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A local art house ran the DW Griffiths film this week. I'd seen it before on video, but this was the first time I'd seen it on a full screen. Part of my curiosity about it is dancey -- as I understand it, Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn staged the dance scenes in the Babylonian section, and it was even more over the top on a large screen. Lots of crowds surging across the screen, lots of "exotic" poses and watered-down world dance. Silent film directors liked to work with dancers at the time, rather than actors who had learned most of their craft on stage. Dancers were more physically subtle, and more in control of small gestures. As people began to develop workable skills for screen acting, they took a lot of material from dance training.

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Sandi, please, SAY MORE!!!! How did hte movie affectyou overall?

I've seen it on hte small screen, too -- but the big screen, with those monumental stage sets andthe huge crowds -- it must be overwhelming. but don't let me lead you on.

Please, say more!!!

how do the stars make their effect against all hte anonymous people?

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I saw "Intolerance" in college and have only vague memories of it, but, Sandi, I agree that it is very dancey. There were several HUGE spectacles that were popular here in the late 19th century, the most important being "The Black Crook" (which ran for 17 months without a day off) and its less successful sequel, "The White Fawn." They had 1,000 people on stage. There were platforms along the sides and across the back, and a platform on top of THAT. There's a very brief film of "Excelsior" (1910, long after its premiere) that has so many people doing different things -- yet all part of a general overall composition -- that you'd have to see it several times to get it.

And it got too expensive. When movies came along, they thoughtt this was the way to solve a practical problem: put one of these spectacles on film. That way it could be shown many times, in many cities, to recoup the costs.

I don't remember the stars -- I do remember the (I hope this is right) Temple of Babylon? I think that's where Ruth St. Denis's dancers were -- though I knew nothing about dance at the time.

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yes, the temple - i think, without checking, that it was bessie love who played the female lead (the beloved)? in that segment, lillian gish was the connection between the stories - eternal motherhood, out of the cradle, endlessly rocking (walt whitman?) when they transitioned between the stories, mae marsh in the modern story - i haven't seen it in a long time but i was so very interested in silent film as a teen.

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Gish was indeed rocking the cradle, and Mae Marsh was "The Dear One" in the modern story, but Love played the bride in the Wedding at Cana section. Seena Owen was "The Best Beloved" in the Babylonian section (don't know her work -- she looks very much like Love) and Constance Talmadge was "Mountain Girl," who sacrifices herself for the Babylonian leader. Margery Wilson was "Little Brown Eyes" in the St. Bartholomew's Massacre section, and Howard Gaye was doublecast as Christ and the Cardinal of Lorraine...

"The Dear One" and "Little Brown Eyes" played very young and sporty -- lots of kicking up heels, skipping and playful fighting with their leading men, who seem to skew older. Compared to contemporary images of girls and women, they both appear pre-pubescent -- there is a child bride vibe to both of them. In contrast, Seena Owen was very womanly, as were all the women in the Babylonian court. In that context, Talmadge was almost asexual -- she reminded me of Leni Riefenstahl's early work as an actress.

And Gertrude Bambrick apparently also worked as a choreographer on the project -- I don't know anything about her dance background, but IMDB says she was a choreographer on Judith of Bethulia as well.

The film actually felt shorter than I knew it to be, and the switching between stories and settings was relatively easy to follow, though a bit arbitrary at times. I can certainly understand how early audiences could be confused by the parallel plots -- I think we've learned a great deal about following that kind of structure over time, but this was pretty early in the process.

The 'action scenes' had a fairly contemporary feel, which isn't to say I enjoyed them (I'm not a big fan of screen violence), but it seems that many of the camera and editing techniques that are used with that kind of storytelling today were already available to Griffith and his colleagues -- they are not that new.

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