10 Things About The Birth of a Nation
If you’re going to love silent cinema or if you’re going to make a study of the early development of movies, you’re gonna have to butt heads with D.W. Griffith. And you’re going to have to come to some kind of truce with The Birth of a Nation.
We all know the problems with that movie. We know, okay! But Griffith was a pioneer, one of those guys in the early history of cinema who seemed to just know how to do things which didn’t actually exist yet. The list of techniques and innovations that he pioneered is long. Even if Griffith didn’t invent, he’s often largely responsible for synthesizing them into the whole that we now know as film syntax. Yeah, he did that. He also introduced the dominance of the feature length film (often in his case, the epic length film).
For me personally, there’s something inherently unlikable about D.W. Griffith. I can’t put my finger on it, exactly. He’s a pompous ass? He’s patronizing? His personality is a bit distasteful and it often punches through on the film. (I have the same feelings about Orson Welles (I know, I know – send hate mail to idon’firstname.lastname@example.org.) However, more often, Griffith’s films are exciting, still fresh, and somehow modern – despite the shadow of racism, the avuncular misogyny, and the teeth rotting Victorian sentimentalism.
The Birth of a Nation is tough, I suppose. As the always insightful Silent Czarina recently pointed out to me, this is a movie that makes you cheer for the KKK. Indeed it does. Though as a nice gal from Alabama, the first time I saw it, after osmosing all the cultural hype, I actually thought, “It’s not that bad. I’ve seen worse racism.” Keeping in mind that The Birth of a Nation premiered a mere 50 years after the end of the American Civil War, when the South was still being crushed under the harsh requirements of Reconstruction, a film fantasy about a different, more heroic outcome from a nice Kentucky boy isn’t that out of bounds.
So let’s put aside our differences today and extend the forgiveness often required by time and place. The Birth of a Nation premiered on February 8, 1915 is Los Angeles, CA.
What do you think about The Birth of a Nation? Let us know in the comments!