Silent Saturday: Even more D.W. Griffith shorts (1910-11)

Yes, it’s Silent Saturday, to make up for having missed out on Silent Sunday last weekend (circumstances happily beyond my control). Time to finish off those Griffith Biograph shorts, with this little lot coming from the bonus disc to Kino’s edition of the Birth (which we’ll come to in due course); all of these are Civil War-related like the main feature, so a nice thematic collection, and all one-reelers…

In the Border States (1910): young father in one of the border states signs up with the Union army. In his absence, his young daughter saves a Confederate soldier being pursued by Unionists, and he later repays the favour after the young father finds himself in a similar situation. Nice enough, but I most liked the location scenery in this; filmed not quite 50 years after the Civil War began, I imagine it still looked then much like it did in the 1860s.

The House with Closed Shutters (1910): young man loses his nerve during a battle, so his sister puts on his uniform and fights in his stead. When this ends tragically, the boy is kept inside the house for the rest of his life as punishment for his cowardice. There’s something kind of gothic about this set-up, but it feels too preposterous to be taken seriously (not helped by some unfortunate moments of hamming it up).

The Fugitive (1910): a tale of two Johns, one on each side of the conflict; northern John kills southern John in a skirmish, and, pursued by the latter’s Confederate fellows, he inadvertently takes refuge in the erstwhile southern John’s mother’s house. This is a fairly large coincidence for us to have to swallow, but I’ve had to swallow worse and Griffith makes it work even so.

His Trust Fulfilled (1911): concluding the tale of George, who we first saw in His Trust on another disc; it’s included on this one along with its second part. Contrary to the intertitles’ suggestion, the second part really doesn’t work as a separate film, and I wish Biograph had shown the nerve to release the two parts as an actual two-reeler. Again I find myself perplexed (though nonetheless charmed) by Griffith’s kindly portrayal of the black lead character, considering the racist fantasia he’d perpetrate just a few years later.

Swords and Hearts (1911): again, observe Griffith giving one of his black characters a positive role, smarter than his white boss in anticipating the attack on the plantation and removing the valuables to a safe place. Griffith’s sense of narrative control is getting stronger here than in the previous films, and there’s a remarkable amount of stuff going on for a film that lasts just 16 minutes, even a nice bit of falling-off-horse-after-being-shot stunt work. Probably the best film on this disc.

The Battle (1911): young man loses his nerve during a battle, so his sister puts on his uniform… actually not this time, she kicks him out of the house and forces him to redeem himself, which he does. As the title may indicate, this is the most action-heavy film in the set; unfortunately Kino’s print is so mediocre—looked like a worn 16mm blow-up from a paper print—it’s kind of hard to actually watch, detail is so poor at times I couldn’t quite make it out, which made it kind of hard to get into.

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