the Babylonian story, which was also released by itself, as "The Fall of Babylon". It almost seems to be more likely to have been directed by Cecil B. DeMille than by D.W. Griffith, for all its sex and exotic set design against a historical setting. A contemporary of Griffith, however, DeMille had not yet figured out that formula and may well have been thinking of the Babylonian sequences in "Intolerance" when he did; one of his early pictures and first attempts at an epic, "Joan the Woman" (1917), does demonstrate Griffith's influence on him. Additionally, the sequence features the best performance in the film by ingénue Constance Talmadge as the "Mountain Girl". She, too, seems out of place in a Griffith production, with her sexuality, impropriety and independence. The lesser stories of Christ's life and his crucifixion and the events leading up to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre aren't especially interesting in themselves, as many have panned. Yet, I don't think that's essential, as they don't stand by themselves, but are part of a whole where they comment on and run parallel to each other and the other narratives.

The stories are connected by explanatory, as well as moralizing and poetical, intertitles and by glimpses of Lillian Gish endlessly rocking the cradle (taken from Walt Whitman). Reportedly, tinting also separated the stories upon initial release. Nearing the climax, however, these separations and transitions evaporate for an ever more merging and rapider plot. "Intolerance" is the apex of Griffith's innovations and developments in editing--the culmination of his achievements in "The Birth of a Nation" and his last-minute-rescue pictures and other Biograph shorts. Along the way, it was usually James and Rose Smith who aided him in the editing room. Doubtless, these achievements, especially in "Intolerance", greatly influenced the Soviet and European montage filmmakers, as well as subsequent filmmaking in general.

With the astounding success of "The Birth of a Nation", Griffith had the opportunity to make almost any film he wanted, and with "Intolerance" having cost nearly $400,000 to make, he did. (The some $100,000 budget for "The Birth of a Nation" had been unheard of in Hollywood.) The film's failure financially ruined Triangle Studios and considerably altered and limited Griffith's filmmaking career from thereon. As "The Birth of a Nation" demonstrated to Hollywood and the world how profitable and popular cinema could be, "Intolerance" told another important lesson on the risks and limitations involved.

Consuming much of the film's budget were Walter L. Hall's Babylon sets, and they are spectacular. They're also surprisingly imaginative and elaborate for D.W. Griffith, whose stagy, open-air sets in previous productions were generally unremarkable--besides those in "Judith of Bethulia" (1914), which pale in comparison. The influence of "Cabiria" (1914) is very evident, but where that film failed to equal the brilliance of its sets with the filming of them, "Intolerance" succeeds. The legendary crane shots are standouts.

Throughout the film, cinematographer "Billy" Bitzer masks the camera lens--more extensively than ever before--creating iris shots, a moving iris shot within a stationary shot and small-scale widescreen effects. Griffith and Bitzer are very much in control of the images, establishing us as spectators. The Babylonian scenes where characters look down at miniatures of the city, I think, also add to this emphasis. And, "Intolerance" is quite a spectacle, especially the Babylonian scenes. Overall, the cinematography, such as some extreme close-ups, is innovative and advanced. Additionally, Griffith and Bitzer once again proved themselves masters of filming battle scenes.

"Cabiria" and the other Italian epics were a great impetus for Griffith to have embarked on his own two epic masterpieces, but the Italian epics were merely super-theatrical, with "Cabiria" as its apex and somewhat of a bridge to Griffith making the epic a cinematic art and a cornerstone of the industry. Moreover, from his pioneering short films at Biograph, to the epics "The Birth of a Nation" and "Intolerance", and to a lesser extent, his work thereafter, nobody has had a greater influence on the course cinema would take than D.W. Griffith.
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Possibly the Greatest Film of All Time
drednm2 November 2005
This mammoth production and DW Griffith's 1916 masterpiece was his followup to The Birth of a Nation. Intolerance blends 4 stories of historical intolerance as a warning against the current-day evils of war. The French and Judean stories are OK. The Babylonian and Modern stories are spectacular. Where Griffith experimented with closeups and intercutting stories in Birth of a Nation, these techniques are mastered in Intolerance. Griffith also continues his incredible eye for composition and scenery and costumes in this epic film.

The sets and costumes for the Babylonian story are among the best in film history. And the battle scenes equal anything in Birth of a Nation. Griffith's Babylonian set is so huge it allows for horse-drawn chariots to ride side by side on the road at the top of the towering walls. The camera shot that shows the chariots and the battle many stories below is astounding. There is also the famous camera shot that slowly moves closer and closer the the city steps and gates where hundreds of dancers perform a pagan production number. Just amazing.

The emotional oomph of this film comes from the modern story where a young couple living in a tenement apartment almost gets destroyed by society do-gooders. The intercutting of scenes here is masterful as the rescuers race to save the hero who is about to be hanged. Melodrama to be sure, but in a form never seen before 1916.

And as usual Griffith assembles a terrific cast and elicits great performances from many of them.

