Poster for the classic film. Courtesy of Jon Sonneborn

“Broken Blossoms,” a stunning lyrical film about inter-racial love, was a box-office hit in 1919. A hundred and four years later we’ll be screening it at the Easton Public Library as the first in our fall-winter series of great film dramas.

This remarkable work by D.W. Griffith was so much ahead of its time that Adolph Zukor, one of the founders of Paramount Pictures, who had first rights to distribute the film, passed on it after a screening, certain the film’s provocative inter-racial theme and dark moodiness were not commercially viable. It was one of the few times Zukor’s business intuition failed him. “Broken Blossoms” became the first movie released by a brand-new distribution company, United Artists, and earned over $600,000 ($10,500,000 in 2023 dollars).

Come join us Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Easton Library for a short lecture about the career of D.W. Griffith, followed by a screening of a beautiful copy (complete with musical score) of one of Cinema’s treasures: D.W. Griffith’s “Broken Blossoms.”

Griffith was one of the most talented and controversial figures in Hollywood history, best remembered for his film spectacles including the highly racist “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) and its follow-up “Intolerance” (1917), each with casts of hundreds and running times in excess of three hours.

“Broken Blossoms” stands in quiet contrast. Small and intimate in scale, only 90 minutes long, there are but three main actors. The scenes: atmospheric and evocative. The story: the universal transcendence of love. The acting: the two leads are effectively nuanced and restrained until quite suddenly, they are explosive. Lillian Gish’s performance as an abused child who finds sanctuary in the home of a Chinese neighbor is as moving and chilling today as it was in 1919.

Indeed, “Broken Blossoms” is one of Griffith’s greatest films, providing an outstanding example of his ability to bring characters alive with a quiet soulfulness.

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