Monday, April 7, 2008

3. The Birth Of A Nation - 1915

Director: D. W. Griffith

Synopsis: Two families, one from opposing sides in the US Civil War, are followed during the war and through the reconstruction. After black people are given the vote, they upset white people. The southern family is part of the genesis of the Ku Klux Klan who beat the black people in every conceivable sense. The KKK stops black people from voting by spending election day outside the black area of town with guns (see still above). A big parade is held for the KKK and Jesus literally descends from heaven in the dreams of one newly married couple. I'm not making this up.

Review: From a technical standpoint, this movie is better than the previous movies in literally EVERY ASPECT. Set design? Better. Narrative structure and scope? Better. Mise en scène? Better. Costume design? Better. Acting? Better. Camera work? Better. Special effects? Better. Literally everything? Better.

Film has made technical steps since The Birth Of A Nation, but so much can be traced back to was Griffith did with this movie. Griffith was truly a visionary. How far ahead of everything preceding it A Trip To The Moon was is the same thing for The Birth Of A Nation. It's actually hard to cover how big this movie would have been at the time.

The first half of this movie is a reasonable recreation of the Civil War and its affect on two families on opposing sides. The battles are intense. The story is solid enough. The whole thing works exactly as it should. Audiences were probably amazed at the realism.

The second half of the movie has one serious flaw: it is completely racist. It doesn't end with black face (black face is the least of its flaws). It doesn't even end with the negative portrayal of black people as generally pretty bad people overall. The Ku Klux Klan is portrayed as a savior of the south/nation. Every time you think "That's pretty terrible" something worse comes along.

White people become self imprisoned with all of the trouble cause by black people. The Ku Klux Klan is the only way stop being "disfranchised" by black people. Once the black people are finally beaten back into submission, the white people throw a parade in the Ku Klux Klan's honor. It's maddening that such a great technical film is wasted on this pro-racism message.

A good movie could be made about the creation of the Ku Klux Klan. This is not it. I would have preferred a something that didn't give judgment on them. It presented the facts and that's it. Again, this is not it. As a reminder, here is Jesus superimposed over the crowds post-KKK "victory." Ugh.
You can see a really really crappy, slightly shortened, version here. I don't recommend it because it's so crappy looking you can't tell what's going on.

Score: 8/10

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