I made it to see both Griffith's Hearts of the World (1918) and Victor Sjöström's (credited as Seastrom) The Scarlet Letter (1926) at BAM on Saturday. The live musical scores were fantastic, as were the films.
Hearts of the World is prime Griffith, a dramatic love story / war film with Lilian Gish as the daughter of one of two American families who live in adjacent houses in a French village on the eve of World War I. She falls for the American next door, who enlists in the French army to defend his adopted country. The story cuts between the trenches and the town, which the Germans have occupied after a successful offensive. Griffith adds to his filmic separation of space by tinting different spaces in different colors. [I can only assume these tints were based on the filmmaker's instructions; I can't think of why such a dramatic tool would be added to a print, but I also can't speak to the origin of the print.] These spaces are not defined simply geographically, but emotionally as well. Trench scenes are given a metallic blue; the village is presented largely in sepia until, in the battle-scarred last reel (I think) it's given a deep blood red that would make Argento jealous. Gish gets some seriously adorable closeups as during the courtship, and it's fascinating to see the lust inspired by a stocking-covered ankle revealed beneath a skirt's hem.
The Scarlet Letter is a faithful adaptation of Hawthorne's classic American fable of sin and purity. (Faithful = no appended happy ending, no shots of Demi Moore washing herself). Sjöström's direction is elegantly simple, while doing good service to the experience of "community" in Puritan New England. Gish is again luminous; here the lust is more obvious than revealed ankles. When Dimmesdale stumbles across her doing her washing, Hester tries to hide her being-washed undergarments, but Dimmesdale persists.. She holds them behind her back, where it's revealed what they are - directly over the parts they're supposed to cover. It's scandalously erotic for 1926. So is the rest of the scene, where Dimmesdale and Hester walk in the woods, only to disappear behind a bush. It's meaning is no secret.
Both films were excellent. My only qualm about Hearts of the World is the overreliance on the battle chronology. Griffith invests too much energy in telling the attack-counterattack-countercounterattack details of the battle scenes. I'd like to specially thank Donald Sosin and his wife Joanna Seaton for the excellent scoring. Donald's piano score for Hearts of the World felt confident and loose enough to be improvised, referencing at least 3 national anthems and keeping pace for all 2 1/2 hours. The score for The Scarlet Letter was a more orchestral work, for synthesizer and voice, which was nice but lacked the fluid majesty of his piano score to accompany the Griffith.
Other highlights were running into friends at the second film, which was actually packed. Not bad for a silent movie on a Saturday.
Also, the girl who sold me my tickets was gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous.
Notes on Kwaidan coming tomorrow... or at least, sometime this week.