Constance Talmadge plays the cinema's first feminist heroine as the Mountain Girl in the Babylonian story. She's wonderful as the saucy girl who eats onions while on the block to be sold as a slave. As the men come near to examine her (she's dressed in a pelt) she shakes her onions at them and kicks at them. Hilarious. The story is complicated but she overhears a plot to attack the city and the ruler (who set her free) she adores. Great scenes of Talmadge racing a chariot through the desert. Great battle scenes that are unforgettable. Great orgy scenes. This is just a wonderful story that is so eye-filling, you have to watch it several times to take everything in.

The modern story boasts a perfect performance by Mae Marsh as the "Dear One." Robert Harron is the husband, and Miriam Cooper (very underrated) is the "bad girl." One of the most harrowing scenes I can remember is when the "do-gooders" (headed by Vera Lewis) come to take Marsh's baby after Harron is falsely arrest for murder. Marsh is so realistic in this frenzied scene that your heart just stops. Harron is also excellent as the hapless boy who gets framed for murder. The editing of this arc of the film sets the standard for decades to come.

Intolerance must be seen by any serious film buff. It's a long film but is unforgettable. The cast list is impressive and includes the above-mentioned Constance Talmadge, Mae Marsh, Robert Harron, Miriam Cooper, Lillian Gish, Vera Lewis, Ralph Lewis, Douglas Fairbanks, Bessie Love, Wallace Reid, Elmo Lincoln, Elmer Clifton, Mary Alden, Constance Collier, Carmel Myers, Erich von Stroheim, Donald Crisp, Carol Dempster, Marguerite Marsh, Tully Marshall, Natalie Talmadge, Alma Rubens, Seena Owen, Margery Wilson, Eugene Palette, Ethel Grey Terry, Owen Moore, Alfred Paget, Joseph Henabery, Josephine Crowell, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Mildred Harris, Walter Long, Sam De Grasse, Monte Blue, Kate Bruce, Nigel De Brulier, Pauline Starke, Lillian Langdon, and future directors King Vidor, Frank Borzage, and Tod Browning!
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The Greatest Movie of all time... almost
John O'Grady3 November 2002
I first saw this picture as a teenager some thirty years ago. I had no idea what to expect; all I knew was the famous still of Belshazzar's feast which has become one of the best known icons depicting the extravagance of crazy old Hollywood. But I was astounded and bowled over by what I saw. I will make no attempt at a plot synopsis here, since several other reviewers on this site have done so. Most readers already know that Griffith set out to tell four separate stories, laid in four widely spaced historical periods, and that he intercut freely between them, increasing the tempo as the film proceeded, and attempted to bring all four to a climax simultaneously. Clearly he bit off more than he, or anybody, could chew; but the fact that the limits of what cinema could do were being pushed so hard so early is what fascinated me then, and still fascinates me now. I wish to heaven that college film courses would just blow off "Birth of a Nation" and consign it to the oblivion it largely deserves, and show "Intolerance" instead, for this indeed is Griffith's monument, despite its poor state of repair; and at the risk of being technical I would like to address this. I have noticed that the one negative comment running most consistently through the reviews posted on this website is the relative lack of weight given to the French and Judaean sequences relative to the Modern and Babylonian narratives. This is largely the fault of the movie's checkered preservation history. When "Intolerance" failed to make huge sums at the box office, Griffith released the Babylonian and Modern stories as individual features in 1919, reshooting some scenes along the way. He cut up the original negative (gasp!) to do this, and by the time he decided to reassemble the whole movie in 1926, it turned out that all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't quite put Humpty Dumpty back together again. There was never a shooting script, or a written continuity; Griffith kept the whole thing in his head, and moreover could never stop tinkering with it while it was in release! Consequently, while the Babylonian and Modern stories have survived largely intact, the French and Judaean episodes were depleted by about half. So when we see it now we must recognize that we are viewing a broken sculpture. The movie is a restorer's nightmare; almost a third of its 2000- plus shots exist in variant versions, and the captions were rewritten more than once. But, broken as it is, it's still magnificent. There has never been, and will never again be, anything like it. It has all of Griffith's inconsistencies: subtle and naturalistic acting from Mae Marsh and Robert Harron as the luckless couple in the Modern Story are seen cheek by jowl with outrageous mugging by Walter Long as the Musketeer of the Slums, or Josephine Crowell's Catherine de Medici in France; but no masterpiece on this scale is ever consistent, after all. I love Connie Talmadge's Mountain Girl from Babylon; smart, funny and crazy. Other favorites: Tully Marshall as the villainous Priest of Bel; Seena Owen as the Princess beloved, my personal nomination for Most Fabulous Body of the Hollywood 1910s, never mind the deranged costumes; Alfred Paget as a genuinely humane Belshazzar; Howard Gaye as a believable and totally unforced Jesus. Everything the silent screen of 1916 could do, good, bad, subtle, overblown, crazy or glorious is embodied here; and Griffith never rode so high again. The most satisfactory version currently available, in my opinion, is the Kino on Video edition on vhs and dvd, the one illustrated when you first call the picture up on this site. There are some problems and a few missing bits that I take exception to, but overall this is the version that first time viewers should try.
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GoatPoda27 January 2005
I put off seeing "Intolerance" for years, fearing that the bloated, silent epic would be more of a punishment than a reward. I was surprised by how intelligent and spectacular a movie it was. The parallels between the ages ancient, present, and in between are fascinating, and it's a shame to think that no filmmaker since 1916 has attempted a historical, epic, poem so grand. It would be easy to dismiss parts of the film, but that would be treason to its creator. It is a comment on the eternal struggle of goodness against it's adversary intolerance, a message to the future that we will never evolve without admitting this. Ninety years later,it seems that we haven't come that far, if we've made any progress at all. Some of the sights are remarkable: Babylon, the heavenly final sequence, the worker's strike, Christ, chariots... Too bad Griffith is mostly remembered for his vision of Klan and black culture in "Birth of a Nation".
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Love's struggle through the ages
lugonian14 November 2001
"Intolerance" (Wark Producing Corporation, 1916), directed by D.W. Griffith, became an immediate follow-up to the director's previous effort, a civil war story titled "The Birth of a Nation" (1915), using many of the same actors including Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, among others. Of the two, I find "Intolerance" the most interesting, mainly because of its advance style in story telling. Yet, "Intolerance" did not become as successful nor controversial as "The Birth of a Nation" when first released.

