The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History

By Lewis Jacobs | Go to book overview

XVIII
A THRONG OF DIRECTORS

THE character and quality of the films of any particular period in American movie history can be epitomized in the names of reigning directors. When the film was still a primitive instrument of magic and wonder, the leader was George Melies; when it became a story-telling medium, Edwin S. Porter was the dominant figure; when the film's own idiom was being explored and developed, D. W. Griffith dominated the scene. When, after the war, the movie makers had become self-assured and were using the medium to create "sensations," Cecil B. DeMille, mentor of erotica and display, became the leader.

From 1919 to 1924 DeMille exerted enormous influence. He was copied and envied by all, although a far greater figure--a man head and shoulders above him in talent--Erich von Stroheim, was then making extraordinary films. The man who was finally to take the crown of leadership from DeMille was not to be von Stroheim, however, but a European, Ernst Lubitsch. After 1924 he dominated American directing; like DeMille, he is still a leading figure.

During these years two other Europeans, Fred Murnau and Victor Seastrorn, also became noted in American film tradition. There was, besides, a throng of younger directors, many of whom are still prominently active today, who helped to further the film in style, individuality, and importance.

Cecil B. DeMille was a showman, and he flourished at a time when showmanship was the nation's way of life. To neglect or

-335-

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