THE DECLINE OF D. W. GRIFFITH
THE third period of D. W. Griffith's career is bounded by the financial fiasco of his masterpiece, Intolerance, in 1916 and his hurriedly recalled swan song, The Struggle, in 1931. Fifteen years separated these two films--one the finest expression of craftsmanship on the American screen in its time, the other a sorrowful example of ineptness. Between these dissimilar efforts Griffith's career as a director steadily fell back to make way for Griffith's career as a business man: both careers came at last to an obscure end. Preeminent in the American movie world in 1918, achieving international acclaim in 1919, by 1931 Griffith was out of movies altogether. Newcomers who knew better how to keep up with the swiftly changing times had supplanted him.
The reasons for Griffith's decline were twofold. First, he lost interest in films as such, and with each new picture he became farther out of touch with the altered post-war audience. Secondly, an increasing regard for wealth and success compromised his integrity. That spirit of inquiry and humility which had once been his outstanding trait was replaced by a spirit of self-aggrandizement and ostentation. He began to concentrate upon exploiting his personality and reputation; it made no difference what he did, so long as the name "Griffith" appeared in print. He prophesied the future of pictures; he planned seventy-two-reel movies, and a chain of Griffith theatres from coast to coast that would show only his pictures; he spoke before chambers of commerce about the blessings of the movie trade; he criticized the government income-tax rate; he railed against censorship; he took public credit for every artistic