"Intolerance" consists of four separate stories into one movie, but what's unusual about it is that the stories are not told episodically, but presented simultaneously in parallel action, linked together with Lillian Gish as the mother rocking her cradle. The stories consist of THE MODERN STORY, THE JUDEAN STORY, THE FRENCH STORY and finally THE BABYLONIAN STORY. Of the four, only THE JUDEAN STORY is the shortest and less detailed, featuring the life of Jesus Christ, as played by Howard Gaye. THE MODERN STORY, starring Mae Marsh and Robert Harron, finds the young couple getting married, followed by the husband resorting to life of crime when unable to find work, and later accused of a murder he did not commit; THE FRENCH STORY is set during the Middle Ages with Brown Eyes (Margery Wilson) and Prosper Latour (Eugene Palette) of religious intolerance under the regime of Catherine De Medici (Josephine Crowell); and THE BABYLONIAN STORY finds the Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge) treated kindly by Belshazzar (Alfred Paget) when she is forced by the judicial system to appear on the marriage market, and falls in love with her prince. The battle scenes in this segment are well staged, considering the time of when this movie was produced. The Belshazzar's Banquet Hall set is the most famous sequence of all, shown many times as a film clip segment in several documentaries about silent films. The sets are lavish and the expense of this production shows. In spite of some hokey acting and title cards, which was taken seriously by 1916 standards, it's still a worthy viewing, especially for film scholars. Of all the actors who have appeared in this production, and there are too many to mention, the one who's most remembered long after the film is over is the one with less footage, Lillian Gish.

"Intolerance" is available on video in several different versions. Besides public domain videos with bad copies and no music score whatsoever, the three noted mentions include, (1) The former Blackhawk Video Company distributed it in the 1980s at 135 minutes accompanied with clear picture, an organ score and intermission. The opening titles of that print claims it to be the most complete copy, which includes the list of cast actors and their roles. (2) When Blackhawk merged with Republic Video several years later, it presented another copy, a shorter but almost clearer print running at 121 minutes accompanied with a good piano score and tinted picture, but minus the listing of the cast of actors and their roles. This was the copy used for the Public Television presentation of "The Silent Years" (1971), as hosted by Orson Welles. (3) Then there is another video copy, compliments of Kino Video, which runs at silent accu-speed, making it as long as three hours, color tints, accompanied with organ score, this version which can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. With several video copies currently available, it would certainly make a difference as to which one would make watching this movie enjoyable. On a personal level, I'd recommend No. 2, the Republic Video copy with the piano score.

"Intolerance" can almost be said to be the first all-star movie production. But for what it's worth, this epic should rank as one of the greatest of all silent films. It's amazing that it wasn't named as one of the 100 Greatest American Movies of the twentieth century by the American Film Institute. Maybe a proposed TV special on the selection of 100 Greatest Silent Movies of All Time will amend that (****)
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A Masterpiece Presenting the Definition of Intolerance Through Four Different Period of Time, Full of Injustice, Betrayal and Conspiracy
Claudio Carvalho27 December 2003
In accordance with 'The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language – International Edition', intolerance means '(1) the quality or condition of being intolerant.; (2) inability to withstand or consume. D.W. Griffith, the creator of the cinematographic narrative, extends this definition, presenting a masterpiece along four marks in human history. The first one is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Then, the fall of Babylon, though the betrayal of the high priests to the King Belshazzar and his beloved princess and the conquest of the city (presently Iraq) by Cyrus. This set was the largest ever built in Hollywood. The massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve, in France is the third story. And a contemporary drama in 1916, with the story of the Dear One and The Boy and his involvement with The Musketeer's of the Slums, showing the fight between classes in the beginning of the Twentieth Century. In the end, a beautiful message of peace. The VHS copy I watched was restored and presents the music composed and conducted by Carl Davis and The Live Cinema Orchestra. An outstanding movie, recommended to those viewers who love cinema as art and mandatory for any collector. My vote is ten.
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The hand of god
chaos-rampant8 September 2011
My primary interest in this was as a foundation of cinema; so an academic interest, but - having influenced so many things I am very keen on - not without some excitement at the prospect of discovery of this early common source.

