Ranking: #93/111

Director: D.W. Griffith (USA)       

Genre: Epic Social Drama

Intolerance set the standard for spectacular sets in cinema as far back as in 1916, with D.W. Griffith being one of the great pioneers of epic dramas in cinema. The film weaves together four different stories from different ages dealing with the theme of intolerance. It becomes, on one level, a drama of comparisons as Griffith brilliantly recreates four different periods of history. With some huge sets, themselves works of art, the movie is a triumph of the visual imagination. Like all morality plays, however, there’s a tendency, at times, to be didactic. Nonetheless, the final effect, given the sweep of history covered in the story, and the technical dexterity in the mise-en-scène, and in the varied camera work, including aerial shots, strong use of depth-of-field, and dramatic close-ups, is dazzling.

Griffith also pioneered strong narrative structures in movies, itself an important leap forward for cinematic art when the silent movie era was still in its infancy. After setting the scene in each of the four stories within a story, they’re all carefully developed to show the impacts of intolerance on individuals and societies. Then the director cleverly interweaves the four climaxes and denouements into one grand, exciting finale of action.

Griffith once said that he made movies at the tempo of the “human pulse beat” (“Pace in the Movies” in Liberty magazine, 1926). It seems he tried to take viewers along with him in the journey of each plot, letting their heartbeats increase during moments of heightened excitement in the narrative. 

The pioneering director struggled throughout his life to become a fully independent producer-director and it’s clear he was an exceptionally visionary artist. Intolerance was one of the very first works of cinematic art and fully deserves its place in film history.