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

135a-The Musketeers of Pig Alley

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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