I watched my first D.W. Griffith movie last night. No, it wasn’t Intolerance or even Birth of a Nation, it was his follow-up to Intolerance, called Broken Blossoms. It is a much more low budget, intimate movie than his previous two blockbusters. It also featured some of the seediest characters and controversial themes of the silent movie era. It still surprises me how much more daring the movie from that era were than say, movies from the 50s, or even the 80s to some extent.
I had read about the infamous “closet scene” from Broken Blossoms and was eager to see it. Apparently upon first viewing, producers were shocked and one even left the room to vomit. Of course it is pretty tame by today’s standards, but it is still pretty shocking in it’s psychological violence. The most interesting thing to me was that it is apparent that Stanley Kubrick, a recipient of The D.W. Griffith Award, blatantly adapted the closet scene for the famous “Here’s Johnny!” scene in The Shining. Kubrick’s scene is naturally much more horrifying, but you can clearly see the similarities, mostly in the use of the hatchet/axe, in the grotesque facial contortions and screams of the actresses, and in the claustrophobic environments.
Let’s compare the two (SPOILER ALERTS!!!)
Broken Blossoms (around 2:00 is where the main action begins)
It’s hard to enter the mind state of the typical movie-goer from 1919, but I’d imagine the closet scene would be pretty horrifying. And I’d imagine that the scene from the Shining would make their heads explode.