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by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Nov 5, 2013

D. W. Griffith's 1916 silent epic "Intolerance" receives a gorgeous Blu-ray release from Cohen Film Collection. The remastered film, set to composer Carl Davis' score and performed by the Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra, looks and sounds as close to flawless as could be hoped for... better, in fact.

The crisp picture and perfectly matched score only compliment the movie's progressive message and pioneering techniques. If you thought the way "Cloud Atlas" cut between different stories set in different places and times was new, well, think again because Griffith did it first. "Intolerance" weaves together four morality tales (or, in the film's own parlance, "Sun Plays") from four disparate ages and locations, from ancient Babylon to the time of Jesus to the slaughter of the Huguenots in Burgundy in 1562, to what was, in 1916, a contemporary big American city.

This last setting is the milieu for the film that served as the seed for "Intolerance," "The Mother and the Law," in which an honest woman loses her father to the stress of a relocation (forced by economics), then loses her husband to prison (on trumped-up charges), and finally loses her baby (to a band of busy-body "reformers," women who can't keep the attentions of handsome young men and so seek their thrills in other ways). In the epic's other three story lines, religious intolerance, hypocrisy, and faith-based treachery all play crucial roles: Griffith has his sights set on everything except, as film scholar Kevin Brownlow notes in the featurette "Three Hours That Shook the World: Observations on 'Intolerance,' " for racism.

Indeed, though the common idea is that "Intolerance" was Griffith's "apology" for "Birth of a Nation," which lionized the KKK, Brownlow disagrees, saying Griffith had no thought that he should apologize for anything. Rather, "Intolerance" started out as a simple tale of a woman victimized by "reformers" (the like of which were bothering Griffith) and gathered steam as Griffith began to think about how to expand his original vision. (He was looking to rival a huge Italian production that had just been released.)

This Blu-ray offers, in addition to Brownlow's musings, the two "re-issues" that sprang from the epic film: The original "The Mother and the Law," edited into its own feature, and "The Fall of Babylon," which is an eye-popping epic all on its own, with its massive sets, intense battle sequences, and groundbreaking camera work. The Blu-ray's liner notes include an essay by film historian William M. Drew and another by "Cineaste" magazine editor Richard Porton.

If you own a Blu-ray, it's incumbent on you to buy this title. With great hi-res power, after all, comes great responsibility to monumental filmmaking.


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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