Mothering Heart (1913)
This short melodrama by Griffith has certain elements of the “lost girl” melodramas of the period, and also demonstrates considerable technical sophistication, particularly in terms of camera angles and editing. Lillian Gish (we’ve seen her in several Griffith films at this point, including “An Unseen Enemy” and “The Musketeers of Pig Alley”) stars as a young woman with a “natural” mothering instinct, demonstrated by her affection for puppies and love of flowers. She is wooed, “against her better judgment,” as the intertitle says, by Walter Miller (also in “The Musketeers” and later “The Shadow of the Eagle,” with John Wayne), a young man struggling to make a living. Once he has a little success, he throws her over for a more exciting woman he meets in a restaurant/night club, and poor Lillian, pregnant, moves back in with her mother. The child becomes ill, and the husband realizes the error of his ways too late to prevent tragedy. The most remarkable scenes are those in the night club, where an Apache dance is performed. Rather than simply framing the whole thing as a stage, as would have been typical, Griffith’s cameraman shows us at least four different angles, editing them together to show the stage, close up action at two tables, and the whole place in a long shot. From what I’ve read about the technique of the time, it’s possible that they had two or three cameras running simultaneously to get this effect, similar to the way live television would be shot decades later.
Director: D.W. Griffith
Camera: Billy Bitzer
Run Time: 23 Min.
You can watch it for free: here.