Intolerance (1916)

Genres - Epic  |   Sub-Genres - Historical Epic, Melodrama  |   Run Time - 197 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Lucia Bozzola

Stung by criticism of The Birth of a Nation (1915), D.W. Griffith decided to add three stories to his new feature about modern social inhumanity to create a vast epic discourse against the evils of intolerance. Even more ambitious in scale and structure than The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance moves forward through cross-cutting among four tales of injustice: the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 16th century France, the crucifixion of Christ, a modern workers' strike, and a story of ancient Babylon. The four are initially linked by the transitional image of a woman rocking a cradle, but Griffith speeds up the cross-cutting as each story reaches its climax, creating a quadruple action denouement. His virtuoso technical talents in handling both large-scale scenes and intimate personal moments are amply displayed in the landmark three-hour saga, but when Intolerance was released, it failed to match its predecessor's popularity. Its audience appeal was hampered by Griffith's preference for solemnly arguing ideas over creating involving characters, by its complex structure, and by its allegedly pacifist message as the U.S. was about to join World War I, so Intolerance became an expensive flop. Regardless, its formidable artistic influence can be seen from the work of Soviet montage master Sergei Eisenstein to Cecil B. DeMille's epics to Francis Ford Coppola's dual cross-cut narrative in The Godfather Part II (1974).