Wednesday, April 13, 2016

BOOK REVIEW BY BRAD KOHLER!!! WHEN THE MOVIES WERE YOUNG by Mrs. D.W. Griffith (Dover 1970...originally published in 1925)

That would be the FIRST Mrs. D.W. Griffith, Linda Arvidson, who parted with (but was not divorced from) the legendary director sometime during the early Biograph period (Lillian Gish, who arrived in 1912, said that Arvidson was gone a year or more before). For Arvidson to still be referring to herself as Mrs. Griffith in 1925 when this book was first published would seem to infer a melodrama concerning her ex and his subsequent squeeze that would have itself have made for a juicy movie plot.

The fact that Arvidson disappeared so early begs to question as to how she knows so much backstory concerning the Biograph day to day machinations up and until BIRTH OF A NATION, where the book concludes.

Whatever the case, this is an entertaining read, full of tales of winging productions on the fly, recollection of personalities like a young Mack Sennett, and the general fun and chaos of birthing a brand new medium.

The earliest cinema was pretty much tut-tutted by actors who aspired to Broadway plays, and appearing in "one-reelers" was considered a form of slumming that could damage one's name. Of course Griffith was mainly responsible for the seismic change to come, though it's ironic that he downplayed "star power" as a selling point even though he was responsible for many of the early faces which the public was keen to part with a nickel to see.

Given the 1925 publishing date there is nothing more spicy than salary squabbles, some extras setting up between-shoot crap games, or the Gish sisters hiking their skirts up to nearly knee level once beyond the protective eye of their mother but hey, this is a family blog. If you can get past the fact that the only "silent" film most people in 2016 could name would be JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, then proceed on...
"All this will be told of in books reposing on dusty library shelves. Possibly a name alone will be left to whisper to posterity of their endeavor, or tinned celluloid reels shown maybe on special occasions, only to be greeted by roars of laughter - even scenes of tender death bed partings - so old fashioned will the technique be.

But David Wark Griffith's record may yet perhaps shine with the steady bright light of his courage, of his patient laboring day by day, of his consecration to his work; and of his faithful love for his calling, once thought so lowly."

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