Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A Child of the Ghetto (1910)

One-reel melodrama, one of hundreds directed by D.W. Griffith during his time at the Biograph company. The plot is fairly simple: a young Jewish girl, living and struggling to find work in the crowded conditions of New York's Lower East Side, is falsely accused of theft. She eludes the police by riding a streetcar out to the country, where she meets a kindly young farmer who takes her in. By coincidence, the policeman and his friend head out to the country to do some fishing on the weekend, and end up stopping at the farmhouse where the girl is now hiding. The policeman recognizes her, but, after taking a long look at her, has a change of heart and decides to let her go.

As Scott Simmon notes in "The Films of D.W. Griffith", the film plays on the commonly-explored contrast between the poverty and squalor of the big city, and the idyllic, pastoral country. Griffith's use of contrasting locations is handled effectively enough, but what makes the film really remarkable is the shot (reproduced above) taken on Rivington St. in New York, apparently with a concealed camera. The actor playing the policeman (George Nichols) moves about the actual crowd, with the young boy on the right reacting to the "officer's" presence after he has passed by.

Griffith's impeccable eye for detail and composition resulted in some impressive re-creations of urban street scenes noted for their high degree of realism, in such film as The Musketeers of Pig Alley and Intolerance. Here, though, Griffith uses the real thing -- and it creates a powerful moment of authenticity that breathes with life.

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