Sunday, June 22, 2008

D.W. Griffith at Biograph

The first of my Deep Discount orders arrived the other day-the Griffith Biograph set from the "Masterworks" collection. Needless to say, I've been spending every free minute I have going through the films. I realize that this collection represents a kind of "best of" Griffith's work, but I still can't get past how inventively he was staging his shots even at this early point. I actually started with "The Adventures of Dollie" (presented as a bonus film as the quality of the short, mastered from the paper print, is evidently below Kino's usual standards). The depth and space that Griffith brings to the shots is really astounding to me. I know other filmmakers were doing similar things at the time, but I've simply not seen anything quite like it in other films of 1908. The framing allows for so much information within the shot, but not by lining the actors up in front of the camera, but rather by placing them in different spaces and distances in the shot. I also watched "The Musketeers of Pig Alley" so far, which I have been wanting to see for years. What struck me more than anything here was the illusion of documentary realism Griffith achieved. I've read that the film may not have even been shot in New York's Lower East Side after all, but rather in Fort Lee, New Jersey. If that's the case, it's all the more impressive what a convincing depiction Griffith manages to create here. His use of background extras was especially notable, each going about their business in the background in realistic spaces to create an utterly believable environment for the story to play out in.