January 22: Happy Birthday D. W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein


Today is going to be Pioneers of Film Day here at le Blog.

David Wark “D. W.” Griffith (1875-1948) dropped out of high school at about 14 years of age to support his family, and eventually found work with traveling theater companies.  From there he went to work for the early film company Biograph, and eventually found himself directing hundreds of one-reel short films for them.  One of them, In Old California, was the first film shot in Hollywood.

During his time at Biograph, Griffith developed important filmmaking techniques, such as the close-up, fade-ins and fade-outs, and cross-cutting.  He brought this then-new filmmaking language to full bloom in his epic features The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance—the former one of the most controversial great works of art ever made, the latter something of a response from Griffith to his critics.  He then became one of the founders of United Artists, where he made films such as Broken Blossoms and Way Down East.  However, as the 1920s advanced, he found commercial success hard to come by, and he directed his last film in 1931.

One of the many film greats who admired and was influenced by Griffith was Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948).  Eisenstein studied architecture and engineering, but left his university to join the Red Army in 1918.  After displaying a talent for producing propaganda, he began to direct in theater, and then film, in the early 1920s.  His first feature, Strike, was followed by Battleship Potemkin, which won him worldwide acclaim.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Eisenstein found negotiating the political currents of Stalinist Russia difficult.  He was in disfavor for several years, part of which he spent in the West, but was allowed to “rehabilitate” himself by directing Alexander Nevsky in the late 1930s.  He went on to make Ivan the Terrible (a trilogy, only two parts of which survive), in the 1940s, before succumbing to heart disease and dying at 50.  Eisenstein is associated with a number of important film techniques, above all montage, one example of which came in Battleship Potemkin.

Linda Blair, who turns 59 today, has had a long screen career, but will almost certainly be remembered most for her Golden Globe winning, Oscar-nominated role as Regan MacNeil in The ExorcistBalthazar Getty, who is 43, began his career starring in the 1990 adaptation of Lord of the Flies, and more recently was a regular as Tommy Walker on Brothers & SistersChristopher Masterson, best known for playing oldest son Francis on Malcolm in the Middle, is 38.

Michael Cristofer, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony for his 1977 play The Shadow Box, is 73.  He is currently a regular on Mr. Robot as Philip Price.  Justin Hurwitz, who won Oscars and Golden Globes for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for La La Land, is 33 today.

Michael Hutchence (1960-1997) was the lead vocalist and lyricist of the Australian rock band INXS, who had several successful albums and singles in the 1980s.

A pair of famous figures of Elizabethan England were born on this date (although one birth date is a bit uncertain).  Francis Bacon (1561-1626, later Viscount St. Alban) was one of the giants of Renaissance science, sometimes considered the founder of the scientific method.  He also served as Attorney General and then Lord High Chancellor under James I.  Today is a commonly proposed birth date of Sir Walter Raleigh (1552/54-1618), a poet, courtier and explorer.  He is remembered for sponsoring the first, unsuccessful attempt at an English colony in North American, the “Lost Colony” on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.

Last year, Diane Lane and John Hurt were the headliners on this date.

Diane Lane celebrates her 53rd.  She returned to the role of Martha Kent in Justice League, and played Audrey Felt in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White HouseSir John Hurt (1940-2017) died of pancreatic cancer last January, just a few days after his 77th birthday.

John Wesley Shipp, who is 63, continues to appear on The Flash as both Henry Allen and Jay Garrick.  Beverley Mitchell, who starred as herself on the Pop network docu-comedy Hollywood Darlings, celebrates her 37th birthday.  Katie Finneran, who is 47, returned to the role of Belle Rayburn for the final season of BloodlineGabriel Macht, who is turning 46, continues to star on USA Network’s SuitsSami Gayle, who is 22 today, remains a regular on CBS’s Blue BloodsPiper Laurie is 86 today; she returns to the big screen for the first time in nearly a decade in the summer release White Boy Rick.

If today is your birthday, congratulations on sharing your big day with these notable names.  Birthday wishes to everyone celebrating a big day today.  Come back tomorrow for more celebrity birthdays.


Posted on January 22, 2018, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. So, some big names from the early days of film today. I saw Griffith’s Birth of a Nation in a US Civil War course in college and have watched it again a couple of times, and I’ve also seen his Broken Blossoms. Eisenstein I know from having seen Alexander Nevsky, which as I recall was pretty good.

    I can recall a time when Linda Blair was involved in some controversial material—not just The Exorcist, but a TV movie from around that time that involved a fairly graphic sexual assault scene.


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