Griffith-11: Telephone Stories

169-Death's MarathonStill from Death’s Marathon (1913, Henry B. Walthall)


The Telephone Girl and the Lady
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Billy Bitzer. D: Mae Marsh, Claire McDowell, Alfred Paget. B: Biograph. USA 1913

“Solange der Wahrnehmungsraum auch der Raum ist, in dem eine Person unmittelbar adressiert werden kann, ist die kommunikative Reichweite, die einer haben kann, eng begrenzt. Kommunikative Beziehungen, die über die Grenzen des Wahrnehmungsraums hinausgehen, bedürfen technischer Hilfsmittel wie des Briefs. Mit dem Telefon – als einer kommunikativen Prothese, die die Grenzen des Raums bei Bewahrung der zeitlichen Synchronität erweitert – verändert sich die kommunikative Potenz des Individuums ganz wesentlich. Denn mit Hilfe des Telefons ist der einzelne Teil eines im Grunde fast unbegrenzten kommunikativen Netzes, das ein Potential von vielen verschiedenen Kommunikationssituationen umfaßt. Die ursprüngliche Einheit und Einzigartigkeit des Wahrnehmungsraums wird abgelöst durch ein Ensemble möglicher Situationen, die unter der immer noch einzigartigen Präsenz der Gegenwart verborgen sind, die aber aktivierbar sind.”
Hans J. Wulff: Telefon im Film / Filmtelefonate: Zur kommunikationssoziologischen
Beschreibung eines komplexen Situationstyps

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Griffith-10: Doublings

One is Business, the Other Crime
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Billy Bitzer. D: Charles West, Dorothy Bernard, Edwin August, Blanche Sweet. P: Biograph. USA 1912

Death’s Marathon
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Billy Bitzer. D: Blanche Sweet, Henry B. Walthall, Walter Miller, Lionel Barrymore. P: Biograph. USA 1913

“The film’s structure, which is basically a chase in the second half, is pretty conventional by the standards of the day. Griffith uses his usual jump cuts to set up and intensify the tension leading up to what one expects to be Walthall’s rescue or change of heart. But there is no rescue – and there is no change of heart. I have to conclude that the climax was quite a shock for the audience in 1913. One has to ask oneself what Griffith was thinking when he made this decision. The writing credit goes to a William E. Wing, a relative newcomer to film writing. But Griffith could certainly have changed the ending had he wanted to. There’s something just a little diabolical about Death’s Marathon – it’s as though Griffith had wanted to finally let the audience know that he would not always let them off the hook – thus returning credibility for suspense to a medium that might have been becoming a bit too predictable by 1913.
Whatever else can be said about Death’s Marathon, there’s a kind of sadistic fun at work in it, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Walthall’s long and strange performance over the phone to his wife and partner. One cannot tell what he is saying, but he is certainly taking his time about it. He grins evilly at the gun throughout the long conversation, knowing for certain it is what he is going to do. What he seems to relish is the torture that he is putting his wife through on his way to oblivion.”
Pete Gooch
The World Cinema Canon

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Griffith-09: Narrative Montage

Stills from The Mothering Heart, 1913. Kate Bruce, Lillian Gish and Walter Miller

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Griffith-08: Intellectual Montage

A Corner in Wheat
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Billy Bitzer. D: James Kirkwood, Frank Powell, Grace Henderson. P: Biograph. USA 1909

