D. W. Griffith

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David Llewelyn Wark Griffith (January 22, 1875July 23, 1948) was an American film director (commonly known as D. W. Griffith) best known for his film The Birth of a Nation.

D.W. Griffith
D.W. Griffith

Born in La Grange, Oldham County, Kentucky to Jacob "Roaring Jake" Griffith, a Confederate Army colonel and Civil War hero, David Wark Griffith has been called the father of film grammar. Few scholars claim any longer that most of his "innovations" actually began with him, but he was a key figure in establishing the set of codes that have become the universal backbone to the film language. Griffith was particularly influential in popularizing "cross-cutting" in film editing to combine different locations in one scene and to build suspense. That being said, he still used many elements attributed to the "primitive style" of movie-making that predated classical Hollywood's continuity system. These techniques include frontal staging, exaggerated gestures, hardly any camera movement, and no point of view shots.

Credit for Griffith's cinematic innovations must be shared with his cameraman of many years, Billy Bitzer. In addition, he worked on many of his best films with the legendary silent star Lillian Gish.

Griffith was a highly controversial figure. Popular at the time of its release, his film The Birth of a Nation (1915) was based on the novel The Clansman and is widely considered responsible for the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. Griffith began his career as a hopeful playwright but met with little success. He then became an actor. Finding his way into the motion picture business, he soon began to direct a huge body of work. Between 1907 and 1913 (the years he directed for the American Biograph Company), Griffith produced an astounding 450 short films. Such output allowed him to experiment with cross-cutting, camera movement, close-ups, and other methods of spatial and temporal manipulation. Convinced that longer films (then called "features") could be financially viable, his production company became an autonomous production unit partner in Triangle Pictures Corporation with Keystone Studios and Thomas Ince. Through David W. Griffith Corp. he produced The Birth of a Nation, and later, as a reaction to the criticism The Birth of a Nation received, his most ambitious project, Intolerance. The film was a flop, and the Triangle partnership was dissolved in 1917, so he went to Artcraft (part of Paramount), then to First National (1919-20). At the same time he founded United Artists, together with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks.

He was honored on a 10-cent postage stamp by the United States issued May 5, 1975.

In 2000, the Directors Guild of America's National Board announced it would rename the D.W. Griffith Award, the Guild's highest honor, to the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award. First given in 1953, its recipients included Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, John Huston, Woody Allen, Akira Kurosawa, John Ford, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock and Griffith's friend Cecil B. DeMille. All nine living recipients of the award, including Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet and Robert Wise, agreed the time had come to retire his name from the award.

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