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David W. Griffith and His Wings of Fortune
by Stanley Kubrick

DGA award

A picture of DGA Award, given to Steven Spielberg in 2000.

Good evening. I'm sorry not to be able to be with you tonight, to receive this great honor of the D.W. Griffith Award, but I'm in London making Eyes Wide Shut with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. At just about this time I'm probably in the car on the way to the studio, which, as it happens, reminds me of a conversation I had with Steven Spielberg, about what was the most difficult and challenging thing about directing a film. And I believe Steven summed it up about as profoundly as you can. He thought the most difficult and challenging thing about directing a film was getting out of the car. I'm sure you all know the feeling.

But at the same time, anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that, although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling.

I think there is an intriguing irony in naming the lifetime achievement award after D.W. Griffith, because his career was both an inspiration and a cautionary tale. His best films will always rank among the most important films ever made, and some of them made him a great deal of money. He was instrumental in transforming movies from a nickelodeon novelty to an art form, and he originated and formalized much of the syntax of moviemaking now taken for granted. He became an international celebrity, and his patronage included many of the world's leading artists and statesmen of the time.

But Griffith was always ready to take tremendous risks in his films and in his business affairs. He was always ready to fly too high. And in the end, the wings of fortune proved, for him, like those of Icarus, to be made of nothing more substantial than wax and feathers. And like Icarus, when he flew too close to the sun, they melted, and the man whose fame exceeded the most illustrious filmmakers of today, spent the last 17 years of his life shunned by the film industry he had created.

I've compared Griffith's career to the Icarus myth, but at the same time I have never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, "don't try to fly too high", or whether it might also be thought of as "forget the wax and feathers, and do a better job on the wings".

One thing, however, is certain: D.W. Griffith left us with an inspiring and intriguing legacy, and the award in his name is one of the greatest honors a film director can receive. Something for which I humbly thank all of you very much.

DGA Magazine, June 1997

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