Those exceptional film documentarians, Kevin Brownlow & David Gill of HOLLYWOOD fame*, hit all the expected notes in their three-part series on the great American director . . . and that’s the problem. Part One concentrates on how Griffith built up a syntax of film grammar by organizing and taking dramatic advantage of new film techniques. Part Two covers his brief reign as an independent titan and Part Three the loss of independence & his rapid decline as an out-of-fashion studio director. The problem is that Griffith’s best work was achieved in the creative incubator that percolated between the dawn of cinema (1895-1910) and the remarkably rich final flowering of silents (1924-1930), and even a three-part film can’t provide enough examples from Griffith’s foreign & domestic competitors to give proper context to Griffith’s output. But kudos for ending with the lovely fade-out shot from Griffith’s enchanting pastoral dramedy, TRUE HEART SUSIE/’19. Just the sort of ‘found’ masterwork that needs more attention in a film like this.
*Apparently, clearance rights on certain clips are keeping this magnificent Brownlow/Gill production from appearing on DVD. Good grief. There is no better advertisement available for the entire silent cinema than this wonderful multi-part documentary. It’s bound to come out eventually, so keep your eyes open and hope that the materials are given an upgrade for the inevitable DVD edition.