So much of cinema flows out from this; a host of recognizable names tutored on set - Von Stroheim, Tod Browning, Woody Van Dyke, Victor Fleming, Elmer Clifton, Jack Conway, King Vidor - and even more once the film rippled across the world. In Moscow, it was the raw material film students were given to dismantle in Lev Kuleshov's fledgling film school, the first ever. And in France Abel Gance must have been awe-struck by the sheer size of the canvas, if his own films offer any clue.

So yes, a fast-paced, lavish blockbuster - it cost at the time an unprecedented $2m to make - with literally a cast of thousands animating history, the story of Hollywood excess begins here - in Italy it had started earlier, with their Roman spectacles. The filmmaker as god, who does not simply photograph reality but constructs entire worlds, permits our vision to travel in the places that we could earlier only imagine.

But the fundamental technique is still from the theatre; that means a grand stage - elevated from us, separate - with every now and then a different backdrop, actors who pantomime sweeping emotion, the eye usually fixed in a distance. Oh the camera moves, but it moves with the stage. And what a grand stage it is.

I suppose it must have been desirable at the time when cinema, and so the possibilities of seeing, made the world feel so new and perhaps so alive again, when so many of the trials and heroism of the world narrative were yet to be immortalized in this new way, that a film like this should try to encompass so much; the Crucifixion, medieval France, ancient Babylon, they're all urgently envisioned in the same space.

It is in more ways than one that Griffith wrote the history of cinema then; by pioneering what he did in terms of a film language, but also by creating a vast expanse - a daunting 3 hours of film - that fills the prehistoric void, in terms of cinema, with a cachet of images, that creates a history of images. Now with the Pharisees or at the Persian camp of Cyrus, the court of Catherine or the harems of Babylon, common streets old and new; now we could point back and see, in a small measure, a history of film gathered in one place. So, when Kuleshov had tasked his students to rework the film, the choice was wise. There is so much here in terms of images, and so fertile for remodeling, that essentially he was presenting them with the empty sheet to write music on - that music, a deeply modernist product of synthesis, we called montage.

What does this filmmaker - as god - see though, what kind of worldview does he spring into life, this is more interesting I believe.

The title summarizes well. So, a cruel - but institutionalized, thus state sanctioned - evil threatening to engulf and dissolve all that is kind, which is the individual life, and of course the warm sentimentality that eventually restores faith in the personal struggle. But nothing casts a shadow in this world, no depth or dimension beyond the plainly conceivable. So the people are straight-forward beings, either good or bad - our heroine is simply called The Dear One - or misguided at their most complex; or, when en masse, they are part of the decor, collectively writhing in some extravagant background.

By the end, a heavenly chorus of angels illuminate the sky above a battlefield. The immediate contrast, like so much in the film, disarms with how much painstaking vision must have gone into making something so splendorous yet so naive. We can pretend like we ought to make amends with the time it was made, just like we can't pretend to look away with indifference, but the point remains; far more complex works of art had been made before, far less didactic about their humanitarian values.

You should at least see the segment with the siege of Babylon though, and the final scenes cross-cutting across time and space as we rush to the climax; it's things like these that so much was founded on.

(And another image that I recommend to those of you who have been charting all this; it is an inexplicable, tight close-up of the girl who is almost brushing, breathing into the camera. It happens once, and suggests intimacy that is never again encountered in the film. It's as though the girl, and so this cinema, is yearning to cross over into a new kind of film where faces hold all the mysteries and performances visualize innermost soul. Jean Epstein would make those films, ushering us in a new perception)
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Excellent if long!
Bryce Rumbles6 January 2003
I saw a four hour, ten minute version of this as the University of Chicago's Ida Noyes Hall in February, 1993 -- restored with stills and copyright photos, with a new score by Gillian Anderson, featuring the composer conducting the University Symphony Orchestra -- what an experience!

And where, oh where, is this restored version to be seen today?

Somebody get on the copyright owner's case to release the 4:10 version, with Gillian Anderson's score!

This fine film, possibly the quintessential Griffith, has been in the shadow of the notorious Birth of a Nation too long. (Of course, without Birth of a Nation's controversy, this might never have been made). Intolerance has more spectacle than Birth, far more "speaking" parts (if that's not an oxymoron, I don't know what is!), and is far more PC -- but not in a negative way.

