Nationality: American. Born: David Wark Griffith on Oldham County Farm, near Centerfield, Kentucky, 23 January 1875. Education: District schools in Oldham County, Shelby County, and Louisville, Kentucky. Family: Married 1) Linda Arvidson, 1906 (divorced 1936); 2) Evelyn Baldwin, 1936 (divorced 1947). Career: As "Lawrence Griffith," "Alfred Lawrence," "Lawrence Brayington," and "Thomas Griffith," actor in regional stock companies, 1895–99; actor in New York and in touring companies, 1899–1906; actor for Edison Company and Biograph Pictures, also sold scenarios to Biograph and American Mutascope, 1907; director and scriptwriter for Biograph (approximately 485 one-and two-reelers), 1908–13; began association with cameraman G.W. (Billy) Bitzer, and with actress Mary Pickford, 1909; supervised Mack Sennett's first films, 1910; made first film with Lillian and Dorothy Gish, An Unseen Enemy , 1912; joined Reliance Majestic (affiliated with Mutual), 1913; became partner in Triangle Pictures, 1915; travelled to Britain to aid war effort, 1917; engaged by Paramount, 1918; with Pickford,
The Adventures of Dolly ; The Redman and the Child ; The Tavern Keeper's Daughter ; The Bandit's Waterloo ; A Calamitous Elopement ; The Greaser's Gauntlet ; The Man and the Woman ; For Love of Gold ; The Fatal Hour ; For a Wife's Honor ; Balked at the Altar ; The Girl and the Outlaw ; The Red Girl ; Betrayed by a Hand Print ; Monday Morning in a Coney Island Police Court ; Behind the Scenes ; The Heart of Oyama ; Where the Breakers Roar ; The Stolen Jewels ; A Smoked Husband ; The Zulu's Heart ; The Vaquaro's Vow ; Father Gets in the Game ; The Barbarian, Ingomar ; The Planter's Wife ; The Devil ; Romance of a Jewess ; The Call of the Wild ; After Many Years ; Mr. Jones at the Ball ; Concealing a Burglar ; Taming of the Shrew ; The Ingrate ; A Woman's Way ; The Pirate's Gold ; The Guerrilla ; The Curtain Pole ; The Song of the Shirt ; The Clubman and the Tramp ; Money Mad ; Mrs. Jones Entertains ; The Feud and the Turkey ; The Test of Friendship ; The Reckoning ; One Touch of Nature ; An Awful Moment ; The Helping Hand ; The Maniac Cook ; The Christmas Burglars ; A Wreath in Time ; The Honor of Thieves ; The Criminal Hypnotist ; The Sacrifice ; The Welcome Burglar ; A Rural Elopement ; Mr. Jones Has a Card Party ; The Hindoo Dagger ; The Salvation Army Lass ; Love Finds a Way ; Tragic Love ; The Girls and a Daddy
Those Boys ; The Cord of Life ; Trying to Get Arrested ; The Fascinating Mrs. Frances ; Those Awful Hats ; Jones and the Lady Book Agent ; The Drive for Life ; The Brahma Diamond ; Politician's Love Story ; The Jones Have Amateur Theatricals ; Edgar Allan Poe ; The Roué's Heart ; His Wife's Mother ; The Golden Louis ; His Ward's Love ; At the Altar ; The Prussian Spy ; The Medicine Bottle ; The Deception ; The Lure of the Gown ; Lady Helen's Escapade ; A Fool's Revenge ; The Wooden Leg ; I Did It, Mama ; The Voice of the Violin ; And a Little Child Shall Lead Them ; The French Duel ; Jones and His New Neighbors ; A Drunkard's Reformation ; The Winning Coat ; A Rude Hostess ; The Road to the Heart ; The Eavesdropper ; Schneider's Anti-Noise Crusade ; Twin Brothers ; Confidence ; The Note in the Shoe ; Lucky Jim ; A Sound Sleeper ; A Troublesome Satchel ; Tis an Ill Wind That Blows No Good ; The Suicide Club ; Resurrection ; One Busy Hour ; A Baby's Shoe ; Eloping with Auntie ; The Cricket on the Hearth ; The Jilt ; Eradicating Auntie ; What Drink Did ; Her First Biscuits ; The Violin Maker of Cremona ; Two Memories ; The Lonely Villa ; The Peach Basket Hat ; The Son's Return ; His Duty ; A New Trick ; The Necklace ; The Way of Man ; The Faded Lilies ; The Message ; The Friend of the Family ; Was Justice Served? ; Mrs. Jones' Lover or "I Want My Hat!" ; The Mexican Sweethearts ; The Country Doctor ; Jealousy and the Man ; The Renunciation ; The Cardinal's Conspiracy ; The Seventh Day ; Tender Hearts ; A Convict's Sacrifice ; A Strange Meeting ; Sweet and Twenty ; The Slave ; They Would Elope ; Mrs. Jones' Burglar ; The Mended Lute ; The Indian Runner's Romance ; With Her Card ; The Better Way ; His Wife's Visitor ; The Mills of the Gods ; Franks ; Oh, Uncle ; The Sealed Room ; 1776 or The Hessian Renegades ; The Little Darling ; In Old Kentucky ; The Children's Friend ; Comata, the Sioux ; Getting Even ; The Broken Locket ; A Fair Exchange ; The Awakening ; Pippa Passes ; Leather Stockings ; Fools of Fate ; Wanted, a Child ; The Little Teacher ; A Change of Heart ; His Lost Love ; Lines of White on the Sullen Sea ; The Gibson Goddess ; In the Watches of the Night ; The Expiation ; What's Your Hurry ; The Restoration ; Nursing a Viper ; Two Women and a Man ; The Light That Came ; A Midnight Adventure ; The Open Gate ; Sweet Revenge ; The Mountaineer's Honor ; In the Window Recess ; The Trick That Failed ; The Death Disc ; Through the Breakers ; In a Hempen Bag ; A Corner in Wheat ; The Redman's View ; The Test ; A Trap for Santa Claus ; In Little Italy ; To Save Her Soul ; Choosing a Husband ; The Rocky Road ; The Dancing Girl of Butte ; Her Terrible Ordeal ; The Call ; The Honor of His Family ; On the Reef ; The Last Deal ; One Night, and Then— ; The Cloister's Touch ; The Woman from Mellon's ; The Duke's Plan ; The Englishman and the Girl
The Final Settlement ; His Last Burglary ; Taming a Husband ; The Newlyweds ; The Thread of Destiny ; In Old California ; The Man ; The Converts ; Faithful ; The Twisted Trail ; Gold Is Not All ; As It Is in Life ; A Rich Revenge ; A Romance of the Western Hills ; Thou Shalt Not ; The Way of the World ; The Unchanging Sea ; The Gold Seekers ; Love Among the Roses ; The Two Brothers ; Unexpected Help ; An Affair of Hearts ; Romona ; Over Silent Paths ; The Implement ; In the Season of Buds ; A Child of the Ghetto ; In the Border States ; A Victim of Jealousy ; The Face at the Window ; A Child's Impulse ; The Marked Time-Table ; Muggsy's First Sweet-heart ; The Purgation ; A Midnight Cupid ; What the Daisy Said ; A Child's Faith ; The Call to Arms ; Serious Sixteen ; A Flash of Light ; As the Bells Rang Out ; An Arcadian Maid ; The House with the Closed Shutters ; Her Father's Pride ; A Salutary Lesson ; The Usurer ; The Sorrows of the Unfaithful ; In Life's Cycle ; Wilful Peggy ; A Summer Idyll ; The Modern Prodigal ; Rose o' Salem Town ; Little Angels of Luck ; A Mohawk's Way ; The Oath and the Man ; The Iconoclast ; Examination Day at School ; That Chink at Golden Gulch ; The Broken Doll ; The Banker's Daughters ; The Message of the Violin ; Two Little Waifs ; Waiter No. Five ; The Fugitive ; Simple Charity ; The Song of the Wildwood Flute ; A Child's Strategem ; Sunshine Sue ; A Plain Song ; His Sister-in-Law ; The Golden Supper ; The Lesson ; When a Man Loves ; Winning Back His Love ; His Trust ; His Trust Fulfilled ; A Wreath of Orange Blossoms ; The Italian Barber ; The Two Paths ; Conscience ; Three Sisters ; A Decree of Destiny ; Fate's Turning ; What Shall We Do with Our Old? ; The Diamond Star ; The Lily of the Tenements ; Heart Beats of Long Ago
Fisher Folks ; His Daughter ; The Lonedale Operator ; Was He a Coward? ; Teaching Dad to Like Her ; The Spanish Gypsy ; The Broken Cross ; The Chief's Daughter ; A Knight of the Road ; Madame Rex ; His Mother's Scarf ; How She Triumphed ; In the Days of '49 ; The Two Sides ; The New Dress ; Enoch Arden, Part I ; Enoch Arden, Part II ; The White Rose of the Wilds ; The Crooked Road ; A Romany Tragedy ; A Smile of a Child ; The Primal Call ; The Jealous Husband ; The Indian Brothers ; The Thief and the Girl ; Her Sacrifice ; The Blind Princess and the Poet ; Fighting Blood ; The Last Drop of Water ; Robby the Coward ; A Country Cupid ; The Ruling Passion ; The Rose of Kentucky ; The Sorrowful Example ; Swords and Hearts ; The Stuff Heroes Are Made Of ; The Old Confectioner's Mistake ; The Unveiling ; The Eternal Mother ; Dan the Dandy ; The Revue Man and the Girl ; The Squaw's Love ; Italian Blood ; The Making of a Man ; Her Awakening ; The Adventures of Billy ; The Long Road ; The Battle ; Love in the Hills ; The Trail of the Books ; Through Darkened Vales ; Saved from Himself ; A Woman Scorned ; The Miser's Heart ; The Failure ; Sunshine through the Dark ; As in a Looking Glass ; A Terrible Discovery ; A Tale of the Wilderness ; The Voice of the Child ; The Baby and the Stork ; The Old Bookkeeper ; A Sister's Love ; For His Son ; The Transformation of Mike ; A Blot on the 'Scutcheon ; Billy's Strategem ; The Sunbeam ; A String of Pearls ; The Root of Evil
The Mender of the Nets ; Under Burning Skies ; A Siren of Impulse ; Iola's Promise ; The Goddess of Sagebrush Gulch ; The Girl and Her Trust ; The Punishment ; Fate's Interception ; The Female of the Species ; Just like a Woman ; One Is Business, the Other Crime ; The Lesser Evil ; The Old Actor ; A Lodging for the Night ; His Lesson ; When Kings Were the Law ; A Beast at Bay ; An Outcast among Outcasts ; Home Folks ; A Temporary Truce ; The Spirit Awakened ; Lena and the Geese ; An Indian Summer ; The Schoolteacher and the Waif ; Man's Lust for Gold ; Man's Genesis ; Heaven Avenges ; A Pueblo Legend ; The Sands of Dee ; Black Sheep ; The Narrow Road ; A Child's Remorse ; The Inner Circle ; A Change of Spirit ; An Unseen Enemy ; Two Daughters of Eve ; Friends ; So Near, Yet So Far ; A Feud in the Kentucky Hills ; In the Aisles of the Wild ; The One She Loved ; The Painted Lady ; The Musketeers of Pig Alley ; Heredity ; Gold and Glitter ; My Baby ; The Informer ; The Unwelcome Guest ; Pirate Gold ; Brutality ; The New York Hat ; The Massacre ; My Hero ; Oil and Water ; The Burglar's Dilemma ; A Cry for Help ; The God Within ; Three Friends ; The Telephone Girl and the Lady ; Fate ; An Adventure in the Autumn Woods ; A Chance Deception ; The Tender Hearted Boy ; A Misappropriated Turkey ; Brothers ; Drink's Lure ; Love in an Apartment Hotel
Broken Ways ; A Girl's Strategem ; Near to Earth ; A Welcome Intruder ; The Sheriff's Baby ; The Hero of Little Italy ; The Perfidy of Mary ; A Misunderstood Boy ; The Little Tease ; The Lady and the Mouse ; The Wanderer ; The House of Darkness ; Olaf—An Atom ; Just Gold ; His Mother's Son ; The Yaqui Cur ; The Ranchero's Revenge ; A Timely Interception ; Death's Marathon ; The Sorrowful Shore ; The Mistake ; The Mothering Heart ; Her Mother's Oath ; During the Round-up ; The Coming of Angelo ; An Indian's Loyalty ; Two Men of the Desert ; The Reformers or The Lost Art of Minding One's Business ; The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (released 1914); In Prehistoric Days ( Wars of the Primal Tribes ; Brute Force ); Judith of Bethulia (+ sc) (released 1914)
(after quitting Biograph):
The Battle of the Sexes ; The Escape ; Home, Sweet Home ; The Avenging Conscience
The Birth of a Nation (+ co-sc, co-music)
Intolerance (+ co-music)
Hearts of the World (+ sc under pseudonyms, co-music arranger); The Great Love (+ co-sc); The Greatest Thing in Life (+ co-sc)
A Romance of Happy Valley (+ sc); The Girl Who Stayed at Home ; True-Heart Susie ; Scarlet Days ; Broken Blossoms (+ sc, co-music arranger); The Greatest Question
The Idol Dancer ; The Love Flower ; Way down East
Dream Street (+ sc); Orphans of the Storm
One Exciting Night (+ sc)
The White Rose (+ sc)
America: Isn't Life Wonderful (+ sc)
Sally of the Sawdust
That Royle Girl ; The Sorrows of Satan
Drums of Love ; The Battle of the Sexes
Lady of the Pavements
The Struggle (+ pr, co-music arranger)
The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America , Los Angeles, 1916.
