(Review originally written at 5 February 2007)

It's amazing to see how incredibly good all of D.W. Griffith's movies are, especially considering he made his best work in the 1910's and 1920's, when movie-making was a relatively new medium and there weren't any other movie-makers around on the same league as Griffith to compare the work to. D.W. Griffith was truly a pioneer in modern movie-making. His techniques and ways of storytelling were unique for the medium and set the later standards for modern movie making. But on top of that, in todays perspective, his movies remain just as good, interesting and entertaining to watch. It makes his movies not only historically relevant and revolutionary but also a pure simple pleasure to watch.

No, I don't regard "Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl" as one of his best works but that isn't saying much about the quality of it. The quality is still superb and the movie features a fascinating story with great characters in it.

It's interesting to see how well layered the story is. It handles lots of relevant themes and points out some daring new one's, for 1919 standards, such as an interracial relationship.

The overall underlying message of the movie was how hardened society has become and how easily we resolve to violence, rather than to look further than the first glance, or take the trouble to place yourself is someone else's shoes. In essence this is a movie about the good old subject of good versus evil, love versus hate.

The story is for most part told from the viewpoint of a Chinese who want to spread love and peace, from the learning of the Buddha over the world. He soon gives up this mission when he arrives in England and learns there is no hope in trying to help- and change this society. He soon after than opens a store and starts a new life until when he falls in love with a young girl, whose father is a brute.

The movie obviously is a melodramatic one but like with all D.W. Griffith's movies is the case, it all works out extremely effective and powerful. Especially toward the ending of the movie the drama becomes powerful and works surprising effective. The movie just works out perfectly and often let the images speak for them selves.

The movie is beautifully looking with some very convincing looking- and big sets and moody cinematography by the early professional. The movie also uses some close-ups and even extreme close-ups, which wasn't too common for its time period and it works surprising well for the movie its storytelling- and to set up the right mood and tension of a sequences.

The acting is of course over-the-top, for the obvious reasons. Back in the silent movie era, actors always had to exaggerate in their posses and movements to tell the story and to create the right emotions and atmosphere of the sequence. Especially Donald Crisp does this. It seems pretty weird that most of the Chinese and at least the ones that are the main characters, are being portrayed by non-Asian actors under a lot of make-up. It really isn't very credible looking but it's a technique not uncommon for it's time period. Even decades later, often western actors would portray Asian characters. Best example of this is of course Mickey Rooney in his 1961 performance in "Breakfast at Tiffany's".

A both powerful and just great to watch silent-movie, from D.W. Griffith.


About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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