Griffith-11: Telephone Stories

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Still 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


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


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.


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

147-Griffith-Mothering Heart

143-Griffith-Mothering Heart

144-Griffith-Mothering Heart

Stills from The Mothering Heart


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