Griffith 1909/10

The Unchanging Sea
R: D.W. Griffith. B: Following a poem by Charles Kingsley. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Arthur V. Johnson, Linda Arvidson, Gladys Egan, Mary Pickford, Charles West. P: Biograph. USA 1910
Locations: San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, USA

“The story is of the utmost simplicity: after a shipwreck, a sailor is lost at sea. He returns, but without memories of his previous life. Meanwhile, in another town, his wife longs for his return. Years later, by chance, the lovers are reunited. Even though Griffith had by this point made many melodramas, the telling of the story comes across with energy, conviction and authenticity. For me, much of this has to do with the remarkable cinematography. Every shot is exterior; all are filmed on location. One can’t help but feel Griffith pushing himself to fill his frames with as much of the actual world as he can. Many of the shots are deep-focus long shots of characters looking out at the sea that allow us to focus on the characters or, alternatively, to gaze, like them, at the ocean’s endlessly cresting waves. By capturing these crashing waves, real moments in real time, Griffith taps into something timeless. Indeed, I can’t ever remember seeing water photographed in a way that so conjures up what it means to stare, in person, out at the sea. And, in this naturalism – this willingness to let the world’s beauty speak for itself alongside the more fictive and staged human drama – I see anticipations of Flaherty‘s Nanook of the North, Rossellini‘s Stromboli, CassavetesShadows, Bresson‘s Mouchette and Au Hasard Balthazar, Burnett‘s Killer of Sheep, and Kiarostami‘s Where is the Friend’s House. For me, The Unchanging Sea stands equal next to them and its brevity only highlights its economy of means and deepens the force of its imagery.”
Paul Harrill
Senses of Cinema

Those Awful Hats
R: D.W. Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Flora Finch, Linda Arvidson, Mack Sennett, Arthur V. Johnson, John R. Cumpson, Florence Lawrence. P: Biograph. USA 1909

“Ordered by the heads of Biograph to conceive a short movie to tell the females among the audience to please remove their bothersome hats while attending a screening, D.W. Griffith wrote and directed this very creative announcement that is both funny and informative at the same time. Making fun of the big hats that were fashionable in those years, Griffith put on film what many audiences have desired to have at least once, a machine created to remove the troublesome persons among the audience. Using a mixture of special effects techniques (mainly the Dunning-Pomeroy Matte process), Griffith created a film that shows a very early use of the technique that decades later would evolve into the green-screen technique. Not only he managed to put a film within a film, but also created an extremely good effect of a steel bucket pulling out stuff (and persons!) from the audience. Griffith showcases an inventive use of special effects, and also an ability at getting the very natural performances from his cast, as their reactions are believable and the use of slapstick very appropriate.”
J Luis Rivera

The “Dunning-Pomeroy Matte process”:
Red Shark