Archive for DW Griffith

The Sunday Intertitle: Blood Feud Brothers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2023 by dcairns

Maurice Tourneur’s THE CUB — I was watching that, wasn’t I? Weeks ago, it seems like.

Not all of Tourneur’s experiments work. As leading man/cub reporter Johnny Hines gets the job of writing up the story of the blood feud in the hills, Tourneur intercuts the hero getting ready for his trip with an incipient shoot-out at his destination. As a version of Griffiths’ famed cross-cutting, it doesn’t quite work, because the two actions haven’t a strong enough connection. Hines is clearly not going to arrive in time to prevent one warring family ambushing the other. Without that logical tie, the single suspenseful situation — the ambush — would be better treated as a standalone sequence. Likewise, Hines hurrying to catch his train will be more exciting if it’s not paled into insignificance by continual juxtaposition with a murder.

This seems like the kind of rookie error nobody would make nowadays, and Alexander Mackendrick had an axiom to cover it: “One dramatic problem is likely to be more effective than two,” or words to that effect. But since the whole idea of crosscutting was pretty new, I think the experiment was worth trying. It had literary antecedents — Griffith remarked that Dickens had done it — but I don’t know if anyone in fiction had experimented with quickly alternating scenes dealing with unconnected suspenseful action. If they had, they no doubt abandoned it, as Tourneur would.

Still, he’s not messing about. By the time Hines has arrived at his destination and performed some comic business about engaging a “taxi” — which proves to be some kind of tiny mule or ass — another assassination is being prepared. One fears that both Hatfields and McCoys will have extirpated one another entirely by the time he finds a hotel to unpack in.


The cinematic value of THE CUB thus far has been excellent — but I’m curious as to how it will perform when its hero comes face to face with the issue he’s been sent to investigate. That’s going to require WRITING.

If anyone out there has a tame AI they can ask to develop this plot, I’d be interested in seeing how the results stack up against the 1915 screenwriting chops of Tourneur and Thompson Buchanan.

Hillbilly Eulogy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 6, 2023 by dcairns

Maurice Tourneur’s THE CUB continues to be fascinating. Every scene contains some bold experiment in staging or cutting. Two senior members of the blood-feuding families meet — the scene is interior/exterior, with one guy appearing at the window before he enters for a confrontation. The discussion is about two younger members of who have been seen in romantic circs. Tourneur cuts away to them so we understand who the older men are discussing — and the deft cutaway is practically nouvelle vague film grammar. It’s not just spacially removed but temporally, since this is presumably the sight seen earlier which has brought Bloke 1 to Bloke 2’s window.

You’d be unlikely to get this in a forties film. I guess because they could make things clear-ish with dialogue, though as David Mamet is always saying, any scene where two characters discuss an absent third character is bullshit. THIS technique renders the absent characters present — is that cheating, does it resolve the problem, or is it just a fake bodge? In terms of film technique, I find it mildly dazzling here — this is 1915. Mack Sennett is still hitting people with bricks, and worse, he’s addicted to the Keystone Expository Mime, in which characters attempt to semaphore their thoughts and dreams to the audience via abstruse hand signals. Cross-cutting in Griffith merely illustrates simultaneous activities — the heroine imperiled, the hero flivvering to her rescue. Tourneur’s more psychological approach seems fresh-minted.

The movie is also scenic as hell — if hell can be described as scenic — and probably this aspect was more noticeable and appealing to contemporary viewers than Tourneur’s quiet revolution of film grammar.

Tourneur not only matches the direction of gaze well between shots, he can create a coherent and complex phony Kuleshov geography of montage: the beau waves off screen right, the belle waves back screen left, and the enemy takes aim, also screen left, and we understand that he’s aiming past HER at HIM — even though all three of them have different and somewhat contradictory background scenery. Her cottage would appear to be sitting in the lake we see behind the shooter…

When he’s shot, he rolls down a steep hill, to a dry gully which by rights the lake should have filled. The girl joins him, from approximately screen right, but Tourneur cleverly bodges any sense of whether she’s had to descend the slope or not. The lovers had seemed to be level with one another, but there was no suggestion of a hill in her shot.

None of these mismatches of geography are flaws — they’re little triumphs of screen space and direction over nature.

Enter the hero — so far, this has been a hillbilly Romeo and Juliet, but now a new kind of character is being thrust into the narrative to shake it up — Johnny Hines, as the cub reporter for a big-city newspaper. The character is supposed to be green, but Hines also plays him foppish — more a Bensinger than a Hildy Johnson manque. But subsequent reels will no doubt test his mettle…



Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2023 by dcairns

When you think of Friendless and Brown Eyes, do you think of Buster Keaton in GO WEST?

Or do you think of the characters with the same names in INTOLERANCE, Miriam Cooper and Margery Wilson?

Keaton seems to have been a real Griffith fan: not only does THREE AGES borrow Griffith’s novel structure, but two character names — and also, the stone age section seems indebted to Griffith’s 1912 MAN’S GENESIS.

Bobby Harron invents the first weapon — anticipating Moonwatcher in 2001 — by inserting a stick into a conveniently doughnut-shaped rock. Similarly, Buster modifies his clobbering stick in THREE AGES into something more suited to braining Wally Beery by inserting a stone into a convenient niche or socket.

Keaton’s admiration for Griffith seems wholly sincere — he was quite a star-struck chap — though he can’t help but poke fun. Come to think of it, his character names/titles — Beauty, the Adventurer, and the Worshipper at Beauty’s Shrine — smack of DWG also.

What Griffith thought of this, if he was aware of it, seems not to have been recorded.