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D. W. Griffith: an American Life Paperback – 1984


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Paperback, 1984
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (1984)
  • ASIN: B002EEUU46
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

Customer Reviews

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Clara on December 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
D.W. Griffith is by far a fascinating and confusing character in film history. He gets the obligatory nod though Im still sad to say I meet many an aspiring director/writer/actor who doesnt even know the name (dang youth.) If he is known hes 'that old guy who made that racist movie and was in the Klan'. A heavy, and somewhat inaccurate statement (he wasnt aware of his racisim, he wasnt in the Klan, true he was older when he got into film).

Many books have been written about Griffith, and many of them took ancedotes at their word. What Griffith said was truth. In fact they overlooked the fact that he was a showman first, and tended to cast history and his legacy as he saw fit. This biography (at a weighty 800 some pages) painstakingly sorts through all this. For instance Griffith didnt go broke on Intolerance (it didnt sell well but he did turn a modest profit), he didnt make Intolerance to recitify Birth (in fact he made it as a dig at the 'moralizers' and busy bodies), he barely made any films involving race, and he wasnt ever really broke (though given his risky business dealings it was always possible).

In Whitfield's "Pickford a Woman who Made Hollywood" she says everything Griffith did he did with style. Thats true of how he portrayed his life, how he really lived his life, and even how he died (under the big chandelier of the Knickerbocker Hotel). You can debate Griffith and his work to death, but there is no more authentic, well researched, and well written biography out there then "Griffith: an American Life".
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Graceann Macleod on November 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
When I started reading this book, I was advised by a friend that while it is the best book on Griffith thusfar, it is still somewhat superficial. Another friend referred to it as "ponderous." While I gathered my own thoughts during the reading of this 600-page tome, I have to agree with both assessments.

Richard Schickel did meticulous research in the years that he worked on this biography (which was released in 1984). He was blessed to have access to people who actually knew and worked with Griffith, all of whom are now gone. Schickel is also a well-known film critic, so he had his "street cred" before the book was ever released. There is a lengthy sections of notes, a filmography and bibliography. The research, and the film criticism, are both blessings and curses from a reading standpoint.

An abundance of research without a light hand in the sharing of what's learned can lead to a dry, heavy-handed read. Schickel has moments when he tries to be entertaining as well as education, but we are still treated to long passages regarding stock options and contract clauses. For all his digging however, the information he provides can be frustrating. Clarine Seymour is barely mentioned, while Carol Dempster is discussing in exhausting, annoying detail.

Given that Schickel is never able to shed his critic's hat as he writes, the biography is not an objective look at Griffith's work or life. Previous biographers who were sympathetic to Griffith are universally referred to as "apologists," and the reader often feels that the author is viewing Griffith's films by looking down his nose at them. We are treated to opinion offered as fact, such as "so-and-so says, correctly, that ...." Asides regarding silent film in general reflect Schickel's biases about the genre, disappointingly.

All in all, I learned a bit about D.W. Griffith in the book. I only wish that it had been presented a bit more objectively.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Borowy26 VINE VOICE on January 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a lavishly detailed biography of the pioneering film director David Wark Griffith (following the prevailing custom of the time, Griffith typically was referred to by his initials and his last name, hence D. W. Griffith). Griffith is a controversial figure on account of his groundbreaking feature film success, "The Birth of a Nation." The film was set during the Civil War and Reconstruction and revolutionized movie making.

Griffith was the son of a last ditch Confederate veteran who served until Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. As a small child, Griffith idealized his father, a gentle ne'er do well, for whom the War for the Confederacy was the singular highlight of his entire existence. When his father died, Griffith was still a child of tender years and this separation only served to romanticize Griffith's memory of his beloved father to a greater degree. The significance of these vivid memories of his parent's storytelling are to be found in Griffith's landmark film "The Birth of a Nation."

Key battle sequences in the film are precise recreations of events that Griffith's own father experienced firsthand such as subsisting on parched corn when the Confederates were unable to supply their dwindling army with daily rations. Likewise, Colonel Griffith participated in a heroic battlefield charge quite like the one shown in the film.

Ostensibly an adaptation of Thomas Dixon's sensational bestselling novel and the subsequent stage play, "The Clansman," Griffith kept the billing for publicity purposes, but freely reworked the scenario to suit his own preferences.
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