Pretty Old Films

film 5 of 6

Way Down East

Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

An outsizedly elaborate, Intolerance-like screed against polygamy in which some mysterious more seems to be going on, there’s a curious similarity to Nanook, which also ignores the real modern problem (Europe’s destroying/ed the natives, everyone, including the women and country folks, is becoming morally heedless) in favour of a touchingly, maybe consciously naive 40-years-ago idealism: noble savage, but painted with such loving, and expert detail, the sainted, travailing woman (cf. Edna in The Kid), but made glorious flesh by the incomparably incomparable Lillian Gish, see especially her nightgown’d approach to her new husband, baptizing the baby and blowing on his dead hands, this last, like the outlandish and horrible idea of the mock marriage, sounds hokey or unbelievable, but Griffith/Gish manage with their convictions and the overpowering poetry in presenting this sap, to put it over; money brings bankruptcy, if its set in the art deco’d city and social influence is its aim, virtue resides in the country–where it’s still the 19th century–where the worst sin is, again, Intolerance, and money’s quite okay, the profound question, which this crazy thing never asks, is what is the Christian’s responsibility if someone actually had done what they were thinking she’d done; an intriguing possibility is that these characters are typed but not on cardboard–if the individuals don’t have the depth and breadth of real people, then the ensemble, the combination of characters and characteristics, represent a kind of complete collective human, maybe the commedia did that too, and maybe we shouldn’t be so judgmental; Beethoven’s 6th, 4th movement (second allegro) during the ice breaking sequence, which of course is by association and in fact a direct overlay of the imagery, score’s apparently original, and its a good bad one (repetitive, unimaginative, but working), the I hear derided knockabout may not be Chaplin, but the typing’s pleasing and the laughs are plentiful, adding an interesting contrast/contradiction to the otherwise serious goings on