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The selection of motion pictures featured in this two-disc set traces D.W.Griffith's rapid unparalled development as a filmmaker during his five year stint at the Biograph Company-a development that contributed substantially to the emergence of film as a powerful form of cultural expression. From the crude humor melodramatic devices of The Adventures of Dollie (1908) through the remarkably dynamic The Battle At Elderbush Gulch (1913), one is able to witness Griffith's rapid gains in self-confidence and increasing command over the still new medium of motion pictures. Griffith was noted for many achievements, but among the most striking was the use of parallel editing, both for purpose of suspense (An Unseen Enemy, The Lesser Evil) and to generate a powerful social commentary (Corner the Wheat, The Usurer). But as The Unchanging Sea demonstrates, he was also able to harness the technique for more elegiac purposes. In these fifteen films-plus eight bonus shorts-one finds Griffith experimenting with (and thus contributing to the development of) various genres, including the Western (The Last Drop of Water), the crime picture (The Musketeers of Pig Valley) and the seafaring drama (Enoch Arden, one of Griffith's earliest two-reel endeavors).
The most fertile period of D.W. Griffith's early career is generously preserved in this special edition of Biograph Shorts. A satisfied actor in early silent films, Griffith was hesitant when the American Biograph company offered him a director's job in 1908, but his first film, "The Adventures of Dollie" (reconstructed here from a Library of Congress paper print), gave Griffith the filmmaking fever, and from 1908 to 1913 he averaged two or three shorts per week, of which these 23 represent a comprehensive sampling. Obscurities mingle with masterpieces on two DVDs; highlights include 1909's "A Corner in Wheat" (which established Griffith's mastery of social realism); "The Musketeers of Pig Alley," a pioneering gangster film shot on authentic New York locations; and "The Battle at Elderbush Gulch," a dynamic early Western.
Although many of these films appear on another compilation (D.W. Griffith: Years of Discovery), important exceptions include 1911's "Enoch Arden" (a prestigious adaptation of Tennyson's poem); "The Usurer," one of Griffith's best films from 1910; "The Last Drop of Water," a grand-scale Western made during Griffith's first trip to California (and an indication of grander films to come); and "His Trust," the first of a two-part serial featuring Griffith's then-common use of blackfaced actors as "noble Negroes." Most important (in addition to early appearances by Lillian Gish, Lionel Barrymore, and other silent stars) is the arc of progress that these films represent. In Griffith's capable hands, we witness "flickers" in their most rapid stage of development, incorporating new techniques (parallel action and cross-cutting, changing camera angles within a scene, dramatic close-ups) from a tireless innovator who would soon rise to the challenge of epic, feature-length productions. --Jeff Shannon
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Top Customer Reviews
Apart from the technical aspects, the real highlight for me, and perhaps for most general viewers, is the variety of stories presented here. They are like good quality short stories, and as with written stories, the next most important thing after having a good plot is the way the story is told, and this is where Griffith excelled. Some of the Shorts on these discs are based on stories by Poe, Tennyson and others, as well as contemporary film writers like Anita Loos. There are some heavy subjects which make a 'social comment', which Griffith often liked to make, then some real tear-jerkers, some suspense and action, a few Westerns and other general ones to balance things out. Each Short deserves proper attention, but each is rewarding in the way it is presented. It's also interesting to see early work by the regular Biograph - and later the Griffith - cast such as Blanche Sweet, Lionel Barrymore and of course, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, who went on to become big stars in their own right.
Almost all Shorts have perfect picture quality, and the one that hasn't ("The Adventures of Dollie") has an explanation from KINO explaining that it is included for its historic significance, namely Griffith's directorial debut, which is so good that you can easily forgive the somewhat washed-out picture. Musical scores are also of highest standard and match each film perfectly, being arranged by Robert Israel. Far more than just history for the film student, then: more like an excellent collection of short stories to which you keep wanting to go back.
The main reason for the 3 star rating is that, while the films are great, there isn't anything else. The 'extras' on the discs are simply some additional shorts. There is no background information; no enclosed pamphlets, no introductions or special features on the discs themselves. I might have liked to have learned more about Griffith, about Biograph, and about the shorts.
