Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Written Review: Intolerance

I know the title may seem a bit harsh but to my modern-day, film educated mindset, it was very difficult for me to really enjoy the film Intolerance. I found that I always had to tack on the phrase “…For the time” whenever saying anything positive about the film. Being that this is a film and television history class I guess that is the perfect thing to say about the movie.
Some of the techniques and storytelling ideas used in this film are extremely influential and still used to this day. The idea of having multiple story arches in a single film, the epic battle scenes, and even certain cinematic techniques were all brought to light in this film.
Some of the most impressive accomplishments of this film are the sequences in Babylon, specifically the battle scenes. I am assuming that this film came along before miniatures could be used effectively in film (or had even been conceptualized). I would love to see a documentary on how they pulled off some of the truly epic scenes in this film (I’d probably enjoy the documentary more than I actually enjoyed Intolerance). In comparing this with some other silent films of that era (and even in later eras) the sets are truly stunning. When it finally hit me that all of those sets were built (so far as I am aware) to scale I was floored. It makes what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings series seem a bit less impressive considering Jackson had about 80 years of technological advantage over Intolerance and some of those film’s sets were equal to some used in Lord of the Rings (Though I’d watch Lord of the Rings over Intolerance any day).
Also, some of the shots used in Intolerance caught my eye. There was a scene in which one of the character was having her child taken away and was knocked to the floor. The shot where all the camera sees is the woman’s hand reaching for something (I can’t remember what it was due to my almost comatose state at this point in the film) was a truly beautiful shot.
The lighting used on a few of the Bethlehem scenes where all the camera shows is Marry and the cradle where baby Jesus is asleep were quite good.
All-in-all, while I can’t say I particularly enjoyed Intolerance I can say I’m very glad I watched it. Yes it was extremely difficult keeping my eyes open for over three hours of actors looking like dying fish gasping for air, yes most of the shots were bland and lacked depth, and yes the dialogue written for the film’s captions make Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer look like writing Gods. However, the film is still an extremely important one to watch because of what it was able to accomplish with what it was given.

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