D. W. Griffith was an American film director who is known for assembling and perfecting the early discoveries of film language, making him among the most important figures in the history of the medium. Griffith is mostly remembered as the director of the 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation and the subsequent film Intolerance (1916), while being closely associated with his frequent leading lady, Lillian Gish. His film The Birth of a Nation used various cinematic methods which have influenced the visual strategies of virtually every film made since, while its immense popularity set the stage for the dominance of the feature-length film in the United States. Since its release, the film has been highly controversial for its negative depiction of African Americans and glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. Based on the novel and play The Clansman, The Birth of a Nation is both lionized for its radical technique and condemned for its racist philosophy. Filmed at a cost of $110,000, it returned millions of dollars in profits, making it, perhaps, the most profitable film of all time. The film was subject to boycotts by the NAACP and, after screenings of the film had caused riots at several theaters, the film was censored in many cities, including New York City. Intolerance, his next important film, was, in part, an answer to his critics. Intolerance was a three-and-a-half hour epic intercutting four parallel storylines, each separated by several centuries, while being linked by shots of a figure representing Eternal Motherhood rocking a cradle. The film was a colossal undertaking featuring monumental sets, lavish period costumes, and more than 3,000 extras. Although Intolerance was a commercial failure upon its initial release, its unorthodox editing were enormously influential, particularly among European and Soviet filmmakers. Several of Griffith’s later films, including Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920) and Orphans of the Storm (1921) were also successful, but his high production, promotional, and roadshow costs often made his ventures commercial failures. By the time of his final feature, The Struggle (1931), Griffith had made roughly 500 films. Today Griffith has gained recognition for advancing the level of film grammar and pushing it to a new levels of artistic expression within the film medium. One of Griffith’s key contributions was his pioneering of advanced camera and narrative techniques, and of cross-cutting to follow parallel lines of action. From Griffith’s success in using these cinematic innovations comes the chase scene along with many other modern developments ranging from night photography, the use of the iris shot and distinctive color tinting. Mostly forgotten by movie goers of the time, Griffith was held in awe by many in the film industry and in the mid-1930s, he was given a special Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
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