See it, in any form you can!
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Intolerance: An Audience's Struggle Through The Hours
timbeach-0388920 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
In terms costume, design, and size of action, this Griffith epic is rightly considered one of the towering films in cinema's history, for it is a marvel to look at for an audience of any era - with the re-construction of Babylonian sets including towering walls, carved sculptures, and chariots, as the backdrop to religious worship and army sieges. It conjures up all number of memorable images and features a range of impressive technical feats - such as dolly's and what look like crane shots, as well as many close ups - which were very rare for the time.

Unfortunately however not nearly as much talent went into the script as the production. It attempts to tell four stories from four different eras and places in history, united by a single theme - that intolerance is bad. The problem is however, the film tells us this in opening title cards before the thing has even started, so that watching this film is not a journey of wonder and discovery and mystery and surprise, but the journey of watching a wealthy group of people make their point in a scripted way with re-creations of history that contain inaccuracies. On top of this, two of the four stories seem to just fall by the wayside and be largely forgotten about. It feels less like a fiction film than a documentary re-enactment, the purpose of which is to provide a moral which everybody understands to be true before they enter the theatre to watch this film anyway. The problem with corruption in politics and religion and wealth in our world, and through the ages, is not that people don't understand morals, it's that they don't act upon them for selfish reasons. This film just uses morals to try and leverage some gravitas. Well, it could have been told in half the time at least! It could have been told in ten minutes! They told it in the first few title cards!

The acting is fairly poor throughout, without any suspense the plot really drags, and relies heavily on title cards to progress the pretty pictures, but ironically it is the most modern story, the one with the least impressive set and costume visuals, that is the most affecting, as they choose not to provide a history re-enactment, but set a story of twists and turns in motion, melodramatic as they are.

Wikipedia will try to tell us "it has been called the first art film" - but that's rubbish, because all film is art, and Melies, to list just one, was there before Griffith, and Griffith himself made better art before this anyway. In my opinion this is the kind of film that will inspire more blockbusters than unique stories.
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This deserves a 10 for technical merit and a 3 for watchability today
MartinHafer29 June 2007
It's very hard to review INTOLERANCE today, as the film is so old fashioned that even comparing it to films made just a decade later is a problem. When it debuted in 1916, it was a technical masterpiece due to D. W. Griffith's insane spending habits--with the millions he sank into the film with these extraordinary sets, it couldn't help but knock the socks off the audience. The film featured live elephants (plus a few papier mache ones that were well camouflaged), thousands of extras and sets that even by today's standards are amazing. The huge walls of Babylon and the enormous statues are NOT matte paintings but were actually built for this amazing film. The problem, though, is that although people DID come to see the film, they never came in large enough numbers to recoup production costs and it was a huge box office failure. I think part of this might have been because while the film was beautiful to look at, the narrative was very confused (being made up of four separate films inter-spliced together) as well as extremely preachy AND sexy (now THAT's a unique combination).

A lot of these problems could have been avoided by simply making four separate films--or at least filming one or two of the best sequences only. Plus, two of the sequences (the story of Jesus and the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre) seemed too choppy and incomplete--like they were more afterthoughts of Griffith. The two remaining sequences, the Babylonian and the one set in 1916 had much more merit. While the Babylonian one was pretty silly in many ways, it was by far the most visually appealing and just overwhelms the viewer. The 1916 sequence had simple contemporary sets and had an excellent story that paralleled the stingy Puritanism of John D. Rockefeller--and this alone would have made an excellent film. But when all the films were combined with their tenuous and schmaltzy message, the overall picture really bogged down and is almost laughably bad in spots. What I particularly found interesting were scenes with Jesus appearing along with some very, very risqué scenes of practically naked dancing girls from Babylon! What this film DESPERATELY needed was a producer--not D. W. Griffith tossing in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink into an overblown mega-picture that couldn't help but fail.
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arlev-125 July 2005
I was kinda forced into watching this film having started reading through 'American Silent Film' by William Everson (a very good book, I hasten to add on, er, well the title says it all) and encountering an entire chapter on, first, 'Birth of a Nation' (which I duly watched) and, then, 'Intolerance'.

I was already a fan of the Silent Screen so I approached it with a great amount of expectation, especially as Mae Marsh and Lillian Gish were in it whose performances in 'Birth' I thought were two of the finest I'd seen in silent movies.

However, in my opinion, the film is as poor as 'Birth' is brilliant.

Sure, there are a great amount of high spots when you look at film technique (such as the moving camera in part two that zooms in over the heads of the crowds - and the grand sets of Babylon are stunning to say the least) but the film is a mishmash of ideas that are forced into employment as examples of 'Intolerance' when you could view alternate characters as equally displaying the trait.

