0009: Way Down East (1920)

Way Down East

Rating: 10/10

Here’s a movie by DW Griffith that isn’t horribly racist! Yay! As you know, he’s the one who wrote and directed the Birth of a Nation, the most famous piece of racist propaganda in modern history. This movie was waaaay better than that, I’m happy to report.

It’s about a young woman, Anna, who gets married in a fever but then it turns out her husband is a horrible womanizer. He tells her that they aren’t legally married so he sends her away and she has a baby out of wedlock, which was a big no-no back then, and things only get worse for her from there.

Unfortunately, this movie has been partly lost or damaged throughout the years and many scenes are missing. At least they have all the intertitles, but it would have been nice to see this movie in its entirety despite it already being 2 and a half hours long. Still, it is a very well made movie and I did enjoy it quite a bit by the end.

I can’t but help think about Manchester by the Sea because it was a movie that essentially did the exact same thing this movie did with the true-to-life tragedy. Except it works here because it has a consistent story throughout and it has a point. Something it says right away with the first intertitle. This movie is about something and the plot moves forward and no scene is out of place or there for no reason. Thanks DW Griffith, you knew how to make a movie correctly. It’s too bad you’re so racist otherwise…

We follow the main character and she feels like a real person.¬†Speaking of which, the acting was great. Even though it’s a silent movie, everyone felt real even during some of the sillier bits. Also, though this movie was flooded with intertitles, and I’m not a fan of having too many, I never minded after I got used to them.

I also want to compliment the music, though I’m sure it was changed some to accommodate the missing footage, I thought it was just superb throughout. It perfectly complimented the movie, whether it was a funny scene, or scary, or sad, the music always matched.

I only have a couple complaints. First, that it was a bit slow in the beginning. I don’t think it had to spend as much time as it did introducing our protagonist especially since she doesn’t stay where she is for very long. Secondly, there was a dancing part that I felt probably didn’t have to take up as much of the film as it did and felt more like “see what we filmed” than an essential part of the story. Also, since they only play “Turkey in the Straw” during this part it’s the only section of the movie where the music falters.

Why you should watch it before you die: Because it’s really good, as far as silent movies go. Though I think the major plot point of having a kid out of wedlock might feel a bit dated, it’s a good look as how things used to be for women and how they had to live with a double-standard that society judges them on and… um, actually, I guess they still do. Sorry all women, my bad…


+10: a forgotten masterpiece, forgotten by me anyway

-0.5: dance sequence too long

-0.5: unnecessary introduction

+1: everything else is great


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