“The film’s editing has elicited a great deal of analysis. As Tom Gunning has written, parallel editing is here not in the service of suspense, interweaving ‘converging lines of action’ and describing ‘the same temporal trajectory’, instead, it stresses comparisons and relations. Usually Griffith uses parallel editing for the former: the intercutting of the besieged family and the rescuing father in The Lonely Villa (1909) and the more elaborate siege and rescue in The Birth of the Nation (sic!) (1915) are the classic examples. Here, however, Griffith is after something less visceral but more profound, the creation not of sensation but of meaning: the audience realizes the film’s implicit moral argument by assessing the relationship of adjacent, contrasting shots. In other words, as Vlada Petric has pointed out, it ‘anticipates Eisenstein’s intellectual montage.’ Further, the editing, as Gunning writes, has special appropriateness in this film, as it represents the ‘new topography’ of modern capitalist economics, and its ‘lack of face-to-face encounters with the forces which determine our lives.’ The best example of this is the sequence depicting the Wheat King’s celebratory banquet, in which his luxurious consumption is set against the impoverishment of the farmers and the urban poor. The contrast between plenty and need is immediately clear; yet Griffith somehow avoids belaboring the obvious, the overt manipulation which makes Eisenstein’s adaptation of the same technique in October (1928) so distasteful. Perhaps this is because Griffith lets the intercut strands follow independent narrative logics, rather than subordinating one as a mere symbolic commentary on another; and because of the tact of Griffith’s long shots.”
Erik Ulman
Senses of Cinema

“In A Corner in Wheat bleiben Bauer, Spekulanten und Hungernde einander so unbekannt, wie sie in Wirklichkeit es sind, und daß der Bauer, der das Korn angebaut hat, danach zurückkommt mit nichts, und daß den Hungernden mit Polizeigewalt das Brot verweigert wird, das vor ihnen auf den Brettern liegt, bleibt so unverständlich, wie es dies wirklich ist.
Bauer, Spekulanten, Hungernde: das Einzelne, nicht zusammenhängend, durch kein Erzählen zu verbinden, für sich allein nicht verständlich – wird erst erkennbar als zusammenhängend durch den Film selbst. Jenen Zusammenhang, der in der Wirklichkeit unsichtbar besteht, stellt der Film sichtbar her durch seinen Bau, durch seinen eigenen Zusammenhang. Da auch diese Arbeit des Films selber sichtbar ist, die Arbeit des Bauens, wird der Zusammenhang als ein Zusammenhang bewußt: so daß der Film die Erkenntnis des Zusammenhangs der Ausbeutung herstellt – durch sich selbst als Abhandlung, Essay, Erzählung/Nicht-Erzählung, Lehrstück.
Das Außerordentliche dieses Films entsteht dadurch, daß das System von Kauf und Verkauf erkennbar ist, in seiner Ungeheuerlichkeit.”
Helmut Färber: A Corner in Wheat von D.W. Grifftith, 1909. Eine Kritik. München/Paris 1992, S. 62 f.

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Griffith-07: Outside, Inside – Transitions

The Mothering Heart
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Billy Bitzer. D: Walter Miller, Lillian Gish, Kate Bruce. P: Biograph. USA 1913

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Stills from The Mothering Heart

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Griffith-05: Locked In

The Sealed Room
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Billy Bitzer. D: Arthur Johnson, Marion Leonard, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett. P: Biograph. USA 1909

The Usurer
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Billy Bitzer. D: George Nichols, Grace Henderson, Mack Sennett, Mary Pickford. P: Biograph. USA 1910

“On the one hand we have the structure, already established in the film, of contrasting the evil joys of the rich with the miseries of the poor. In addition, we have the intensification given by interrupting actions (both the pistol shot and the Usurer’s raised glass; in the shot following Walthall’s death we return to the Usurer as he drinks). The editing pattern (…) certainly seems to indicate simultaneity. The edit involves a degree of suspense, but since no rescue is attempted this is not the main effect of the edit. The ironic juxtaposition with its indication of cause and effect becomes the principle meaning.”
Tom Gunning: Weaving a Narrative. Style and Economic Background in Griffith’s Biograph Films. In: Thomas Elsaesser with Adam Barker (ed.): Early Cinema. Space Frame Narrative. London 1990; p. 342

Her Terrible Ordeal
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: George Nichols, Owen Moore, Florence Barker, Anthony O’Sullivan, Robert Harron. P: Biograph Company. USA 1910

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Griffith-04: Figure and Space, outside

