THE GIRL AND HER TRUST
Directed by D.W. Griffith, United States, 1912, approx. 15 minutes.
There really isn’t anywhere to begin but the beginning, so when examining any sort of film, short or otherwise, it’s probably a good idea to step back to one reelers, player pianos, and other silent shorts of the sort. D.W. Griffith is always a name to look to, and his The Girl and Her Trust is quite unrelenting and narrative and temporal editing, creating a dazzling first-generation thriller.
Trust’s narrative is quite simple: $2000 is being transported on the No. 7 Train, and tramps are out to get it by any means, including assaulting Grace, the young telegraphist girl on duty at the local train station. Clocking in right near 15 minutes, Trust even manages to garner the audience and love subplot, involving Grace and her beau.
As film is markedly concerned with time, being a medium where life is animated though reality suspended, it is impervious that shorts manage time with an absolute certainty, as an entire narrative must fit into the arc of only a few minutes. Griffith manages to make Trust really spectacular in this case, giving us multiple plot points (Grace’s draw on the men around her, the infatuation her coworker has for her, the danger of railway work, the tramp business, etc) to mull around. Griffith’s use of editing, particularly in the fireworks parade that is the train chase finale, lend to the suspense. The cuts are fast and move in and around the action, bringing the viewer from spectator to actor. Close ups of Grace hammering bullets through the key-hole in the door and the terrified look in her bewildered eyes allow the audience to particpate in the action more directly, suspending the time and reality of the film.
I think it would be safe to say that a good film is one that disregards reality yet initiates audiences in buying it. Steven Spielberg is rumored to have said on the set of Jaws, during an argument with author Peter Benchley about the explosive ending of the film, “If I’ve held their attention for two hours, they’ll believe anything I tell them now.” (which, of course, is true. Sharks don’t explode, but wow, what an ending!) This is even more important when dealing with short films; viewers shouldn’t realize they are watching only a fifteen minute sprint, but the whole marathon from beginning to end should bleed reality.
Griffith’s The Girl and Her Trust does this, for me at least. I am drawn in from the first frame until the last. Griffith’s use of a simple story (a ploy great directors like Hitchcock would use years later: Man thinks he sees murder. Man investigates. Man becomes entangled in a web of intrigue. The catch? He’s got a broken leg. Or, men murder friend. Men hold dinner party with the victims friends and family - and the body is in attendance as well!), along with his flair for editing action, immerse viewers into the stark black and white reality of the cinema, length remitted. Griffith achieves the goal of narrative cinema, to tell a story wisely and well, and achieves a key goal in short cinema, to never let the audience realize they aren't watching a "movie".