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Griffith in Fort Lee


Introduced by Richard Koszarski

Live music by Donald Sosin

Although he was already spending half the year in California by 1912, D. W. Griffith still spent every summer and fall in New York. Avoiding the cramped Biograph studio on East Fourteenth Street whenever possible, Griffith and his company preferred to take the ferry to Fort Lee where exteriors for all the films in this program were shot (even those that seem to have been shot on the Lower East Side). There he could work on uncrowded streets and tap into a supportive infrastructure of local hotels, businesses, and movie-struck extras, treating the town as his personal back lot.

All films directed by D. W. Griffith from 1912.

Program runs approximately 85 minutes.

The Narrow Road

35mm, Library of Congress. With Mary Pickford. An ex-convict tries to go straight for the sake of his family, but the law—and some of his old associates—won’t make it easy. Also starring the remarkable Elmer Booth, who not only looks like James Cagney but seems to have all the same mannerisms.

An Unseen Enemy

35mm, preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with support from the Lillian Gish Trust for Film Preservation. With Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish. The first screen appearance of the Gish sisters, trapped in an isolated country house and menaced by a dissolute housemaid. But the real interest here is the race to the rescue, which runs back and forth all over Bergen County, even defying the treacherous bridge over the Hackensack River.

The Painted Lady

35mm, The Museum of Modern Art. With Blanche Sweet. No chases or last-minute rescues here. Or even much of a happy ending. Instead, Griffith offers social context and performance style. Critics of the day, accustomed to “mad scenes” that could blow the roof off, sat astonished as the sixteen-year-old Sweet showed that with movie acting, less really could be more.

The Musketeers of Pig Alley

16mm, Museum of Modern Art. With Lillian Gish, Elmer Booth. Inspired by New York newspaper accounts of street gangs and police corruption, this landmark film packs an entire world of crime and redemption into the confines of a one-reel melodrama. And as usual with Griffith, when authority proves feckless, community is all we have to depend on.

The New York Hat

35mm print, the Museum of Modern Art. With Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore. Why is the minister sending extravagant gifts to Little Mary? The town’s self-appointed moral guardians (Griffith’s favorite villains) think they have the answer. A little masterpiece of comedy, romance, melodrama, and social criticism, graced with a pair of elegantly understated performances from Pickford and Barrymore.

The Burglar’s Dilemma

16mm print, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. With Henry B. Walthall, Lionel Barrymore. While the police, as usual, are about to beat a confession out of the wrong man, spineless weakling Walthall wrestles with a dilemma that arises after he kills his own brother. Justice is not a legal issue, Griffith tells us, but something much more personal.

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