It is amazing how much of a damn I didn’t give about “Intolerance.”
Directed by the grandfather of filmmaking, D.W. Griffith, “Intolerance” was made as a snide comeback to the critical response to Griffith’s previous film, “The Birth of a Nation.” For those unaware, that was the first feature-length movie ever made in 1915 and it has aged about as well as wet bread sitting out in the sun for a month – Offensively racist in terms of storytelling and filmmaking, “The Birth of a Nation” is a chore to sit through nowadays.
“Intolerance” is not racist like Griffith’s predecessor, but it is equally as tedious while remaining impressive for 1916. This three-and-a-half hour long movie tells four different tales of intolerance throughout different periods in time, including ancient Babylon, a brief period on Jesus, a French renaissance tale and one set during modern American times.
Any movie that has a network narrative, like “Cloud Atlas” or “Love Actually,” owes a lot to “Intolerance.” And for being a silent black-and-white movie made only a year after the feature film was created, it does have a distinctive way to inform the audience when and where we are through different-tinted screens. Most of the French story has a green tint, while the Babylonian era is a stained yellow. Any time violent acts occur, no matter the time period, the screen is tinted red.
There is also a fifth time period, in which the “mother of time” rocks a craddle back and forth, and mankind is the symbolic baby in the craddle. The mother is played by Lillian Gish, who would go on to have one of the longest careers in Hollywood and be one of the silent eras greatest actresses.
Outside of that, nothing about “Intolerance” stuck with me. I couldn’t tell you what happened, because I really didn’t care about anything that was happening.
When you watch as many different types of movies as I do, you come across a film that never attempts to pull you in and get you invested in what they’re trying to do or say. “Intolerance” is one of those movies.
I appreciate one of the first attempts at an movie epic and the creation of the network narrative, but multiple stories about hatred and injustice throughout time isn’t compelling or worthwhile when done as a silent film. That is something you need active dialogue for, and unfortunately that wouldn’t be invented for another eleven years.
So I give “Intolerance” a pass for being ahead of its time, but like “The Birth of a Nation” this one was a chore to sit through.
Final Grade: C-