The Man Who Invented Hollywood: The Autobiography of D.W. Griffith , edited by James Hart, Louisville, Kentucky, 1972.
"What I Demand of Movie Stars," in Motion Picture Magazine (Los Angeles), February 1917.
"The Motion Picture Today—and Tomorrow," in Theatre Magazine (New York), October 1929.
"An Old Timer Advises Hollywood," in Liberty (New York), 17 June 1939.
Hastings, Charles, and Herman Holland, A Biography of David Wark Griffith , New York, 1920.
Trauberg, Leonid, and Georg Ronen, David Griffith , Moscow, 1926.
Huff, Theodore, A Shot Analysis of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation , New York, 1961.
Barry, Iris, and Eileen Bowser, D.W. Griffith: American Film Master , New York, 1965.
Mitry, Jean, "Griffith," in Anthologie du Cinéma , Paris, 1966.
Brownlow, Kevin, The Parade's Gone By , New York and London, 1968.
Gish, Lillian, The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me , with Ann Pinchot, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1969.
Henderson, Robert, D.W. Griffith: The Years at Biograph , New York, 1970.
O'Dell, Paul, Griffith and the Rise of Hollywood , New York, 1970.
Geduld, Harry, editor, Focus on D.W. Griffith , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1971.
Lahue, Kalton, Dreams for Sale: The Rise and Fall of the Triangle Film Corporation , New York, 1971.
Henderson, Robert, D.W. Griffith: His Life and Work , New York, 1972.
Bowser, Eileen, editor, The Biograph Bulletins 1908–1912 , New York, 1973.
Niver, Kemp, D.W. Griffith: His Biograph Films in Perspective , Los Angeles, 1974.
Wagenknecht, Edward, and Anthony Slide, The Films of D.W. Griffith , New York, 1975.
Williams, Martin, Griffith: First Artist of the Movies , New York, 1980.
Brion, Patrick, editor, D.W. Griffith , Paris, 1982.
Brown, Karl, Adventures with D.W. Griffith , edited by Kevin Brownlow, London, 1983; revised edition, 1988.
Mottet, Jean, editor, D.W. Griffith: Colloque International , Paris, 1984.
Schickel, Richard, D.W. Griffith: An American Life , New York, 1984; also published as D.W. Griffith and the Birth of Film , London, 1984.
Graham, Cooper C., and others, D.W. Griffith and the Biograph Company , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1985.
Drew, William M., D.W. Griffith's Intolerance: Its Genesis and Its Vision , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1986.
Jesionowski, Joyce E., Thinking in Pictures: Dramatic Structures in D.W. Griffith's Biograph Films , Berkeley, 1987.
Lang, Robert, American Film Melodrama: Griffith, Vidor, Minnelli , New Jersey, 1989.
Elsaesser, Thomas, and Adam Barker, editors, Early Cinema: Space-Frame-Narrative , London, 1990.
Gunning, Tom, D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: The Early Years at Biograph , Urbana, Illinois, 1991.
Pearson, Roberta E., Eloquent Gestures: The Transformation of Performance Style in the Griffith Biograph Films , Berkeley, 1992.
Simmon, Scott, The Films of D.W. Griffith , Cambridge and New York, 1993.
Lang, Robert, editor, The Birth of a Nation: D.W. Griffith, Director , New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1994.
Gordon, Henry Stephen, "The Story of D.W. Griffith," in Photoplay (New York), June through November 1916.
Feldman, Joseph, "The D.W. Griffith Influence," in Films in Review (New York), July/August 1950.
Eisenstein, Sergei, "Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today," in Film Form , New York, 1949; also in Sight and Sound (London), June, July, and November 1950.
Stern, Seymour, "The Cold War against D.W. Griffith," in Films in Review (New York), February 1956.
Pratt, George, "In the Nick of Time, D.W. Griffith and the Last-Minute Rescue," in Image (Rochester, New York), 2 May 1959.
