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Divergent Properties of Temporality in Intolerance by DW Griffith

by Amber Bowyer

Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages, by D.W. Griffith, is a film which thematically concerns the cultural continuity of a theme, intolerance, across disparate time periods and connects four narratives on that theme one to the other with a common image: a mother, gently rocking a cradle. Symbolic of the eternal march of generations, the cradle represents both the passage of time and the eternal emergence of culture within humanity, nurtured by love, symbolized by Griffith's romanticized mother figure. The film's parallel narrative structure, four stories from centuries apart progressing toward their climaxes in tandem and in narratively conventional increasing urgency, was virtuosically constructed and edited, and soon shown to be highly influential to other filmmakers, of the American and Soviet cinemas and of many others.
    In Cinema 1: The Movement Image, Gilles Deleuze also demonstrates the film's influence on his way of thinking about the cinematic medium's potential,discussing how its uniquely cinematic structuring of temporal sensibilities outmodes simplistic apprehensions of time and demonstrates time's multiplicity. He argues that the alternation between Intolerance's four distinct narratives is not motivated by the requirements of the film's theme, of a message sourced in the narratives themselves, but instead, based in the powerful concept of cinematic montage itself, a distinguishing feature of the cinema, which can bring disparate visions of specific times and spaces into conversation in a way that may, in Deleuze's apprehension of the American tradition, be fashioned to seem purely organic. Therefore, it it cinema's intrinsic ability to invisibly stitch together actualities of immensely different spatial and temporal provenance which enables the "timeless struggle" theme of Intolerance, as well as provides the exceptionally apt depiction of temporality as it really is, extant across all of history in equal measure in simultanaeity, in what Deleuze might have termed "any time whatever," but also only able to be experienced in the immesurably atemporal moment of "the present." In addition to Intolerance's organicized representation of time as existing and being experience identically across eras, "time as whole, as great circle or spiral," time as it might exist in the fullest sense of ideal history and memory, Deleuze also uses Intolerance to help illustrate the other part of the dialectic of experienced time, time as "The continually diminishing interval between two movements or two actions." The pacing of the intercutting between the narratives of Intolerance grows increasingly rapid over the course of the film, and the dual race scenes in the final hour of the film, the physical and cinematic metaphors for the infinitessimally divisible intervals of time are iterated in a suspenseful fictionalization of the experience of Zeno's arrow paradox. The shots themselves become shorter and shorter, demonstrating how experienced time, the "accelerated variable present," is inherently interval-oriented, described in its form as between points or actions. Thus, the race scenes demonstrate in their parallel spatialized approaches to a goal moment, a finish, a hopeful fateful encounter, the movement nature of time. The intercutting between the two stories and the tension that it builds makes it seem, from the temporal perspective of the viewer, that even though the time is decreasing in interval, it is increasing or unchanging in its arrival at the point of stasis. The viewer's experience of time is controlled and distorted by the cinematic feature of montage, which has in this way organicized and made felt the unlocateable, tanscendent quality of experienced time as interval. This is, of course, cinema's unique effect of suspense. Incidentally, in both stories, the finish of the races are the hopeful resolutions of conflicts that are to result in the salvage of life itself, of the prolonging of existence and of its inherent continued experience of, on the one hand, the husband's individual time and on the other, Babylon's shared cultural time. They are races against the end of time, races to delay what is experientially inconceiveable but historically inevitable.

Intolerance and Deleuze 2

a clip from Intolerance that Deleuze mentions in his writings.

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