Ryan’s Quick Review: Intolerance (1916)

IntoleranceHave you ever been intolerant? Felt intolerance for the very notion of someone being intolerant? Wondered if tolerating the intolerance of another makes you intolerant (or tolerant)? Ever wondered why a reviewer would repeat one word (in different forms) so often? I’m just taking my cues from D.W. Griffith’s ancient epic follow-up to the staggeringly racist Birth Of A Nation. You get only 1 guess at the film’s title.

Four separate story lines connecting the theme of intolerance are threaded throughout the movie, from the Jesus story to a modern (in 1916) story about a young woman and her beloved man who is facing a harsh sentence at the hands of the authorities. Curiously, the Jesus story is the one that’s glossed over. The oldest part of the film would be the sequences set in Babylon, which feature epic filmmaking at its silent best.

The American Film Institute had Birth Of A Nation on its 1998 Top 100 list, but they knocked it off the 2007 edition and essentially replaced it with Intolerance, which was not on the ’98 list. It’s a questionable move because, despite Intolerance’s obvious theme of acceptance for all and Birth Of A Nation’s blatant racism, Birth is a better movie.

That’s not to say there aren’t SOME treasures in Griffith’s second-most celebrated work. He revolutionized the medium over the course of these 2 pictures. Too bad he had to beat the “intolerance” theme on the head so badly. You don’t need 3 hours to tell people they should be more accepting of each other. It hurts your movie when you seem to be protesting too much. You can argue this is an important movie. That doesn’t make it a good one.

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