Kino video in 2002. The is a two disc set consisting of 23 short films made for the
Biograph Company and all but one released before the seminal feature film, THE BIRTH OF A NATION in 1915.
From 1908 until THE BIRTH OF THE NATION in 1915, D.W. Griffith filmed close to five hundred short films. This release by Kino consists of a very few of the highlights of D.W. Griffith's early output.
On Disc One:
THOSE AWFUL HATS, 1909 (3 min). Very funny comedy short with quite an ending about the common problem of bountifully behatted women blocking the vision of fellow nickleodeon patrons.
With Mack Sennett and Flora Finch.
THE SEALED ROOM,1909 (11 min). From a story by Poe about a King who builds a special room for himself and his consort. She uses the room as a love nest for herself and a minstrel until
the King comes up with an airtight solution. With Arthur V. Johnson, Marion Leonard, Henry B.
Walthall and in small parts, Mack Sennet and Mary Pickford.
CORNER IN WHEAT, 1909 (14 min). From Frank Norris's novel "The Pit." A greedy tycoon corners the market in wheat thereby doubling the price of bread and doubling the hardship on the
populace. Griffith shows the contrast between the lives of the rich and poor with innovative
intercutting between the two story narratives. With Frank Powell, Grace Henderson, James
Kirkwood, Linda Avidson and in small roles Mack Sennett and Blanche Sweet.
THE UNCHANGING SEA, 1910 (13 min). A young couple's lives are changed by the sea when the
newlywed husband is thought lost at sea. The consequences and the couple's fate are told
in a beautiful and visually poetic manner in this tragic tale inspired by Charles Kinglesy's poem.
With Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Avidson, Mary Pickford, Charles West, Dell Henderson, Gladys Egan.
HIS TRUST, 1911 (14 min). When a southern plantation owner is called to war it's up to his faithful slave, George, to save his wife and child in the devestation of the Civil War. With Wilfred Lucas, Dell Henderson, Claire Mcdowell, Edith Haldeman.
THE NEW YORK HAT, 1912 (16 mn). In this story by Anita Loos, a teenage girl whose mother had just died receives a fancy gift from her pastor, a very stylish New York hat which she has been admiring in a shop window. Little does she know that it was bought with money her late mother gave the pastor nor does she realize the firestorm of gossip and ill will she faces from the local busybodies. With Mary Pickford. Lionel Barrymore, Charles Hill Mailes, Kate Bruce, Mae Marsh, Lillian Gish.
AN UNSEEN ENEMY, 1912 (15 min). Two recently orphaned sisters face danger when the house is burglarized and their inheritance is about to be stolen. With Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Elmer
Booth, Robert Herron, Harry Carey.
THE MOTHERING HEART, 1913 (23 min). A struggling young man climgs the ladder of suces with the
unstinting support of his wife. When the husband goes for another woman, the wife quietly moves back to her mothers home to have their baby. Eventually the husband gets his come uppance from the worldly woman and crawls back to his family. With Walter Miller, Dorothy Gish, Kate Bruce, Viola Berry, Charles West.
THE ADVENTURES OF DOLLIE, 1908 (12 min). A mother and father take their young daughter Dollie out for a day of fun and relaxation when they run into a couple of dangerous gypsies. This is
the first film directed by D.W. Griffith and already some of his trademark characteristics
are present. With Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Avidson, Gladys Egan, Charles Insley, Madeliene West.
THE USURER,1910 (18 min). A wealthy moneylender clamps down on his debtors and decides to collect all that is owed him just to enhance his bottom line. With Mack Sennett, George Nichols, Grace
Henderson, Edward Dillon, Mary Pickford.
ENOCH ARDEN, 1915 (35 min). dby Christy Cabanne, written by Griffith. A seaman, after a long period marooned on a desert island, returns home only to find his wife has remarried. A terrific movie. With Alfred Paget, Lillian Gish, Wallace Reid,
THE MISER'S HEART, 1911 (16 MIN). A miser at first refuses to open his safe to theives until they threaten the life of a little neighbor girl. With Linda Avidson, Lionel Barrymore, William J. Butler, Donald Crisp, Edward Dillon.
