GRIFFITH'S IMPORTANCE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF FILM STYLE
If this book had been written in the 1960s, this chapter's discussion of changing film style would probably have centered on D. W. Griffith. Griffith himself helped to create the myth that he had invented virtually every important technique for film storytelling. In late 1913, just after he had left American Biograph, he ran a newspaper advertisement claiming to have created the close-up, intercutting, fade-outs, and restrained acting. Early historians, unable to see many films from the pre-1913 period, took him at his word, and Griffith became the father of the cinema.
More recent research, especially since the 1978 Brighton Conference (see Notes and Queries, Chapter 1), has brought hundreds of overlooked films to light. Historians have also realized that many of Griffith's contemporaries were exploring similar techniques. His importance now seems to rest in his ability to combine these techniques in daring ways (as when he extended the number of shots in the intercutting of The Lonely Villa). Most historians now agree that Griffith's artistic ambitions, not his sheer originality, made him the foremost American filmmaker of this era.
Traditional accounts of Griffith as the inventor of the modern cinema appear in some of the earliest film histories, including Terry Ramsaye's A Million and One Nights (1926; reprint, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1964), chap. 50, "Griffith Evolves Screen Syntax"; and Lewis Jacobs's The Rise of the American Film (1939; reprint, New York: Teachers College Press, 1968), chap. 7, "D. W. Griffith: New Discoveries."
More recent accounts of the early development of film style stress typical films rather than highlighting those by masters like Griffith: Barry Salt, Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis, 2d ed. (London: Starword, 1992), chaps. 7–8; David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), chaps. 14, 16–17; and Charlie Keil, Early American Cinema in Transition: Story, Style, and Filmmaking, 1907–1913 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002). Salt's article "The Physician of the Castle," Sight & Sound 54, no. 4 (autumn 1985): 284–85, revealed that the intercutting in this Pathé film probably influenced Griffith. The article also provides insight into how historians make such discoveries.
Tom Gunning's D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991) balances a detailed examination of Griffith's first two years of filmmaking with a look at the larger context within which he worked. See also Joyce E. Jesionowski, Thinking in Pictures: Dramatic Structure in D. W. Griffith's Biograph Films (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), which suggests that contemporary historians may have deemphasized Griffith too much.