The film started life as the 'Modern Story only' prior to 1916 which was then used as the basis to have the other two main and one rather sketchy story cut into it (the Jesus narrative is, to be honest, not a story but a series of excerpts from the life which support the other three stories at certain points). To me, it shows - it's just *too* chaotic a film to be enjoyable (even by 1916 standards).

A couple of other points - Mae Marsh's performance is semi-decent although there appears to be a bit too much over-dramatisation at points while Constance Talmadge's character (the Babylonian Mountain Girl) although sometimes implausible is a nice humorous insertion (I used to know a girl like that!).

Why Griffith gave Lillian Gish the sole acting role of rocking a cradle throughout the film with no other input, I can't imagine (there must've been some good reason for it) as her acting ability was, for me, the highlight of 'Birth'.

If you're a movie-buff, this film is a must-see. Don't miss it! But, like me, you may wonder 'Why?'.

One lighter point - did anyone notice that where the train stops is the same place that Keaton used in 'The Goat' for the shot of him riding the train?
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unsurpassed and unsurpassable
mats.wahlqvist8 July 2000
How on Earth was D.W Griffith able to make this movie back in 1916? Back in the days when the audience were having a hard time focusing on two parallell stories, Griffith gave them four... This is a tremendous spectacle, way ahead of its time, and hardly dated at all. OK, the acting is a little bit over the edge (although Mae Marsh is a personal favourite of mine) and the subtitles are sometimes ridiculous, but the message that this movie brings is absolutely timeless. In fact, this is really the first movie with a vision, an idea. A major influence on Russian director Eisenstein, one has to wonder: Would there have been a Potemkin without this masterpiece? The Birth of a nation is in some ways superior to Intolerance, but for pure strength, innovation and boldness, Intolerance is unsurpassed and unsurpassable. The greatest movie of all times.
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The most ambitious film ever made
derek-19924 September 2004
Incredible that in 1916 Griffith embarked on a film with four different stories intercut to indeed present "love's struggle through the ages". This really is the ultimate epic film, no film before or since can really match it for ambition or scope. Lillian Gish believed it was ruined when Griffith cut it down from his original version, destroying the narrative flow but the extensive intercutting gathering speed and intensity towards the end was hugely influential particularly on the Soviets and directors like Hitchcock who liked to turn the screw with mounting suspense. Its not a film though to show a newcomer to the silents, it requires some experience of silent drama. People in 1916 were either amazed by the spectacle or baffled by it, one reviewer said they feared Belshazzar would be knocked down by an automobile at any second.
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Pretentious Muddle
madbeast16 May 2005
I was greatly disappointed in this film after being greatly impressed by the powerful and moving "Way Down East" and the groundbreaking (though shockingly racist) "Birth of a Nation." Griffith felt that he needed to follow the epic "Birth" with something "important," but the result is an over-produced and pretentious mess. The only sequence which carries any dramatic weight is the modern sequence (which Griffith had originally planned to make up the entire movie, originally titled "The Mother and the Law"), but associates convinced him that such a modest project shouldn't follow "Birth of a Nation" so Griffith padded the project with three other episodes which are frankly nonsensical and boring.

Griffith's reputation as one of the most important figures in the evolution of film is well deserved based on such works as "Judith of Bethulia," "Birth of a Nation," "Broken Blossoms" and "Way Down East," but "Intolerance" is clearly an example of a man desperate to top a spectacular success without a cohesive idea of how to go about it.
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Disappointing, but interesting
Arcturus198023 March 2013
Bored to sleep, literally, I watched the 178 min version over two days. The meaninglessly incoherent quadruple narrative is little helped by the captions. The film ruined the studio by boring audiences inapprehensively before its legacy took hold.

A negative review thus far, I grant you, so on with the positives: The techniques and visuals (magnificent Babylonian sets) are interesting; the significance to film history should interest anyone interested in the subject; and in my opinion, Constance Talmadge has a star quality otherwise lacking in the film.

Intolerance is rather a misnomer. The Struggle, interestingly a D.W. Griffith film of 1931, would be a more apt title.
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Is it just me, or is this not really the greatest film ever made?
anches-725-9763063 October 2011
It seems pointless adding another review to the long list already available, but, having spent three hours watching "Intolerance" in ,probably, the best version available, here I go. My copy is the Thames Silents version, with music by Carl Davis. Of course, this movie cannot be ignored, as its impact as an exercise in film making is still felt today, but its flaws are many and it is a demonstration of what can go wrong as much as what works. Long epic films are more prone to uneven moments than your average feature, purely because they are so long, but sometimes I wonder If Griffith let the concept overwhelm him, leading to such directorial slips as inserting close-ups into the narrative which seemed to have been posed and shot separately from the day's shooting, rather in the manner of the publicity stills which used to tempt us into the cinema in days gone by. His fondness for inserting spurious historical facts into the intertitles is distracting, but, to be fair, this is no different from any other director of epics - note the famous clerihew: Cecil B.DeMille/Much against his will/ Was persuaded not to put Moses/ Into the war of the Roses! In fact, historical accuracy is rarely seen as a sine qua non of historical films. The key thing about the film is that it set the standard which film makers have had to strive for ever since and by watching it they can learn where to cut a little, where to retain. Incidentally, my original draft for this review ran to four pages of foolscap, but I have learned that more is not always better.
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A Work of Ambition
Ion Martea23 July 2004
Before 'Pulp Fiction' and 'The Lord of the Rings', at a time when films were just at an age of adolescence, D. W. Griffith produced 'Intolerance', a pure cinematic treat of grand proportions. Involved in practically every aspect of the craft, from direction to makeup, Griffith lavishly proved his artistic talent.

