It’s been an awfully long time since I last decided to watch the oldest film I had left on the list. The last time was when I saw Within Our Gates nearly two years ago, so yes it’s really been too long since I started burning the candle from this end.
With Orphans of the Storm I have now seen all four of the D.W. Griffith films on the 1001 list. I can honestly say that this was the best of the films, which isn’t just because this is the only one of these films without a weird racial component. It’s actually because this has an interesting and well played out story-line, supported heavily by the great acting of Dorothy and Lillian Gish.
Like a lot of American films I have seen from this time period Orphans of the Storm has some moral attached about the greatness of America and the importance to descend into civil war in the fashion of the French Revolution (or American’s own civil war). You can pretty much ignore this as it has no real bearing on this film.
One thing that I have to say about D.W. Griffith films is that they look brilliant. The set design and costuming throughout Orphans of the Storm feels both authentic and heightened. This is especially so with any of the scenes in the first half featuring members of the aristocracy. As the war starts and the guillotine looms large the look of the film similarly descends, in a good way.
Whilst not as beautifully shot as Intolerance, there are parts of Orphans of the Storm where I have started to understand more why Griffith is so well regarded as a director and innovator in the early silent era. I cannot help but wonder what films he would have made if born a few decades later and had to start out his career with talkies. Would he have made the same impact, or was he born at the perfect time?