Thursday, April 22, 2010

Way Down East

Way Down East is a 1920 silent film directed by D.W. Griffith and starring Lilian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Creighton Hale and Emily Fitzroy.

Just for some context, in 1920, my Mother turned 2 years old; Prohibition began; Joan of Arc was canonized; the 19th Amendment passed giving women the right to vote; Woodrow Wilson was president; WW1 had ended just 2 years before; the following books were published: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, Bridal Wreath -the first volume of Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavranstatter trilogy; Henri Matisse was 50 years old; Babe Ruth signed with the New York Yankees; the Black Sox Scandal; the Olympic flag was used for the first time; the Band-Aid was invented; the ACLU was founded; Polar explorer Robert E. Peary died at age 63; the first radio broadcasting station went on the air.

It's online at youtube in 15 parts. I can't imagine why I can't find this in one piece somewhere. It must be in the public domain. [moderating a spam comment led me back to this post, and as I did a quick google search I found the film online at youtube and am adding it below.]

Variety says, "D.W. has taken a simple, elemental, old-fashioned, bucolic melodrama and milked it for 12 reels of absorbing entertainment." Eyewitness History has information on the making of the film. Bright Lights has an article that says,
Way Down East is a supreme example of a film's "opening up" of a play, accomplished with uncommonly fluid results in its use of open air, rural settings. None of the outdoor work appears gratuitous or forced, as is so often the result, even today, of reimagining a play outside its proscenium-defined settings. What's more, in Griffith's bucolic epic the landscape, and how the director contextualizes the characters within it, becomes part and parcel of the drama itself. Schickel argues powerfully that the rural settings in Way Down East constitute an emotional landscape that completes "a dramatic and moral arc."

This film is listed in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

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