Silent classics by D.W. Griffith re-released on video

August 07, 1991|By Doug Nye | Doug Nye,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

When film pioneer D.W. Griffith released his 1915 epic "The Birth of a Nation," it was hailed as a cinema landmark.

It also was cursed for its racial stereotypes and glorification of the Klu Klux Klan. And when viewed today, it is especially disturbing to see those elements of the production.

Even so, "The Birth of a Nation" remains one of the most important works in film history. It was the first time anyone had demonstrated the full potential of moviemaking.

So many things -- the long shot, the running insert, intercutting between scenes -- were introduced here by Griffith. Even compared with today's standards, the sweeping battle sequences are something to behold.

If you can overlook the offensive elements and are interested in film history, "The Birth of a Nation" is a must-see.

"Birth," which marked the screen debut of Lillian Gish, has been available for years on videotape in various forms and running times. But Republic Home Video combed the countryside searching for the very best print available and has re-released this screen milestone along with 11 other silent classics. And the film is being offered in its original running time of 159 minutes.

Faye Valencia, a spokeswoman for Republic, said Republic had planned to offer two other silents, "but we couldn't get the quality up to our standards."

Valencia said the prints have been digitally re-mastered and the results are quite pleasing. All 12 of the films being released are accompanied by a music soundtrack.

Included in the group is "Intolerance" (1916), Griffith's follow-up to "The Birth of a Nation."

A third Griffith effort being re-released is "Orphans of the Storm," which takes place during the French Revolution and stars the Gish sisters, Lillian and Dorothy.

The remaining films in Republic's Silent Classic Series include:

"Battleship Potemkin" (1925), director Sergio Eisenstein's spectacular film about the 1905 Russian Revolution. Many critics think this, and not "Citizen Kane," is the greatest movie ever made.

"Blood and Sand" (1922), a tale of love and bullfighting which stars silent screen legend Rudolph Valentino.

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1919), one of the most celebrated and creepy horror films.

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920), in which John Barrymore made the changes from Jekyl to Hyde without the use of makeup.

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923). The man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney, remains the best to play Victor Hugo's creation.

"Nosferatu" (1922). Another version of the Dracula tale.

"The Mark of Zorro" (1920). Douglas Fairbanks brings the western Robin Hood to the screen for the first time.

And two efforts based on the work of Wagner, "Siegfried (The Nibelungenlied Part I)" and "Kriemhilde's Revenge (The Nibelungenlied Part II)."

Each film in the silent classics series is priced at $19.98.

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