Monday Movie: Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages, by David Bax
It took me twelve years of living in Los Angeles, looking at the tourist hot spot outdoor mall at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, knowing that it was modeled after the Babylon temple in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, noting how weird it was that a mall for tourists was modeled after the Babylon temple in Intolerance and thinking, “I should really get around to watching Intolerance” before I finally got around to watching Intolerance.
Obviously I was aware that the movie (full title: Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages) had a reputation for being massive in scope. It’s not just the gargantuan replica of the ancient temple that would later become the basis for a very corny mall (still weird); the story itself is wildly ambitious, spanning well over three hours and jumping around among four narratives set thousands of years apart. This was Cloud Atlas before Cloud Atlas was cool.
Similarly, I was aware that Intolerance was made in response to criticisms of The Birth of a Nation, not as an apology but as a direct rebuke of those Griffith felt had been too mean to him about his flagrantly racist movie.
What I didn’t know–or rather what I didn’t expect–was that the 197 minutes would fly by. Huge sections of Intolerance are just straight up, bloody action flick excess. Other parts are tense crime thriller. All of it moves at an engrossing pace, thanks to Griffith’s skill at varying shot selection and his post-production prowess. Those talents are the reason we still look to Griffith as a pillar of cinema history. If we must continue to do so, it would be no loss to focus on Intolerance instead of the KKK movie.