Henry K. Miller
Wednesday 19 April
D. W. Griffith appears on stage at the Scala Theatre to introduce his film Orphans of the Storm, starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish.
There had been a theatre on the site occupied by the Scala, on Charlotte Street, North Soho (or Fitzrovia), for 150 years, but it had not prospered in its most recent iteration, and had been in regular use for film shows since before the First World War. Orphans of the Storm, a melodrama of the French Revolution, had opened in March for a special season, as many of Griffith’s films had done since The Birth of a Nation opened at the same venue in 1915.
‘At one bound the Scala Theatre seems to have leapt from the position of the most unpopular to that of the most popular theatre in London,’ claimed the Daily Herald. ‘Goodge-street Tube Station is no longer a capital spot for a rest-cure. There are limousines in the Tottenham Court-road.’ The venue had been equipped for the occasion by Sidney Bernstein.
Hitchcock once referred to Orphans of the Storm as A Tale of Two Cities, and the keynote of Griffith’s public appearances during his week in London was the influence of Dickens: a Daily Express headline on the 19th, based on remarks Griffith had made on arrival at Southampton, ran ‘D. W. Griffith Reveals His Secret. | “I Owe To Dickens All I Know Of Film Technique.”’ In particular he credited Dickens with the technique of cross-cutting, which he used to build up suspense. Two decades later a Times article discussing his remarks was a major source for Eisenstein’s seminal essay ‘Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today’.
C. A. Lejeune, who met Griffith at least twice during his visit, discussed the relative anonymity of film directors, after observing Griffith’s ability ‘to go in and out of the Savoy without molestation’. ‘Seldom does his name appear on posters or programme, yet, to the knowing, it is the one name all-important, more vital than the firm for whom he is working, more vital than the “star” herself.’ Motion Picture Studio, likewise, said that his visit had made the public perceive ‘for the first time the all-importance of the director to the films for which he is responsible’.
On the 25th, the night before his departure, Griffith spoke again from the Scala stage, to ‘say something about the lesson on Bolshevism he had tried to teach’, reported the Evening Standard.