We’re going to start a new series here at Dear Jesus. Each week we’re going to post about a year in filmmaking. Starting at 1908, we will make our way towards 2008 to cover 100 years of film. To do this, we’ll pick one or a couple movies to write about for each year, chronologically.
Now, 1895 officially marks the birth of film, with both the Lumiere Brothers and Edison competing with their various forms of the motion-picture camera. But this little series is going to start us off in 1908. A nice, round number. Film had already been defining itself as a narrative structure capable of fairly complex storytelling and as a form of documentation. But, 1908 is special, as this is the year D.W. Griffith makes his directorial debut.
Griffith, a pasty white guy from the South, is known for his flaming racist tendencies, but also for his ability to create films of epic proportions and cement the basic codes of filmmaking as we know them today.
His first film, The Adventures of Dollie already demonstrates how Griffith’s directorial style would greatly influence every aspect of filmmaking.
Turn the volume down. I don’t know what this music is, but it’s awful and distracting.
Here we see Griffith already mapping out some of his more famous practices. Even though it’s far less advanced than it would later become, his cross-cutting/parallel editing techniques already serve to advance the narrative and heighten suspense. We also see the Victorian director’s blatant classism, as the poor (gypsies?) haggle and then kidnap a small, innocent child.
This movie confuses me, though. If you put a kid in a barrel and close the lid so tight that no water can get in as it floats down the river, wouldn’t she run out of air? So is she dead at the end? I tried to see if she was moving, but it’s unclear. So I can’t decide if this is a comedy or a tragedy, and if the title is sick and twisted or light-hearted.
The next film I looked at was also a D. W. Griffith movie directed in 1908 (As far as I can tell, his eighth out of forty-nine that year).
Again, turn down the sound. It’s awful.
A Calamitous Elopement seems to me to be a comedy – something I haven’t seen Griffith do that often, although with 49 films a year, he’s bound to touch on every genre – but I also haven’t seen the ending. Because while IMDB reports that the film is 12 minutes long, this YouTube video is only 7. This was the only version of the film I could find, and I’m including this film in this post because I like the ending as it is in this clip. Why this thief loves stealing women’s clothes and effects remains unclear, and the bad guy wins in the end, something uncommon to early film, which was somewhat limited by the conventions of melodrama and comedy. This film also marks Griffith’s first collaboration with cinematographer Billy Bitzer, who he continued to work with for the rest of his career.
The third film I looked at was The Thieving Hand, directed by J. Stuart Blackton and starring Paul Panzer – two names you’ve probably never heard of (check out all the “uncrediteds on Panzer’s IMDB profile). This film demonstrates the industry aspect of filmmaking. Cheap, easy, short, and funny. This one was a crowd pleaser (at least for me it was. I have no idea what crowds actually thought of it). Check out those special f/x!