Works featuring "torture" (11)

The Nihilist


The most interesting aspect is the subject chosen: a woman joining the Nihilist movement as a reaction to police repression in Tsarist Russia. The film shows a clear empathy for terrorist action, which is an unusual theme in early cinema and shows the freedom which existed in American cinema at the time.

In the previous year, the same director and production company released a film that shows a clear empathy for armed resistance against a police attack, committed by producers/dealers of illegal recreational drugs: The Moonshiner. In both films, the title cards refer to the government undercover agent as a “spy” - thus making it clear where the viewer's sympathy should be directed.

The White Caps

The two men renown as pioneers of early US cinema, Edwin S. Porter and D.W. Griffith, shared another claim to fame/infamy: each created a work inspired by Thomas Dixon Jr.'s 1905 The Clansman. Griffith's 1915 film The Birth of a Nation was adapted from the stage version of the novel. Edwin S. Porter was inspired by the novel to create this film. According to Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company, Edison advertisements held a pro-vigilante view, proclaiming: A lawless and criminal element almost invariably accompanied the advance guard of civilization and to keep this element in check the law abiding citizens were compelled to secretly organize themselves for their own protection...We have portrayed in Motion Pictures, in a most vivid and realistic manner, the method employed by the “White Caps” to rid the community of undesirable citizens.

While the White Caps role here as Morality Police may seem relatively benign compared to the lynch justice in The Birth of a Nation, the book also points out: This film narrative exactly parallels an earlier account of “White Cap” activity in a turn-of-the-century newspaper. In the newspaper account, the tar clogged up the man's pores and he eventually died.

That Chink At Golden Gulch

Who could pass up a title like that? After all, over a century later ESPN was still relying on chink power to grab eyeballs with its “Chink in the Armor” headline for a Jeremy Lin story. Here, reknown Massa of ethnology D.W. Griffith spins a tale of a Noble Pagan who “though a saffron-skinned Pagan, his soul is white and real red blood pulsates his heart” the Moving Picture World synopsis tells us. The Moving Picture World review however was a bit less sentimental: “Perhaps if everyone could see such heroic self-sacrifice in a Chinaman as this one displayed, the aversion which most men feel toward them would disappear. It is doubtful, however, if such unselfishness and generosity abide in more than an occasional individual. The picture is not up to the Biograph standard...” - which already sets the bar quite low.