David Llewelyn Wark "D. W." Griffith (January 22 1875 – July 23, 1948) was a premier pioneering Academy Award-winning American film director. He is best known as the director of the groundbreaking 1915 film The Birth of a Nation and the subsequent film Intolerance (1916).
Griffith played a number of roles as an actor before agreeing to move behind the camera as a director at the Biograph Company. During his five years at Biograph, Griffith took the raw elements of moviemaking as they had evolved up to that time -- lighting, continuity, editing, acting -- and wrought a medium of extraordinary power and nuance. Early short films such as A CORNER IN WHEAT (1909), FIGHTING BLOOD (1911), and UNDER BURNING SKIES (1912) show the hallmarks of Griffith’s style already emerging: crosscut editing to build tension, acute observation of details to heighten reality, and the use of the camera as a vehicle for expounding his views on society. Determined to get beyond the short format films, he left Biograph and began working on what would be his most famous production.
Made in 1915, BIRTH OF A NATION was the first masterpiece of cinema, bringing to film the status accorded to the visual and performing arts. A story of the Civil War, BIRTH OF A NATION captured the violence, the spectacle, and the excitement of the war. Using extreme and dramatic camera angles and complexly interweaved edits, the film brought an event to life unlike any film had done before. The film, however beautiful, was a sad testament to the deep prejudice of the times and black audiences were outraged by the racist distortion of history. Viewed as a contributor to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the film caused riots in a number of black communities.
As the 1920s roared on, Griffith’s films seemed more and more old-fashioned, and no longer appealed to the younger audiences. A Victorian storyteller, he had become temperamentally and artistically out of sync with his times. Though he had almost single-handedly invented the art of modern cinema, Griffith spent the last fifteen years of his life unable to find work. On July 23, 1948 he died in a small Los Angeles hotel. In the wake of his death and the coming of age of the movie industry, D.W. Griffith has taken his place in American cultural history as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.