Sunday, April 15, 2007

I'd Rather Watch "Decasia" Again Than: "Intolerance"

Before I get started with this new series, I should probably explain what in the hell Decasia is. Last week in my film communication class, we were discussing experimental films and Decasia is the one my professor chose to show as an example. Let me just say that the film consisted of shots of decaying film all strung together with no plot or any coherent logic- the only criteria was that they had to be decaying film. Oh, and did I mention that the film went on for 62 minutes! Oh my God it was butt-numbing boring and coma-inducing. At the next lecture, when my professor tried to explain what director Bill Morrison was trying to do, she told us that he tried to emulate decay through the style of the film by slowing everything down to the point of being maddeningly slow (I'm not making this shit up!). So after living through this movie, I thought about movies that bored me to tears and I came up with this criteria for this new series: "If I were given a choice between watching Decasia and Insert Movie Title Here again, I would totally go with Decasia." Well, my first title would be one that most critics deem influential but I consider to be one of the most boring films ever made:

Coming after the overtly-racist The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith wanted to answer back to all his critics by making a film about how un-racist he really was by showing other groups who were more racist and intolerant than he was. And instead of showing us just once instance of intolerance, Griffith dares to show us four throughout the course of human story: The Modern Story, The French Story, The Judean Story and The Babylonian Story.

If Decasia was 62 minutes of sheer boredom, try to imagine 3 hours of it and then add in some of the worst acting I've ever seen in my life and then you get D.W. Griffith's massive flop Intolerance. I remember seeing this soon after I had just gotten Turner Classic Movies and was super excited to see any silent movie I could get my hands on- especially one of this caliber. Imagine my surprise when I am pausing the movie every five minutes to see how much longer this ungodly film will last and eventually fast forwarding through 40 minutes of it to get closer to the ending.

While the effective cross-cutting that Griffith uses to interweave the stories is a milestone in film history and influential to every film director afterwards, it is not nearly enough to save what is going on in the frame. This is not the film to prove to people that silent movie actors really could act, because all you get are a bunch of histrionic actors hamming it up like nothing I had ever seen before. There's not a Garbo, John Gilbert or even a Valentino in the enormous cast. Even the one great actress Griffith had (Lillian Gish) is stuck playing "The Woman Who Rocks the Cradle" and guess what she gets to do the entire movie...rock a fucking cradle!

Maybe one reason the actors are so over the top and exaggerated is so they stand out against the mammoth sets which practically swallow them whole. For example, took a look at this still from the Babylon sequence of the film:

Pretty spectacular I know (especially considering that it was all man-made since there were no computers in 1916), but what happens- or, in fact what doesn't- inside this beautifully crafted world is not very interesting. It's all the debauchery you would expect from a Cecil B. DeMille epic and, like in his films, it's lame and excessive debauchery. Not cool at all.

I wish I could write more about how bad this film is, but it seems I've blocked out most of what little of it I absordbed. However, I'm not going to deny that the last 20 minutes or so, with its rapid fire editing and quickening tempo racing to the ending, was exciting because it truly was. But I shouldn't have to sit through two hours and 40 minutes to wait for something interesting to happen.

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