'Intolerance' is unarguably a work of ambition. The daring script structure that took almost eighty years to grow to its full potential, the jaw-dropping sets, disgustingly expensive for contemporary studios, a cast of thousands, and top class performances from the entire cast, particularly the female leads – radiate with freshness in the third millennium. The achievements make it irresistible to disconsider any flaw. But 'Intolerance' is flawed. Its dogmatic, utopic, and often historically inaccurate, plot makes room for wide criticism. And yet, the paced finale, with nail-biting suspense, redeem Griffith's attempt of delivering a mature product.

Often misunderstood, and characterised as Hollywood trite, the film is devoured by its own complexity. The four stories intertwine sporadically, disconnected, only to allude in the end at the similarity of human kind since the beginning of time. 'Intolerance', ultimately, is an epic on humanity, and its tenacity is a testament of its greatness.
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Intolerant? You will be...
Stuart Ian Burns29 August 2004
D W Griffith's Intolerance, his 1916 film which switches between four time frames to tell the story of man's inhumanity to himself. At a distance of eighty years, its surprising how much of the film holds up. For the uninitiated, the action tells the story of the crucifixion, the massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, the fall of Babylon and a contemporary story in depression hit America.

It's the latter two which have the most impact. This was the most expensive film of the time because in order to tell the story Griffith actually built Babylon on the backlot to scale and filled it with extras - imagine if Peter Jackson had actually built the whole of helms deep without any CGI material then hired all of those people instead of computer generating most of them and your there. It's famous because despite the larger cameras of the time he uses sweeping crane shots to demonstrate the epic sweep of the action.

The contemporary story, a sort of early century version of Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home works because the performances, despite the lack of sound have a naturalistic feel - although some of actors display over the top hand gestures (a real danger in the silent era), the leads all have a quiet dignity and by the end, a race to save a condemned man I found myself getting rather excited - again for the time the editing is surprisingly swift and contemporary.

This stuff isn't for everyone and it eventually took me four and a half hours to see the whole piece after pauses and intermissions. I would also recommend finding a copy with a decent soundtrack. The version I rented had a nasty Hammond organ plinky plonky noise in the background which distracted rather than enhanced the action; I ended up turning it off and putting on some world music compilation cds which worked surprisingly well, especially when the music co-incidentally fitted the action onscreen. Not that I would say this is the best way to enjoy the films. Georgio Morodor still has a lot to answer for because of what he did to Metropolis.
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Tragic, Tragic, Tragic
DeDe-146 July 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This film is, by most accounts, D.W. Griffith's greatest. The sets remain unsurpassed in size and greatness (though the sets for 1922's Robin Hood came awfully close). Hollywood could never afford such a film today, or even ten years after the initial release; 1916 dollars had a six digit cost for the film. And viewing it is a real treat, what with the new tinted print and the great musical score (which can be found on CD, too). The film shows intolerance in four different eras: the 1900's in America, the 1500's in France, the 20's in Palestine, and 3,000 BCE Babylon. I didn't quite understand the latter three, but be assured that there is a lot of killing and religious persecution (the killing of Christ, for example). The modern story, however, deals with the Dear One (Mae Marsh), who is one of the many third-class citizens whose father works for the upper-class. To torture the poor, the owners of this company send away the workers, resulting in trauma. The Dear One marries another survivor of this tragedy, but the marriage is rocky. They love each other, but their happiness is tested time and again, ending when her husband is sentenced to be hung. The film shows, quite beautifully, that there is always some jerk out there to spoil everyone else's fun. Also, the consistent image of Lillian Gish rocking a cradle shows that each generation is born in a cradle, but whether they choose to stick to being sweet and loving is up to them. Today, Intolerence is trumpeted as one of the best American films of all time. In 1916, critics and fans ignored it. Griffith was to make many more films, but only a few were classics. Ironic thing, that the film following smash-hit The Birth of a Nation should be called Intolerence when nobody in 1916 could tolerate it.
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Disjointed, a "good" movie, but not "the greatest".
baldy-2110 May 2000
I had high hopes for this movie, but I was disappointed when it was over. It was sometimes hard to follow, and if it wasn't for the costume changes, there are times you wouldn't know which story you were watching.

