D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith was an early film director and producer, best known for his innovations and the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. Griffith worked as an actor and playwright before turning to cinema. He passed away on July 23, 1948, in Louisville, Kentucky.

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D.W. Griffith's Biography

D.W. Griffith was an early film director and producer, best known for his innovations and the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation.

Synopsis

D.W. Griffith was born on January 22, 1875, in Floydsfork, Kentucky, and worked as an actor and playwright before turning to the cinema, where he pioneered highly innovative filmmaking techniques. He directed the 1915 feature-length film The Birth of a Nation, which was a box office success. Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, and Orphans of the Storm were among his later works. Griffith passed away on July 23, 1948.

Background

On January 22, 1875, David Wark Griffith was born in Floydsfork, Kentucky. Griffith grew up on a farm, the son of an ex-Confederate colonel who died when he was ten years old. Griffith, an avid reader, eventually worked as a book clerk before deciding to pursue acting and writing plays.

Innovative Filmmaking Techniques

Griffith had entered the fledgling world of filmmaking by 1908. He worked as an actor for the New York City film companies Edison and Biograph before becoming a director of hundreds of short films for the latter, working with actors such as Lionel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, and the Gish sisters. He began with two-reel works and progressed to the four-reel film Judith of Bethulia. (“Four-reel” meant the film could last an hour.) Griffith’s filmmaking techniques at Biograph were highly innovative, utilizing cross-cutting, close-ups, and fade-outs to distinctive effect, cultivating a deeper emotional milieu.

‘The Birth of a Nation’ director

Griffith had left the company by 1914 and was working as a director and head of production for Reliance-Majestic. He directed the independent film The Birth of a Nation, which was released in 1915 and told the story of the Civil War and the Reconstruction era. Adapted from the novel The Clansmen, the film was hailed as the first American blockbuster and has been praised for its pioneering storytelling forms, greatly influencing modern filmmaking and shaping ideas about audience cultivation.

Later Work

Griffith’s next film, the critically acclaimed Intolerance (1916), was innovative in its narrative structure, combining four different locations and eras. Griffith then co-founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and Mary Pickford in 1919, with the production company serving as a distributor for his films. Griffith continued to produce films such as 1919’s Broken Blossoms (about an inter-ethnic romance), Way Down East (1920), Orphans of the Storm (1921), and America (1924).

He made two sound films, Abraham Lincoln (1930) and The Struggle (1931). Nonetheless, Griffith’s sensibilities were deemed out of step with the evolving tone of film, and he was unable to find work, despite donating prints of his films to the Museum of Modern Art. He spent his later years in hotels and died on July 23, 1948, in Hollywood, California.

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