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A Companion to D. W. Griffith

Charles Keil (Editor)

ISBN: 978-1-118-34121-6 December 2017 Wiley-Blackwell 624 Pages


The most comprehensive volume on one of the most controversial directors in American film history 

A Companion to D.W. Griffith offers an exhaustive look at the first acknowledged auteur of the cinema and provides an authoritative account of the director’s life, work, and lasting filmic legacy.

The text explores how Griffith’s style and status advanced along with cinema’s own development during the years when narrative became the dominant mode, when the short gave way to the feature, and when film became the pre-eminent form of mass entertainment. Griffith was at the centre of each of these changes: though a contested figure, he remains vital to any understanding of how cinema moved from nickelodeon fixture to a national pastime, playing a significant role in the cultural ethos of America.

With the renewed interest in Griffith’s contributions to the film industry, A Companion to D.W. Griffith offers a scholarly look at a career that spanned more than 25 years. The editor, a leading scholar on D.W. Griffith, and the expert contributors collectively offer a unique account of one of the monumental figures in film studies.

  • Presents the most authoritative, complete account of the director’s life, work, and lasting legacy
  • Builds on the recent resurgence in the director’s scholarly and popular reputation
  • Edited by a leading authority on D.W. Griffith, who has published extensively on this controversial director 
  • Offers the most up-to-date, singularly comprehensive volume on one of the monumental figures in film studies

Contributors viii

Preface ix
Paolo Cherchi Usai

Introduction 1

Charlie Keil

Part One Griffith Redux

1 Disciplinary Descent: Film Studies, Families, and the Origins of Narrative Cinema 17
Jennifer M. Bean

2 Griffith’s Moral Profile 34
Ben Singer

3 “The Beauty of Moving Wind in the Trees”: Cinematic Presence and the Films of D.W. Griffith 74
Daniel Fairfax

Part Two Style in the Biograph Era

4 D.W. Griffith and the Emergence of Crosscutting 107
André Gaudreault and Philippe Gauthier

5 D.W. Griffith and the Primal Scene 137
Tom Gunning

6 Griffith’s Biograph Shorts: Electric Power and Film Style, from East to West 150
Charles O’Brien

Part Three Imagery and Intermediality

7 Deep Theatrical Roots: Griffith and the Theater 175
David Mayer

8 Notes on Floral Symbolism, Allegory, and Intermediality in the Films of D.W. Griffith 191
Jan Olsson

9 Living Portraits: Signs of (the) Time in D.W. Griffith 216
Joyce E. Jesionowski

Part Four Gender and Progressivism

10 Griffith’s Body Language and Film Narration: “The Voluptuary” Versus “the Spirituelle” 245
Maggie Hennefeld

11 Cross]Dressing in Griffith’s Biograph Films: Humor, Heroics, and Edna “Billy” Foster’s Good Bad Boys 284
Laura Horak

12 Space, Gender, Oversight, and Social Change: Progressivism and the Films of D.W. Griffith, 1909–1916 309
Moya Luckett

13 Progressive Pastoral: Social Justice Reforms and Biograph Films, 1908–1911 330
Grant Wiedenfeld

Part Five Revisiting Failed Features

14 Gendering Ministry and Reform: Griffith and the Plight of Protestant Uplift 361
Anne Morey

15 “Squalid Without Being Tragic”: Griffith’s “Isn’t Life Wonderful” 385
Russell Merritt

16 Faust at Famous Players 423
Andrew Nelson

17 Griffith in a Minor Key: Early Art Cinema Looking Backward 440
Kaveh Askari

Part Six Reception at Home and Abroad

18 “Damage Unwittingly Done”: D.W. Griffith and the Re]Birth of the Ku Klux Klan 463
Tom Rice

19 “History by Lightning”: D.W. Griffith in South Africa 486
Nicole Devarenne

20 Blossoms Breaking at the Dawn of Cinephilia: The Reception of D.W. Griffith in France 510
Annie Fee

21 The legacy of Intolerance 533
Paul McEwan