" Birth of a Nation Issue" of Film Culture (New York), Summer 1965.
Batman, Richard, "D.W. Griffith: The Lean Years," in California Historical Society Quarterly , September 1965.
Silverstein, Norman, "D.W. Griffith and Anarchy in American Films," in Salmagundi (New York), Winter 1966.
Meyer, Richard, "The Films of David Wark Griffith: The Development of Themes and Techniques in 42 of His Films," in Film Comment (New York), Fall/Winter 1967.
Casty, Alan, "The Films of D.W. Griffith: A Style of the Times," in Journal of Popular Film (Bowling Green, Ohio), Spring 1972.
"Griffith Issues" of Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Lyons), Spring 1972 and Christmas 1975.
"Griffith Issue" of Ecran (Paris), February 1973.
"Griffith Issue" of Filmkritik (Berlin), April 1975.
"Griffith Issue" of Filmcritica (Rome), May/June 1975.
"Griffith Issue" of Films in Review (New York), October 1975.
"Special Issues" of Griffithiana (Genoa), March/July 1980 and January 1982.
Merritt, Russell, "Rescued from a Perilous Nest: D.W. Griffith's Escape from Theatre into Film," in Cinema Journal (Evanston), Fall 1981.
Merritt, Russell, "D.W. Griffith Directs the Great War: The Making of Hearts of the World ," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Salisbury, Maryland), Winter 1981.
Weber, A., "Des primitifs à Griffith," in Cinémaction (Paris), vol. 23, November 1982.
"Griffith Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 February 1983.
"Griffith Sections" of Positif (Paris), December 1982, March 1983, and April 1983.
Gunning, Thom, "The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Us," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1984.
Corliss, Richard, and Richard Schickel, "Writing in Silence," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1985.
Neilan, Marshall, and R.S. Birchard, "Griffith—An Untold Chapter," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), January 1986.
Doty, Alexander, "D.W. Griffith's Poetics of Place and the Rural Ideal," in Journal of Comparative Poetics , Spring 1986.
Rothman, W., "Hollywood Reconsidered: Reflections on the Classical American Film," in East-West Film Journal (Honolulu), vol. 1, no. 1, December 1986.
Keil, C., "Transition through Tension: Stylistic Diversity in the Late Griffith Biographs," in Cinema Journal (Austin, Texas), vol. 28, no. 3, Spring 1989.
Merritt, R., "D.W. Griffith's Intolerance : Reconstructing an Unattainable Text," in Film History , vol. 4, no. 4, 1990.
Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 18, no. 2, 1990.
Simmon, S., " The Female of the Species . D.W. Griffith: Father of the Woman's Film," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 46, no. 2, Winter 1992–93.
* * *
Perhaps no other director has generated such a broad range of critical reaction as D.W. Griffith. For students of the motion picture, Griffith's is the most familiar name in film history. Generally acknowledged as America's most influential director (and certainly one of the most prolific), he is also perceived as being among the most limited. Praise for his mastery of film technique is matched by repeated indictments of his moral, artistic, and intellectual inadequacies. At one extreme, Kevin Brownlow has characterized him as "the only director in America creative enough to be called a genius." At the other, Paul Rotha calls his contribution to the advance of film "negligible" and Susan Sontag complains of his "supreme vulgarity and even inanity"; his work "reeks of a fervid moralizing about sexuality and violence" and his energy comes "from suppressed voluptuousness."
Griffith started his directing career in 1908, and in the following five years made some 485 films, almost all of which have been preserved. These films, one or two reels in length, have customarily been regarded as apprentice works, films in which, to quote Stephen Zito, "Griffith borrowed, invented, and perfected the forms and techniques that he later used to such memorable effect in The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms , and Way Down East. " These early "Biographs" (named after the studio at which Griffith worked) have usually been studied for their stylistic features, notably parallel editing, camera placement, and treatment of light and shadow. Their most famous structuring devices are the last-minute rescue and the cross-cut.
In recent years, however, the Biographs have assumed higher status in film history. Many historians and critics rank them with the most accomplished work in Griffith's career. Vlada Petric, for instance, calls them "masterpieces of early cinema, fascinating lyrical films which can still affect audiences today, conveying the content in a cinematic manner often more powerful than that of Griffith's later feature films." Scholars have begun studying them for their characters, images, narrative patterns, themes, and ideological values, finding in them a distinctive signature based on Griffith's deep-seated faith in the values of the woman-centered home. Certain notable Biographs— The Musketeers of Pig Alley, The Painted Lady, A Corner in Wheat, The Girl and Her Trust, The Battle of Elderbush Gulch, The Unseen Enemy , and A Feud in the Kentucky Hills —have been singled out for individual study.