Lillian Gish as "the eternal mother", well, I GUESS it was her, if you're a Gish fan, skip this one. With no really good shots of her, it could be anybody rocking that cradle and you wouldn't know the difference.

The "present" story could stand as a movie of it's own, it does leave a major conflict unresolved at the end. Mae Marsh, adorable as ever, continues to overact in this one, it's annoying at times but not "Intolerable". The final race against time will keep you watching, Griffith understood a good "chase".

The St. Bartholomew's day massacre could have been left out, Josephene Crowell as Catherine de Medici almost made me turn the movie off, she looks like the "Queen of Hearts" in Disney's "Alice in wonderland", her acting almost was "Intolerable". Don't expect a good shot of the Huguenot on the white horse, Douglas Fairbanks wasn't credited for the part and it could be anybody.

The Christ story, leave it out, it adds nothing and is such a small part of the movie. I only thought one of the segments was any good, and it was too short.

The Fall of Babylon, fantastic sets! Incredible sets! How did they afford those sets? I came away from the Babylon segments a Constance Talmadge fan, she's good, better (I think) than Mae Marsh in the "modern" story. The Babylon story will hold your attention and make all the other stories annoying. This is what I wanted to see and all I knew about the movie until recently was the Babylon story, and those sets! If what you want to see is the feast of Belshazzar and all those extras, I'd most likely watch "The fall of Babylon" which was made up from taking the Babylon scenes from Intolerance and adding in the leftovers that were cut. It's said that Griffith paid those extras the outlandish wage of 2 dollars a day plus carfare and lunch, he got what he paid for, it's fantastic, and did I mention the sets?
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About two hours too long
bull-frog16 May 2007
Though controversial, I liked Griffith's earlier work - Birth of a Nation. Intolerance, however, doesn't quite cut it. The movie is really really drawn out. At three hours, it's very difficult to watch in one evening, particularly when you're dosing off every ten minutes or so. It took me three evenings to finish. The excitement and suspense doesn't pick up until the last half hour. There are several things that I disliked: The music is annoying and I had it on mute much of the time. There is an antiquated organ playing the same rhythms over and over again. It never changes, no matter what the scene or situation. There can be a chariot racing down the road, a love scene, someone getting murdered and it's all the same familiar tune. I know that sound wasn't incorporated with movies back then and that the music was a reproduction add-on. But still.

Another thing that annoyed me was the color tintings. There must have been at least four different tints used. I particularly disliked the gross looking red ones. I wished Griffith gave the film some consistency and just stuck with black and white or sepia.

But the thing I really disliked about Intolerance was the variety of separate story lines format. Very confusing and jumbled. Should have just made four separate movies. Thank goodness movies aren't made like this anymore. Out of the four stories, the "modern" one, played by Marsh and Harron, was the only one I enjoyed. That story was easy to follow. Basically a man is falsely accused of murder that happened right in front of him and it's a race against time to save him from being executed. Although this type of story has been done a thousand times since, I'm sure it must have been groundbreaking for it's day and age.
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T Y2 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I appreciate that D.W. Griffith established the grammar of film. I appreciate that Intolerance audaciously cross-cuts between 4 milieus in quite an experiment... but the context for this is so long gone no one can call it a triumph (even those who do). I've yet to see a silent film that makes it across the sound barrier. The longer the film, the worse the chances. All of Griffith's endless narrative embroidering here makes the stories less interesting, not more refined. The silent technique itself biases the material, by privileging the visual over the audible, where ideas lie. A very small range of the ideological can be conveyed silently.

What we're left with is 4 time periods, and 3 hours of prancing. Whenever a crisis occurs, or a mood is heightened, we get more prancing. Need more emotion? More prancing! More passion? More prancing! They shouldn't call them silent films, they should call them prancing films. The frame-rate also contributes to the problem. No one remembers Metropolis (Lang), Scarlet Letter (Sjostrom), Caligari, Nosferatu for the dramatic arc, just the techniques and visuals, another enormous barrier to enjoying silent film.

Recent news that the lost portions of Lang's Metropolis, have been found in South America offer only the hope the movie offers a few more strong visuals, not any hope for the dated, overextended story of Fredor and Maria. And of course we're sure to get more prancing.
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preppy-320 February 2003
Four stories are told: the fall of Babylon; Jesus Christs' crucifixion; a French revolution story and a modern day tale. They are all connected by the theme of intolerance and how it can destroy people and civilizations.

D.W. Griffith's film was a huge bomb when it was released in 1916--it's easy to see why.

Do we really need four stories about intolerance and does it need to drag out for THREE HOURS???? It could have been done in half the time with only two of the stories. My guess is that Griffith wanted to do some historical dramas and decided to cram them all into one movie. His making of the Babylon set has become a Hollywood legend.

The film is well-done, extremely well-acted and the battle scenes are still strong stuff--bloody and violent. But the film is too long and gets boring more than once. Still worth seeing for the cast, incredible sets and ground-breaking direction by Griffith--but you'll probably be satisfied after an hour or two.
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