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18 April 2012

Orphans of the Storm (1921) [Silent Film-a-Thon 2] 12#


Directed by: D.W Griffith
Genre: Drama, History
USA
Black and White, 150 Minutes
In the early days of cinema, D.W Griffith made hundreds of films from shorts to features. He is known for his important works such as The Birth of a Nation, and undoubtedly, Griffith is a pioneer of cinema with his use of camera and narrative techniques. Orphans of the Storm is no masterpiece, but Griffith uses feature films to a powerful extent with this film conveying a large story based on history, were two characters simply get caught up in the moments.



The story begins not long before the French Revolution were we meet two characters called Henriette and Louise, a foundling, are raised together as sisters. When Louise goes blind, Henriette swears to take care of her forever. They go to Paris to see if Louise's blindness can be cured, but are separated when an aristocrat lusts after Henriette and abducts her.  Only Chevalier de Vaudrey is kind to her, and they fall in love. The French Revolution replaces the corrupt Aristocracy with the equally corrupt Robespierre. De Vaudrey, who has always been good to peasants, is condemned to death for being an aristocrat, and Henriette for harbouring him.

For today’s audiences, this film is reasonably complex and it is important to be remembering names throughout the film. The characters lack presence, but there is a great development in them as the story progresses. The film is full of coincidences, predictable moments and gaps in the plots that do make it quite confusing to watch.

One technique Griffith uses here is flashbacks, which are presented by fading out and in to them. I do not know if audiences at the tie saw it clearly, but Griffith practically invented the technique. We can also with how he has edited his film is unique for its time. One scene we see a crowd staring, and it cuts to a vignette-styled close-up of individuals faces staring. In another scene, which I find fascinating, we see a letterboxed widescreen view for about 15 seconds. Is this the invention of 16:9? Would it be years before they would take that letterbox and stretch it to fill the frame? Silly questions, but it seems here, he has used a letterboxed widescreen.

One thing Griffith knows how to do is direct a good love scene; and the films romance seems very strong. Of course, the idea of two people from different cultural backgrounds falling in love with one another has been done before, were they are not allowed to be in love. The very earliest is of course, Romeo and Juliet, one of the core love stories in entertainment. However, it did not stop it giving the film some dimension.

Overall, the two orphan characters get caught up in all the rebellion in the French Revolution, which definitely suits its title. The two characters end up being split apart with one being used to get money by a beggar and the other falling in love with an aristocrat. It may not be an absorbing story, but there is some fascination and largeness to it that shows the film is significant in some way. However, the film as I have said can be predictable and people nowadays may not have patience for the film.

Verdict: Griffith’s film set in the French revolution will require patience to watch, and it would be recommended to watch this before his other great films including The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. You will get to witness an early slice of cinema using techniques we still see today.

Rating: 8/10

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

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