D.W. Griffith: Years Of Discovery, 1909-1913 (Volume One)
For the five years between 1908 and 1913, D.W. Griffith directed some 450 films for the Biograph Company, delivering at a rate of two or three films per week. These films, one and two reels in length, are sometimes regarded as apprentice works, films in which Griffith borrowed, invented, and perfected the forms and techniques that he later used to such memorable effects in The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), Way Down East (1920), Orphans of the Storm (1921), and Isn't Life Wonderful? (1924). But the Biographs were more than that.
The twenty-two films presented in this collector's version of D.W. Griffith Years Of Discovery: 1909-1913 are the centerpieces of that extraordinary group of films. Volume One includes such widely recognized masterworks as The Musketeers of Pig Alley and Corner in Wheat. But lesser-known social dramas like What Shall We Do With Our Old? and a comic gem called The Sunbeam are also included. They rank among the best in a collection of short films that helped shape cinematic narrative for two generations.
Plots are simple and direct, and if the films are saturated with quasi-comic cliches and old-fashioned insensitivities, they also reveal an extraordinary dramatic talent of brilliant force. It is easy to see why the Griffith Biographs were so popular at the time. With an uncanny instinct for acting talent, Griffith assembled the foremost film ensemble of his day, including Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Walthall, and Mae Marsh. Beyond that, the requirements of plot detail, the tight physical locale of interior sets (we never see more that three sides of any room), and the need to establish character immediately resulted in a kind of cinematic shorthand which gave these shorts terrific compression. The limitations of time and space also meant that people, places, and objects frequently took on extraordinary metaphoric power they gradually lost as movies got longer. Many of the Griffith Biographs rank with the finest movies he ever made; collectively, they provide an unparalleled record of American life at the turn of the 20th century.
(Abridged from essay by Russell Merritt, Film Historian and Professor, University of California, Berkeley)
VOLUME ONE INCLUDES:
Those Awful Hats
Produced for DVD by David Shepard
Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Walthall, and Mae Marsh