Griffith reached the peak of his popularity and influence in the five years between 1915 and 1920, when he released The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms , and Way Down East. He also directed Hearts of the World during this period, a film that incorporates newsreel and faked documentary footage into an epic fictional narrative. A First World War propaganda epic, Hearts of the World , alone among his early spectacles, is ignored today. But in 1918 it was the most popular war film of its time, and rivalled The Birth of a Nation as the most profitable of all Griffith's features. Today, it is usually studied as an example of World War I hysteria or as a pioneering effort at government-sponsored mass entertainment.
Although Griffith's epics are generally grouped together, Paul Goodman points out that his films are neither so ideologically uniform nor so consistent as recent writers have generally assumed. With equal fervor Griffith could argue white supremacy and make pleas for toleration, play the liberal crusader and the reactionary conservative, appear tradition-bound yet remain open to experimentation, saturate his work in Victorian codes while struggling against a Victorian morality. Frustrated by his inability to find consistent ideological threads in Griffith's work, Norman Silverstein has called Griffith the father of anarchy in American films because his luminous movements in these epics never appear to sustain a unified whole.
Yet, as Robert Lang observes, the epics do share broad formal characteristics, using history as a chaotic background for a fictional drama that stresses separation and reunification. Whether set in the French Revolution ( Orphans of the Storm ), the American Revolution ( America ), the Civil War ( Birth of a Nation ), or in the various epochs of Intolerance , the Griffith epic is an action-centered spectacle that manipulates viewer curiosity with powerfully propulsive, intrinsically developmental scenes culminating in a sensational denouement.
Griffith also made a much different sort of feature during these years—the pastoral romance. These have only recently received serious critical attention. In these films, which are stripped of spectacle and historical surroundings, the cast of principal characters does not exceed two or three, the action is confined in time and space, and the story is intimate. Here, in films like Romance of Happy Valley, True-Heart Susie , and The Greatest Question , Griffith experiments with alternative narrative possibilities, whereby he extends the techniques of exposition to the length of a feature film. Strictly narrative scenes in these films are suspended or submerged to convey the illusion of near-plotlessness. The main figures, Griffith implied (usually played by Lillian Gish and Bobby Harron), would emerge independent of fable; atmosphere would dominate over story line.
From the start, critics and reviewers found the near absence of action sequences and overt physical struggle noteworthy in the Griffith pastorals, but differed widely in their evaluation of it. Most of the original commentators assumed they had found a critical shortcoming, and complained about the thinness of plot, padded exposition, and frequent repetition of shots. Even Kenneth MacGowan, who alone among his contemporaries preferred Griffith's pastorals to his epics, scored the empty storyline of The Romance of Happy Valley for its "loose ends and dangling characters." More recent critics, on the other hand—notably Jean Mitry, John Belton, and Rene Kerdyk—have found transcendental virtues in the forswearing of event-centered plots. Ascribing to Griffith's technique a liberating moral purpose, Mitry called True-Heart Susie "a narrative which follows characters without entrapping them, allowing them complete freedom of action and event." For John Belton, True-Heart Susie is one of Griffith's "purest and most immediate films" because, "lacking a 'great story' there is nothing between us and the characters." Equating absence of action sequences with the elimination of formal structure, Belton concludes that "it is through the characters not plot that Griffith expresses and defines the nature of the characters' separation."
If these judgments appear critically naive (plainly these films have plots and structures even if these are less complex than in Intolerance and Birth ), they raise important questions Griffith scholars continue to debate: how does Griffith create the impression that characters exist independent of action, and, in a temporal medium, how does Griffith create the impression of narrative immobility?
By and large, Griffith's films of the mid- and late 1920s have not fared well critically, although they have their defenders. The customary view—that Griffith's work became dull and undistinguished when he lost his personal studio at Mamaroneck in 1924—continues to prevail, despite calls from John Dorr, Arthur Lennig, and Richard Roud for re-evaluation. The eight films he made as a contract director for Paramount and United Artists are usually studied (if at all) as examples of late 1920s studio style. What critics find startling about them—particularly the United Artists features—is not the lack of quality, but the absence of any identifiable Griffith traits. Only Abraham Lincoln and The Struggle (Griffith's two sound films) are recognizable as his work, and they are usually treated as early 1930s oddities.