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Porter and Griffith

In: Film and Music

Submitted By zoezakis
Words 1766
Pages 8
Student Name : Alexandra Zoe Varenzakis Student number: 385 367
Date of submission: 7 March 2009
Course Code: DRAA 1003
Lecture : Jordache A. Ellapen
Due Date: 23 March 2009
Word count : 452 ( not including references )
Essay Topic: 1. D.W Griffith, who is often referred to as the father of film, was influenced by the works of Edwin S. Porter. Porter’s two film’s Life of and American Fireman (1903) and The Great Train Robbery (1903) display some of the early innovations in filmmaking that were instrumental in the development of film language. By examining the films of Porter and Griffith ( Birth of the Nation (1915)) , discuss in detail the manner in which Griffith was influenced by the works of Edwin S. Porter in establishing the basic vocabulary of filmmaking and editing .

The film industry in contemporary society has proven itself to be one of the most popular forms of entertainment and information. Films produced these days have made way for a thriving industry. It is important to understand how these films are made and in particular how the cinema culture has evolved. D.W Griffith was a prominent figure in creating films during the early 1900s. His work was based on the basic narrative ideas for film that were formally introduced by Edwin S Porter, another critical figure in cinematic history. This essay will discuss how the works of Porter influenced D.W Griffith in developing the basic vocabulary of filmmaking and editing with reference to the early films of both these filmmakers.
During the silent film era, Porter introduced the use of continuity editing and different styles of scene-cutting, (Cook, 2004:18). Porter’s first experiment with films was one-shot skits such as his New York City in a Blizzard, (Cook, 2004:18). Porter’s influence of George Melies’ notion of creating a narrative film in continuity style can be seen in his film A Trip to the Moon. This notion takes into consideration the use of setting, characters, props, titles, costumes and the basic plot is seen in one narrative union. Porter’s film The Life of an American Fireman, made in 1902, has intercutting shots that suggest dual-narratives, (Cook, 2004:20-21). The film cuts from shot to shot of the interior of the burning building and the exterior action of the firefighters. This continuity editing style was not a booming concept for films during motion-picture history before The Life of and American Fireman; which was successful in depicting two parallel actions in the same tense of time (Cook, 2004:20-21).

