“Intolerance,” D.W. Griffith’s 1916 silent cinema milestone, has been remastered in 2K by the Cohen Film Collection and will be made available on Blu-ray for the first time on Nov. 5. (A remastered DVD version will also be released).
Griffith changed the course of film history with his 1915 Civil War blockbuster “The Birth of a Nation,” and, spurred on by its colossal success, he went even bigger on his next epic, the ambitious and still awe-inspiring “Intolerance,” in which Griffith masterfully links four centuries-apart stories of universal suffering. Stung by charges of glorifying racism in “The Birth of a Nation,” Griffith decided to make his next film a plea for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. An epic like nothing that came before , the monumental film remains as powerful today as it was almost a century ago; the major innovation in screen narrative tells four stories in parallel about social injustice and the effects of intolerance through the ages.
“The Modern Story,” about a working man wrongly accused of a crime, was later issued as a separate film (“The Mother and the Law,” 1919). “The Judean Story” tells of Jesus’ conflicts with the Pharisees and Rome. “The Medieval Story” is about the effects of the massacre of 16th-century French Huguenots. “The Babylonian Story,” about the conquest of Babylon by Persia, also was issued later as a separate film (“The Fall of Babylon,” 1919). Skillful cross-cutting and linking shots of a figure representing Eternal Motherhood rocking a cradle, bring all four stories to a tense climax.
With the profits from “The Birth of a Nation,” Griffith spared no expense on “Intolerance,” constructing huge sets and hiring thousands of extras for spectacular crowd scenes; the most iconic representation of this lavishness remains the sequence set at the immense walls of Babylon. Many of the leading stars of the silent screen appear in the film, including Griffith regular Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Elmo Lincoln, Robert Harron and Constance Talmadge.
“Intolerance” proved to be an important training ground, with several of its assistant directors going on to important directing careers of their own, including Victor Fleming (“The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone With the Wind”), Allan Dwan (“Sands of Iwo Jima”), Sidney Franklin (“The Good Earth”) and Tod Browning (“Dracula,” “Freaks”).
The musical soundtrack for “Intolerance” is in mono for the DVD and 2.0 LPCM for the Blu-ray. Carl Davis’ orchestral score is in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Blu-ray and DVD extras include the two full-length features drawn from “Intolerance”: “The Fall of Babylon” and “The Mother and the Law,” accompanied by new scores by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; a 2013 featurette with film historian Kevin Brownlow; new essays by Cineaste magazine editor Richard Porton and historian William M. Drew; and a theatrical rerelease trailer.