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Quality as a function of quantity: the prolific D.W. Griffith

According to IMDB, D.W. Griffith (1875-1948) directed 518 films between 1908 and 1931

Wikipedia – D.W. Griffith filmography


Arthur Marvin, brother of Henry and one of the studio’s two cameramen, suggested to his brother that Griffith might be a good prospect as a second-string director.

What followed was a year and a half of unprecedented creative experimentation, as Griffith — working mainly with Bitzer as his cameraman — produced a series of short films that essentially defined a new mode of artistic expression.

The innovations began almost immediately. By the time Griffith was beginning his eighth assignment as director — For the Love of Gold, a nine-minute film shot in that first summer of 1908 — he was already bridling at the standard method of rendering every scene in his story as a single shot taken from a single camera location.

Eager to show the reactions of some card-players during a game, he asked Bitzer to move the camera closer to the actors partway through the scene, so that the audience could more clearly discern their faces. The resulting scene thus consisted of two shots: the standard medium shot of the actors as they would be seen on a stage, and a cut to a three-quarter shot. This cut, he felt, would allow the audience to see for themselves what the characters were thinking, without resorting to the thought bubbles or intertitles used by other directors in similar situations.

This was not, as Griffith was later to claim, the first use of a close-up in the movies. Bitzer himself would eventually point out that Edison’s 1894 Kinetoscope Fred Ott’s Sneeze was entirely shot in close-up. But Griffith’s close-up was, in a way, even more revolutionary.

As film historian Robert M. Henderson has written, “Now Griffith was able to express thought visually. He had also destroyed for all time the idea that a shot and a scene were synonymous. The shot was now the basic film unit, and a scene . . . might consist of an unlimited number of shots.

Gary Krist – The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles (via Longreads)

See also:

Quality as a function of quantity: the prolific Beach Boys

Mass production: quality as a function of quantity
Malcolm Gladwell on creativity, quality and quantity
Being prolific
Stan Lee (1922-2018) – What If?
A Body of Work

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