The House with Closed Shutters (1910)

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*. The Civil War was America’s epic, in the words of art critic Robert Hughes, its Iliad and its Holocaust. As such, I think it’s been mined in a superficial and even cynical manner over the years, but for a lot of great artists, especially from the South, it remains a part of the cultural mythology with incredible resonance. D. W. Griffith being one such individual.
*. This story here takes the form of a short gothic tale of horror, and Griffith tells it with great economy. The set up has three musketeer chums heading off to war only for one of them to turn into a “drink-mad coward” and run away. His place is taken by his sister who is then killed in battle. Back home, his mother shutters him inside the family homestead to hide the family shame while a pair of faithful suitors continue to pay visits, thinking that it is the sister who has become a recluse. In the final moments the brother dies and his mother reveals the horrible truth to the suitors.
*. Like I say, it’s a gothic tale of horror. Or at least the final part is (the movie has a fairly rigid three-part structure, with a rousing bit of Civil War action stuck in the middle).
*. I couldn’t help thinking of Misery, what with the trapped young man growing old in his mother’s house, slowly drinking himself to death and going dotty with cabin fever. That’s pretty morbid stuff.
*. Griffith was frustrated by the constraints of one-reelers running ten to fifteen minutes long. Even in a film like this you can sense the different angles to the story he’s not exploring.
*. The sister’s dressing room has the American Biograph studio logo (a stylized AB) prominently displayed on the wall. You’ll notice it appearing in a lot of the Biograph shorts. I wonder how intentional it was. These movies were shot quickly, but it’s hard to miss something like that and the studios were very keen on branding their product with company logos. After he left Biograph, Griffiths would insist on presenting his own “DG” logo as a sign of quality.

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