D.W. Griffith practically invented the concept of epic, and certainly reinvented it with Intolerance. Resulting from the backlash levied against his previous work, The Birth of a Nation, Griffith set out to silence his naysayers with one of the most humongously extravagant productions of the era. Indeed, he succeeds in just about every way, other than the box office, as the film was a commercial failure. It is, however, well regarded thanks to the passage of time and new generations of filmmakers that understand what Griffith set out to accomplish.
The prologue explains the concept of the film as a series of stories in which hate and intolerance are shown in battle against love and charity. A simple idea of a premise, taken to the extreme through four separate tales that each could’ve been a movie in their own right. Set in different eras of time, each has its own story to tell about intolerance and the fight against it. Thankfully, Griffith’s use of stylized title cards for each era makes following the story relatively simple, even though the rapid interchange between each story as the film goes on can too easily lose our track of what’s going on in each. Even with the somewhat convoluted method, Griffith was still a master filmmaker and storyteller, and he shows his skill with this film. I almost recoiled in surprise when I saw what looked to be a modern day dolly shot among the works, and Griffith uses many other modern day conventions of filmmaking to tell his story.
I don’t know if I would recommend this one as a vehicle for entertainment; the stories got increasingly hard to follow just due to the over-saturation of plot details, and the inter-cut style of telling the stories, while ahead of its time, made for even more convoluted following of what was going on. Film historians and students of the cinema will gain a great appreciation for Griffith and what he accomplishes with this one, but this isn’t one I’d tell the layman moviegoer to see. Still, again, what Griffith manages to do here was remarkable, and way ahead of its era, so points for that at least.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10