One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley reported on the biggest film premier of the year, Broken Blossoms:
That drama outside the drama—the unfolding of genius! That’s what one thought last night, watching that latest marvel of the master picture maker, D.W. Griffith, and feeling the undercurrent of reaction to the master touch which thrilled through the tremendous crowd that had surged through the doors of Clune’s Auditorium until it packed the great place from topmost galleries—yes, even rafters—and nearly spilled into the orchestra, in order to view the premier of Broken Blossoms. Although everything was reported sold early in the day, crowds were turned away.
She wrote about its New York premiere in May (it really took a long time to get to Los Angeles!) But this event was just as impressive, with loads of movie stars in attendance, from Arbuckle to Walthall. It made for “a discriminating audience, too, one made up of artists in all lines, which was exactly attuned to respond to all the Griffith subtleties. And at the end, when the crowd howled for Griffith, I’m sure that beneath and beyond all its artistic appreciation was the big generous sense: “This D.W. Griffith is our Griffith, and we’re proud of him!”
She was ready to call it his masterpiece; Birth of a Nation and Intolerance were just steps to get to it. The LA Times chief critic, Edwin Schallert, placed it in an even larger context. Broken Blossoms
is to the future of pictures what the solemn tragedies of Sophocles are to the drama of all ages…He has ennobled the sordid surroundings of one of the lowest quarters of civilization with the poetry of beauty, and against this strangely fascinating background has painted a conflict of lives, and hope, and love and death, whose highest summits reach to where no art has soared in recent days except that of music.
Words are futile to describe the poignant appeal of Mr. Griffith’s story of love and death.
That is a tough review to live up to!
Other than Broken Blossoms, it was a fairly uneventful week. Kingsley even wrote a story about what jobs four women of the musical Chin Chin chorus wanted to do if they were men—the answers were sailor, jockey, cowboy and chauffeur.
She did mention a question that had come up in her office:
What will the male critics do next week, when Are You Fit To Marry is shown at the Symphony Theater “for ladies only.”
Since she was on vacation next week, they solved the problem at the Times by not reviewing it at all. Maybe they felt that enough had been written about the eugenics movement.