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Stills from The Last Drop of Water

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Griffith-03: Psychologically Ambivalent

The Miser’s Heart
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. “Billy” Bitzer. D: Linda Arvidson, Lionel Barrymore, William J. Butler. P: Biograph. USA 1911

The Last Drop of Water
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. “Billy” Bitzer. P: Biograph. USA 1911

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Griffith 02: Close-up

The Musketeers of Pig Alley
R: David W. Griffith. B: David. W. Griffith, Anita Loos. K: Billy Bitzer. D: Lillian Gish, Elmer Booth, Clara T. Bracy, Walter Miller, Alfred Paget, Lionel Barrymore. P: Biograph. USA 1912
Print: The Museum of Modern Art

“This is one of Griffith’s most famous Biograph shorts, and it is generally acknowledged to be the first ‘gangster film,’ thus setting off one of the major genres in American (and world) cinema. Perhaps more important than the criminal characterizations is the rough, threatening world of the modern urban environment. Here, in ‘The Other Part of New York,’ we are first given witness to the dangerous world of the crowded city streets – a place where criminals prowl and an underground economy functions. (…) One of the most powerful shots comes as Snapper and his gang come around a corner and move toward the camera on the right-hand side of the screen, their faces gradually pulling into such threateningly severe close ups that the audience was sure to feel their menace about to pour into the theatre around them. It is a very bold shot, but it is done with subtlety and a sure hand. Nowhere does Griffith allow any of these effects to distract from his narrative – in fact, they only work to heighten the tension that is building.”
Pete Gooch
The World Cinema Canon

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Close-up from The Musketeers of Pig Alley

R: David Wark Griffith. K: G.W “Billy” Bitzer. D: Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, Henry B. Walthall, Harry Carey. P: Biograph. USA 1912

“The close-up is used firstly, as an excess of representation, sometimes unbearable (…), sometimes loaded with a certain ‘obscenity’ (…), but always, in any case, interpellating the spectator directly and brutally. This interpellation of course takes on the most diverse forms – we are simply looked at by the photograph of Lionel Barrymoore, itself contemplated by Mary Pickford in Friends; one is stared at by the famous revolver of An Unseen Enemy which, having hesitated for a long time, suddenly turns its black and threatening muzzle towards us; we are transfixed by the slow and continuous advance, into a big close-up, of the face of the Musketeer of Pig Alley, which invades, now horribly ugly, the whole height of the screen.”
Jacques Aumont: Griffith: the Frame, the Figure. In: Thomas Elaesser with Adam Barker (ed.): Early Cinema: Space Frame Narrative. London 1990, p. 356

An Unseen Enemy
R: David W. Griffith. K: Billy Bitzer. D: Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, Elmer Booth. P: Biograph. USA 1912

“Zwei Schwestern, zwei Diebe, ein (scheuer) Freier, ein (forscher) Bruder: die Handlung konjugiert die Kontraste und Konvergenzen dieser Paare, bis die Diebe gefangen sind, der Bruder die Schwestern rettet und der Freier die eine Schwester als Braut bekommt. Anders ausgedrückt, fußen Griffiths Erzählungen immer auf einer Aufspaltung des erzählerischen Kerns, wodurch er verschiedene Handlungsfäden erhält, die er auseinander laufen lässt, um sie dann wieder zusammenführen zu können. Durch diesen Akt der Aufteilung und durch seine Fähigkeit, selbst die kleinsten Episoden noch einmal zu untergliedern, war Griffith in der Lage, weitere Handlungslinien und Komplikationen einzuführen und damit potenziell unendliche Serien zu eröffnen, wie er es dann in den Epen tun sollte, in denen die ‘ausufernde’ Tendenz der Erzählstränge in einer höchst spannenden Beziehung zur Auflösung des dramatischen Knotens und dem glücklichen Ende des Films steht.”
Thomas Elsaesser: Filmgeschichte und frühes Kino. Archäologie eines Medienwandels. München 2002, S. 194


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