Variation on the sunbeam

In this video essay that might well have inspired Davide Rapp’s Secret Gateways, a D.W. Griffith classic is taken apart, then reassembled to reveal its inner workings. In doing so, Biscay-born Aitor Gametxo Zabala finds an elegant way to shine a light on some of the typical visual and temporal strategies of silent cinema.


This video essay takes the 1912 Griffith short The Sunbeam as its starting point. That Biograph production is a sentimental story set completely indoors: three rooms and a stairwell are the main locations. Those locations are rearranged here in a six-part mosaic. This straightforward spatial reordering reveals the dollhouse quality of Griffith’s staging: all rooms are filmed wall to wall, with the connecting doors serving as borders to the film frame (and as markers for Griffith’s match on action cutting).


Aitor Gametxo not only reconstructs the spatial integrity of this movie’s location, but also its narrative timeline. Simultaneous situations that were divided up into consecutive shots in the original silent film, are here rejoined in time. They are played concurrently, each occupying their own position in the essay’s mosaic. The result is that we get a clear idea of just how much Griffith used his time-expanding technique: whereas the original film clocks in at over 14 minutes, this remix brings that length down to ten minutes.