July 20, 2007

The Adventures of Dollie (1908)

The year of 1908 was certainly an important one for a 34 year old playwright named D.W. Griffith, because that was the year he decided to try his luck in films with an adaptation of "Tosca" that he wrote specially for the new movie industry. However, success didn't came quick for the young writer, as literally nobody saw any potential in his work; the only one who saw any kind of potential in him was film pioneer Edwin S. Porter, but his eyes weren't in Griffith's writing skills, but on his acting, and send the young man with director J. Searle Dawly to make some shorts. While disappointed, Griffith kept acting to pay the bills, until later that year, he was finally hired for something other than as an actor: American Mutoscope & Biograph was looking for young directors and D.W. Griffith took the job. 1908's short film, "The Adventures of Dollie", was the humble debut of a director that would be known as a legend.

In "The Adventures of Dollie", a family of three goes out for a nice trip along the riverside during a sunny summer's day. A gypsy (Charles Inslee) walks by them, and attempts to sell his baskets to the family. The Mother (Linda Arvidson) doesn't want to buy anything from him, and attempts to move on, but this angers the gypsy, who begins to attack the mother and her daughter Dollie (Gladys Egan) until the Father (Arthur V. Johnson) appears and drives the gypsy off. Even more angered, the gypsy decides to kidnap Dollie and hide her inside of a barrel to be able to escape unnoticed. When her parents notice she's been kidnapped, they organize a rescue party, but it's too late: the gypsies have escaped and the barrel where Dollie is hidden is on their wagon. However, this is only the beginning, as the barrel falls from the wagon and falls into the river. Dollie's real adventure is just about to begin.

Written by Stanner E.V. Taylor (his first real work as a scriptwriter), "The Adventures of Dollie" is a very simple tale of action and adventure on a style that was made very popular in that year after the release of J. Searle Dawly's "Rescued from an Eagle's Nest" (the movie where Griffith debuted as an actor), in fact, the plot of both films are so similar that it's clear that this movie was made to cash on Dawly's success (both films are about kidnapped childs). Still, what made this movie a bit different was that this time the focus was on the kidnapped kid instead of the rescuers, as we follow Dollie (or better said, the barrel that contains her) through the film. Some have labeled the movie as racist towards the Romani people (gypsies), but I find such comments out of place as the story simply reflects the ideas of its time, as gypsies weren't seen on a good light because of their nomadic lifestyle.

In this his modest debut as a director, there are already some early touches of Griffith's genius through the movie. While an amateur following the conventions he has learned from his work as an actor (as well as from codirector and future collaborator G.W. Bitzer), Griffith already begins to show his ideas about storytelling in film and his creative use of editing to create emotions on the audience. The effective use he gives to Arthur Marvin's cinematography helps to keep the film dynamic, away from the theatrical style that was common in those years. True, the film is pretty typical and follows an already stablished ideas about film narrative, but credit must to Griffith for making such an accomplished film with almost zero experience behind the camera.

One of Griffith's most famous traits can also be seeing in this movie, and that is his great skill to get natural performances from his actors. As written above, the movie moves away from the stagy style of film-making of the time, and Griffith takes this ideal to his cast too, as he decides to get a more realistic approach in their performances. Arthur V. Johnson and Linda Arvidson (Griffith's wife) are good in their performances, although Johnson tends to overact a bit (understandable as he had little experience on film). Gladys Egan, who plays little Dollie is also very good, although her role is considerably simpler. As the gypsies, Charles Inslee and Madeline West are OK, although like Johnson, they tend to overact a little bit, although that would be natural, since they are playing the common stereotypes of gypsy people.

"The Adventures of Dollie" is not exactly a movie that one would expect from legendary director D.W. Griffith, but then again, most debuts tend to be mere shadows of the future ahead. Later that very same year Griffith would start making some serious experimentation on this very same plot line, and would create some really innovative films in a very short time. Movies like "The Red Man and the Child", "For a Wife's Honor" and "The Lonely Villa" would introduce new and highly inventive ways of storytelling that would further develop film-making as an art. While many of the techniques he used weren't exactly new, he combined them and put them together in a way that later would be considered as the definitive narrative language of cinema. While there are many better Griffith shorts (even from the same year), this movie is a must see if only because it represents the humble start of a master's career.


1 comment:

BUDOKAN said...

Bueno, veo que en esta ocasión te has ido bien a las raíces lo que me parece que es muy saludable sobre todo para rescatar estas pequeñas películas que forjaron los comienzos de lo que vendría después. Esta puntualmente no la tenía. Saludos!