Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Broken Blossoms (1919)

Broken Blossoms
D.W. Griffith is heavily represented among the early films on the list. At this point I was getting a bit tired of his movies. They had really lowered the bar for what I expected from an early movie. This may be a reason why I was happy with Broken Flowers.

The lead character is a Chinese with high ideals who go out in the world, but in the west he succumbs to a modest life in the city, mainly under the influence of opium. The female lead is a young girl (as usual Lillian Gish) who lives in poverty with her brute of a father. When she eventually is left to rot it is the Chinese who saves her and takes care of her.

The remarkable thing here is not that it is a European actor playing Chinese, nor that he is considered bottom of society just for being Chinese. These things were part of the time along with blackface actors and other similar social injustices. Not even that this is actually a modernized version of the Merciful Samaritan story. No, the remarkable thing is that this was made by the same director who made “Birth of a Nation”. Where in “Birth of a Nation” the Afro-Americans were less than human, here the Chinese is more human than the whites. Maybe after all he did learn something.

The movie suffer from heavy heavy melodrama and very explicit overacting which I found difficult at the time, but which I have since learned is an integral part of early silents. This does not change that technically, story wise and on a deeper moral level this is a much more satisfying movie than Griffith earlier movies and in my opinion also better than the later Griffith movies on the list.


  1. I think a lot of people who've seen Birth of a Nation and Intolerance and then this are surprised that Griffith directed all three, as Broken Blossoms has a minority as the hero of the story. You are right that the acting is over-exaggerated (and that that was the silent style), but you and I probably are on the same page about how this quirk takes away from otherwise good movies.

  2. This is a movie that has grown on me over time. I am still surprised that this is the same guy who did Birth of a Nation, but it is more than that. There is a flow and passion in this movie that I generally do not find in his other films. It is difficult to avoid Birth of a Nation on a list like this, but if I should pick one second film to include it would be this one.