1
Griffith developed Porter’s notion of continuity editing as seen in his early film The Birth Of a Nation ( Cook, 2004: p 64-73). He was later able to use this theory for film but added his own concept on how films with a storyline should be presented to an audience. Griffith adapted Porter’s method of creating dual-narratives of two families in his film The Birth of a Nation by cutting back and forth from the Cameron to the Stoneman family (The Birth of a Nation, Griffith. 1915), where he also intertwines the historical romance of the American civil war. Hence Griffith is named the ‘father of film’ because of his original technical innovations that have developed a foundation for filmmaking as it is understood today (Cook, 2004:51). Although the film, The Birth of a Nation, deals with a controversial subject matter of bigotry between races and the American civil war, Griffith learned that he could create more of an impact on his target-market by editing a juxtaposition of shots to create a scene (J, Ellapen – discussed in class).
Griffith was not fully accountable for his style of story telling. Porter initially introduced the idea of creating stereotypical characters, working with the age old concept of good versus evil. This is seen in one of his more renowned films, and also considered by many as the first western film, The Great Train Robbery .This film paid attention to creating the essence of stereotypical characters and plot by its use of dark costumes for the criminals to portray the themes of violence and murder. More significant is that Porter was able to identify the importance of a shot (Cook, 2004:22). Many of the scenes in the film end before the scene has concluded itself. For example the crowd that comes off the train is left to help the injured man, then the scene changes to the thieves getting back onto the train before the previous scene has ended, (The Great Train Robbery, Porter.1903). The scenes were edited to cut straight into each other with no special fades to conclude it. This introduced the film industry to the cinematic language of today. 2
Porter therefore understood that he could manipulate time and space by straight cuts between shots ( Cook , 2004:22 ) . He thus realised the power a single shot had at influencing the audience’s point of view in a particular scene. For example, the shot of the train moving away from the previously robed crowd includes audience in the film as if they were watching the train pull away. (The Great Train Robber, Porter. 1903).The following shot shows the train entering from the bottom right corner of the frame, now showing the thieves activity, providing the audience with an omniscience view this time. Therefore these shots also express a change of time and a new location. Porter’s methods of filming would indentify the meaning and abilities that a single shot held on the overall scene effect and this was later expanded on by Griffith.
Griffith then used this specific method of editing to his advantage in The Birth of a Nation. Griffith’s success in original silent films was the result of his concepts of using technical language to enhance the emotional impact a film had on its audience (Gazetas, 2004 :29) . His technique of juxtaposing shots together achieved a more dramatic effect. Thus his aim was for the audience to connect with the inner troubles and anxiety of the characters in the films (Gazetas, 2000:34).
He was able to achieve this, along with his cameraman Billy Bitzer , who worked together in the Biograph studios , creating over 400 films during the early 1900s. Griffith emphasized Porter’s idea of keeping a continental narrative, but also used editing techniques, such as alternating from different shots in order to experiment and create the “accelerated montage effect”. This particular technique is evident in contemporary films in order to emphasize the build to a dramatic climax (Cook, 2004: 56-60). 3
This faster technique cutting enabled Griffith to manipulate time. He formed techniques which created either expanded or contracted illusions of time which were primitively used in Porter’s The Great Train Robbery, (Cook, 2004:56 ) . Thus it led to Griffiths’ famous innovation of creating a ‘flashback’ or ‘switchback’ in which the audience is able to view ‘dream-like’ scenes that provide insight into a character’s past or even their future aspirations ,( Cook, 2004:55) . This film particular film method, mention above-of creating a ‘day-dream’ into a character’s mind, is currently used in modern day cinema and television. An example of this can be seen in contemporary melodramatic soap operas. Griffith came to understand that film narratives aim at assisting audiences’ understanding of characters emotions and themes.
In The Birth of a Nation careful consideration was taken in Griffith’s choice of shots. For example, a simple shot of a woman’s ankles allowed a more intimate understanding of the males’ viewpoint of the lady ,before she came into full view with a long shot. Due to Griffith’s previous experience working as an actor, he paid careful attention to how an actor acted (Cook, 2004:52). A more realistic approach to acting is evident in Griffith’s The Birth Of a Nation. Griffith’s films introduced the emotional aspects for a character. This is evident in a single close up of a mother holding her crying child, while riots erupt outside the house, allows for a more empathetic view from the audience towards the character (The Birth Of a Nation, Griffith. 1915). Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation, created powerful war scenes by using long shots and close-ups of the action. He fragmented a scene up into pieces of extreme shots of the war to more intimate and close ups of the characters. These battle scenes experimented with special effects of smoke and lighting which created a hostile atmosphere, and enhanced the effect of explosives going off and gun shootings. 4
Griffith understood, from his experience as a script writer, in his early years, was that the reader must be able to understand and relate to the action, (Cook, 2004: 51, 52). The relationships within families , whether hostile or welcomed , are seen clearly in The Birth Of a Nation due to the development of more intense acting as well as more attention being paid to the actual feelings of the character. Griffith aimed at portraying what was happening inside of the characters’ minds and his editing techniques achieved this, (Cook, 2004:55).
It is clear that Griffith, as a film pioneer, played an extremely crucial role in advancing editing in filmmaking as we know it today. He created the classic ‘Hollywood’ style of film language and how it is used to enhance all aspects of a film. However his work was largely influenced by the works of Porter who introduced the initial ideas of editing in a continual narrative. These two filmmakers were equally important in the evolution of film, as they both set a basis for film vocabulary. Porter created the notion of editing in conjunction to manipulate diegetic factors into a film and Griffith evolved this method to make films more comprehendible for audiences. 5

Word count :453 ( without in text reference)
Alexandra Varenzakis
Bibliography:
* Cook,D.A.2004.Edwin S Porter: Developing a concept of continuity Editing , in A History of Narrative Film, pp 18-27 . New York and London : W.W Norton and Company. * Cook, D.A.2004: Griffith and the Development of Narrative Form in a History of Narrative film. New York and London: W.W Norton and Company. * Gazetas, A. 2004. D.W . Griffith and Cinematic language 1910-1919, in An Introduction to World Cinema, pp27-69. North Carolina and London: McFarland and Company, Inc, Publishers. * Aymount,J.1990. Griffith: The Frame, the figure, in Early Cinema : Space, Frame Narrative, ed. Elsaesser, T . 348-359. London :BFI Publishing

Films: * The Birth of a Nation ( D.W Griffith ) 1915 * The Great Train Robbery ( E.S Porter ) 1903 .…...

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