Griffith, D. W.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Griffith, D. W.

D. W. Griffith: (David Llewelyn Wark Griffith), 1875–1948, American movie director and producer, b. La Grange, Ky. Griffith was the first major American film director. He began his film career as an actor and a scenario writer in 1908 with the Biograph Company. He soon began to direct and at once began to explore the full potential of camerawork, editing (or montage), and acting. He introduced the fade-in, fade-out, long shot, full shot, close-up, moving-camera shot, and flashback. He initiated scene rehearsals before shooting and was extremely meticulous about lighting arrangements. In 1913, taking his cue from the longer "spectacle" films produced in Italy, Griffith made the first American film of four reels, Judith of Bethulia (1913), and followed with the then-immense ten-reel Birth of a Nation (1915), an anthology of film technique and a landmark in the history of cinema. Stung by criticism of his negative portrayal of mulattos, he responded with a more audacious work. Intolerance (1916) sought to demonstrate the persistence of racial and social prejudice through the ages. In 1919, with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, he founded United Artists. Among his films, frequently alternating between historical spectacles and modest domestic dramas, are Hearts of the World (1918), Broken Blossoms (1918), Way Down East (1920), and Orphans of the Storm (1922). Griffith had experimented with sound as early as 1921, but his movies with full sound were not commercially successful.

See Mrs. D. W. Griffith, When the Movies Were Young (1925); Lillian Gish's autobiography (1969); K. Brown, Adventures with D. W. Griffith (1973); R. Schickel, D. W. Griffith: An American Life (1984).

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