The director D.W. Griffith is probably best remembered for his 1915 epic, "The Birth of a Nation," the most ambitious and commercially successful film made in the United States to that point.
The drama, about the Civil War and Reconstruction, is so appallingly racist in its depiction of African Americans that it is difficult and distasteful to sit through, and contemporary viewers may be forgiven for wondering at Griffith's exalted reputation.
But if Griffith was a flawed giant, he was a giant all the same.
One of his more famous films is "Way Down East" (1920), with heroine Lillian Gish riding the ice floes down the Connecticut River. An argument could be made that "The Avenging Conscience" (1914) was the first great horror film. "Sally of the Sawdust" (1925) is one of Griffith's rare comedies, featuring W.C. Fields in one of his first roles.
Griffith also directed a much more measured and compassionate take on the Civil War, "Abraham Lincoln" (1930), the first of only two sound films Griffith made, with Walter Huston as an appropriately stately and beneficent hero. The last film Griffith made, "The Struggle" (1931), is a gritty, unflinching study of alcoholism.
Directing most of his films from memory, without a script, he launched the careers of several child actresses, including Gish, Bessie Love, Mae Marsh, Carol Dempster and Mary Pickford. Relishing his image as the strong, confident and faintly aloof father figure, Griffith encouraged professional rivalry for his attentions among his leading ladies.