DISC TWO HAS:
THE MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY, 1912 (18 min). A couple living in an NYC tenement becoome involved with a gang led by "The Snapper Kid," and in the gang war that follows. Fascinating early gangster film starring a Cagney- like Booth With Elmer Booth, Lillian Gish, Clara T. Bracy, walter Miller, alfred Paget, Harry Carey.
THE BURGLAR'S DILEMMA, 1912 (15 min). A young burglar takes the fall for a domestic murder commited
by a jealous brother. With Lioonel Barymore, Henry B. Walthall, Adolph Lestina, Harry Carey, The Gish Sisters.
THE SUNBEAM, 1912 (15 min). A bachelor and spinster live their lonely lives across the
boardinghouse hall from each other when a bright little neighbor girl helps them defrost their
cool relationship. With Ynez Seabury, Kate Bruce, Claire McDowell, Dell Henderson, Cristy Cabanne.
THE PAINTED LADY, 1912 (12 min). A lonely young woman strikes up a friendship with a young man, who she finds one night burglarizing her father's office in their home. With Blanche Sweet, Madge Kirby, Charles Hill Mailes, Kate Bruce, Joesph Graybill, Lionel Barrymore, Elmer Booth.
ONE IS BUSINESS, THE OTHER CRIME, 1912 (15 min). Griffith intercuts the stories of two couples to illustrate that each one, rich or poor, has their temptations and downfalls. With Charles West, Dorothy Barnard, Edwin August, Blanche Sweet, Frank Evans.
DEATH'S MARATHON, 1913 (15 min) A woman being courted by two business partners marries (unbeknownst to her) the irresponsible one who squanders the company money on gambling. When he decides to end it all with suicide she sends the responsible partner to try and save him before he pulls the trigger. With Blanche Sweet, Henry B. Walthal, Walter Miller, Lionel Barrymore, Kate Bruce.
THE BATTLE OF ELDERBUSH GULCH, 1913 (29 min). Drunken Indians disturb the peace of a nearby white settelement while searching for dogs to eat. The settlers shoot back, thereby touching off an
embittered war. With Mae Marsh, Leslie Loveridge, Alfred Paget,Robert Heron, Lillian Gish.
THE LAST DROP OF WATER, 1911 (13 min). A western bound wagon train is attacked by Indians and runs out of water. The settlers' fate rests on one man who goes for water. with Blanche Sweet, Robert Harron, Robert West, Dell Henderson., Alfred Paget, W.Chrystie Miller.
FRIENDS, 1912 (13 min). Dandy Jack is a miner who decides that it's time to move to a new claim but he also decides to leave his girlfriend, Dora, behind. Later, a new miner begins to date Dora but she never forgets Dandy Jack. With Mary Pickford, Henry B. Walthall, Lionel Barrymore, Harry Carey, Charles Hill Mailes, Elmer Booth.
THE LESSER EVIL, 1912 (13 min). A young woman stumbles across a boat crew who are smugglers and
they decide to kidnap her. She fights the crew who want to assault her all before
the local fisherman can come to her aid. With Blanche Sweet, Edwin August, Mae Marsh, Alfred Paget.
THE MASSACRE, 1912 (30 min). A romance with the backdrop of the Indian wars. The cavalry brutally attacks an Indian village and the Indians retaliate with a bloody raid on a wagon train. With Wilfred Lucas, Blanche Sweet, Charles West,
Alfred Paget, Lionel Barrymore.
All of these short films have the appropriate musical accompanyment and all of the films are in
top condition. If only other companies marketing older films could issue this kind of quality product there would be very little complaining among silent film buffs. Kudos to Kino.
I rate this two disc , 23 film package D.W. GRIFFITH'S BIOGRAPH SHORT MASTERWORKS an enthusiastic five stars, with pleasure.
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