Plot: What’s it about?
Even when it is hidden under tattered rags and an impoverished exterior, beauty is still visible and always rises to the surface. This has never been more true than with Lucy Burrows (Lillian Gish), who has to wear ragged clothes and has no sense of a proper diet, as well being the victim of an abusive father, who works a prizefighter. In the same area as Lucy is a young man named Cheng (Richard Barthelmess), who ventured here to spread the word of Buddha, but found himself surrounded by intolerance and at times, even hatred. So he works as a shopkeeper and though his window, he has seen Lucy and despite her external look, he knows she is beautiful and deserves much better. But he never acts on his thoughts, until she passes out in front of his store, which prompts him to take her inside. Once he has carried her within his store, he gives her some nice silk clothes to wear and also fixes her a nice meal, both of which she hasn’t had in a long time. So she stays with Cheng for that night and as she sleeps, he watches over her with love and peace in his heart. But when Lucy’s father learns she has stayed with a foreigner, it seems their peace and love have come to a close.
I always like to check out new silent films releases, so as soon as D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms arrived, I gave it a quick spin. I know some people have complained about the use of white actors to play all the races, but in the end, all seem in fine form and I can’t understand all the ruckus. I mean, it might have been better to use real black or chinese actors, but it isn’t like this is some cinematic injustice by any means. As usual, D.W. Griffith (The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, The White Rose) directs a film that deals with minorities and such, but here I think the focus is on feminine issues. The topic of racism is still touched upon and dealt with, but the real issue here seems to be gender. Lillian Gish (The Night of The Hunter, Portrait of Jennie) plays the conflicted woman very well, which adds a lot to how well the film works in the end. I also like the performance of Richard Barthelmess (A Modern Hero) here, as he also works his character to a skillful turn. This will be of most interested to silent film lovers, but anyone interested in film as a whole should give this disc a look, it is well worth the asking price.
Video: How does it look?
Broken Blossoms is presented in the intended full frame form. This film was made in 1919 and as such, the source print shows some signs of age, but it still good enough to watch. I found the image to be very sharp overall, but the print has a lot of debris, scratches, and marks, which could prove to be a distraction for some viewers. But if you’re a frequent silent film viewer, I think you’ll be fine with this transfer, which turned out to be better than I expected. Some scenes are cleaner than others and some look pretty bad, but then again, some look very clean also. This is by no means a bad transfer or a bad print used, but the debris and damage is frequent in the end. Given the age and nature of this motion picture, I think this is a fine transfer and I think silent film fans will agree with me.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is a silent film, so the only audio present is a stereo musical score. The music seems to suit the material very well and in this mix, comes off in fine form indeed. The man behind the score is Joseph Turrin, who I am told by the package of this disc created the new score just for this release, which is cool. I found the music to be crisp, consistent, and above all else, effective and appropriate for this material. Not much else to discuss here, but in the end, this is a nice musical score.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes notes from the composer on the score, a text essay by D.W. Griffith on his leading ladies, an introduction by star Lillian Gish, a recording of Broken Blossoms’ theme, and the complete text from Thomas Burke’s original story, The Chink and The Child.