Saturday, June 9, 2007

Broken Blossoms (1919)

Directed by D.W. Griffith. Starring Lillian Gish, Donald Crisp, and Richard Barthelmess.

Griffith's film, which is sometimes called the first depiction of an interracial relationship produced in Hollywood, is one of the most visually beautiful films of the silent era. The film's story, about a battered girl (Gish, of course) who seeks solace from a Chinese immigrant (Barthelmess) is simple even by silent melodrama standards, but what makes the film endure is Griffith's visual sense. BROKEN BLOSSOMS was produced around the same time as the rise of German Expressionist cinema, and while Griffith may or may not have been directly influenced by German films of the period, his visualization of the city, with its shadowy streets and foggy docks, has a striking similarity to those European works. Add to this the expressive face of Lillian Gish (who, incidentally, was born near where I grew up) and the film remains a classic even when so many of Griffith's other works have dated.

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