David Lewelyn Wark Griffith (January 22, 1875 – July 23, 1948) was an American film director (commonly known as D. W. Griffith) probably best known for his film The Birth of a Nation.
Born in Crestwood, 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. Scholars no longer dispute that few or any of his "innovations" actually began with him, but still he is given credit for a set of codes that have become the universal back-bone to the film language. In the broadest terms, Griffith contributed Mise en Scene and various film editing techniques to film grammar. 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 has been a highly controversial figure. Although popular at the time of its release, his film The Birth of a Nation (1915) was also considered responsible for the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. On December 15, 1999, declaring that Griffith "helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes," The Directors Guild of America's National Board - without membership consultation - announced it would rename the D.W. Griffith Award, the Guild's highest honor. 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.
Griffith began his career as a hopeful playwright but failed. 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, he became a co-founder of Triangle (1915), which 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 Triangle went bankrupt 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.
Last updated: 08-07-2005 21:29:20