Way Down East (1920).

Annex - Gish, Lillian (Way Down East)_03This film was directed by D.W. Griffiths and stars Lillian Gish.

I watched it for a film narrative module, and its a bit bum-numbing in its run time. It’s about 2 and a half hours long!

Still, it has the makings of something which would define the film industry for the next 90 years. It takes a while, any maybe a repeated viewing, before the true power of silent cinema become evident.

The basic story is not dissimilar from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of D’Urbivilles – innocent girl corrupted, finds solace, but cannot escape her past. Of course, there has to be a moralizing end in films like this (not in the original Tess story though, sadly.) but after a 2 and a half hour runtime I’m more than happy for any resoloution.

Aside from that, the film is pretty good once you get into it. Its almost like a tableau style, with remnants of theatre within it. In a filmic environment pre-sound, it is certainly interesting to watch how the character’s body language and facial expressions add to the viewing experience.

I am not familiar with any of the actors in this movie (apart from Lilian Gish) but they were obviously stars of the silent screen. Richard Barthelmess plays the role of David, the romantic hero. Unfortunately, Barthelmess’s career didn’t last long beyond sound film but he serves here as ‘eye candy’ and antithesis for Lowell Sherman’s Lennox Sanderson who is the evil playboy who seduces and abandons Gish’s character Anna.

There were also minor plot arcs which detracted from the main plot itself, mainly concerned with minor characters who were so farcical the film could have gone without them.

A good film which is worth watching, for its tableau style and the mark it has left on film history itself.

MY RATING: *** / *****

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