Conference by Jean-Pierre Berthomé
The great Babylonian set built in 1916 for David Wark Griffith’s Intolerance became immediately a cinema legend. According to many witnesses, it was vast enough to accomodate tens of thousands of extras (never more than one thousand in fact) and it required a specially-built 40 meters mobile tower to film it in its entirety (a fact attested by a photograph).
One hundred years later, the minutious analysis of old photographs, aided by 3D computer modeling, confirm its real dimensions (enormous indeed) and reveal the awesome illusionist trick which defied art direction historians for a century.
For if the set rises at some 30 meters and covers 240 meters in depth, it is still basically an illusion cleverly borrowed from the tricks of theatre.
What we understand today is that this colossal Babylonian set was less important to Griffith for its architectural extravagance than for its emphatic affirmation that nothing in cinema is impossible to bold entrepreneurs.