D.W. Griffith's 1916 masterpiece, described by Pauline Kael as "perhaps the greatest movie ever made and the greatest folly in movie history," cuts among four stories linked by images of Lillian Gish and a quote from Whitman ("Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking . . ."). "The Nazarene" stars Bessie Love, "The Medieval Story" involves the 1572 Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre of the Huguenots, "The Fall of Babylon" features Constance Talmadge, Elmo Lincoln, Seena Owen, Tully Marshall, and eye-popping sets, and "The Mother and the Law" is an exciting contemporary story starring Mae Marsh and Robert Harron. Probably the most influential of all silent films after The Birth of a Nation
launched ideas about associative editing that have been essential to the cinema ever since, from Soviet montage classics to recent American experimental films. And in the use of crosscutting and action to generate suspense, the film's climax hasn't been surpassed.
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The silent classic screens through October at Gene Siskel Film Center.