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Frame and Shot in DW Griffith's Intolerance

by Jih-Fei Cheng

By Jih-Fei Cheng

Deleuze’s reference to D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) concerns Deleuze’s explication of cinematographic framing as limitation.  He is compelled by the manner in which one is invited, or hailed, to interface with a closed system whereby an entry point into this complex of referents is created through the viewing frame.  The figures, shapes, and movement are conversant with their framing to conjure geometrical associations that situate the objects’ relations.  Bodies become essential in their existence and their power is both delimited and demarcated.

            The simultineaity of movement in Intolerance as described by Deleuze is difficult to locate as a singular moment or coherent sequence within the film.  The movement of bodies in several shots within the film might serve his analysis.  Nevertheless, Deleuze’s emphasis on the geometry associated with framing, bodies, movement, and power seems to best fit the scene where we are able to discern the class affiliation of bodies moving in multiple, heterogeneous temporal spaces within a single, longshot from above the ramparts in Intolerance.  Deleuze writes, "A very fine image in Griffith’s Intolerance cuts the screen along a vertical which corresponds to a wall of the ramparts of Babylon; whilst on the right one sees the king advancing on a higher horizontal, a high walk on the ramparts; on the left the chariots enter and leave, on the lower horizontal, through the gates of the city. (13)"  Situating the forward movement of the monarch in the foreground with a mass that enters and exits the city walls in the backdrop instantiates a separation and a convergence that establishes a temporal difference approached through a perceptible yet not perceptible physical distance.  The frame ensures the deterritorialization of the image, and in this case, allows for a discernment of class, ethnicity, time, and space while also culling these distinctions into an overall constructed whole.  A totality—a survey of the whole, or a means of disciplining how the whole is to be surveyed—is apprehended.

Intolerance and Deleuze 1

The first clip from Intolerance regarding Deleuze's mention in his writing

from Intolerance (1916)
Creator: D.W. Griffith
Posted by Chang Choi