The Birth of a Nation
(G, 3:07:07, Released 1915)
|Release Date:||Mar 3, 1915|
|DVD Release Date:||Jun 29, 2004|
|Starring:||Henry B. Walthall, Miriam Cooper, Mae Marsh, Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Ralph Lewis, Wallace Reid, George Siegmann, George Andre Beranger, Monte Blue|
|Directed by:||D.W. Griffith|
|Synopsis:||The most successful and artistically advanced film of its time, The Birth of a Nation has also sparked protests, riots, and divisiveness since its first release. The film tells the story of the Civil War and its aftermath, as seen through the eyes of two families. The Stonemans hail from the North, the Camerons from the South. When war breaks out, the Stonemans cast their lot with the Union, while the Camerons are loyal to Dixie. After the war, Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall), distressed that his beloved south is now under the rule of blacks and carpetbaggers, organizes several like-minded Southerners into a secret vigilante group called the Ku Klux Klan. When Cameron's beloved younger sister Flora (Mae Marsh) leaps to her death rather than surrender to the lustful advances of renegade slave Gus (Walter Long), the Klan wages war on the new Northern-inspired government and ultimately restores "order" to the South. In the original prints, Griffith suggested that the black population be shipped to Liberia, citing Abraham Lincoln as the inspiration for this ethnic cleansing. Showings of Birth of a Nation were picketed and boycotted from the start, and as recently as 1995, Turner Classic Movies cancelled a showing of a restored print in the wake of the racial tensions around the O.J. Simpson trial verdict. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi|
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My Friends' Reviews
Other Top Reviews
August 3, 2013
The greatest American movie ever made.
Full review coming to themoviefreakblog.com on 8/30
fb732260458November 6, 2012
Ignore the five star rating I gave to "The Birth of a Nation" and let's not even discuss it, for ratings are wholly irrelevant in the context of this film. A culmination of all knowledge gained during the silent film era, this D. W. Griffith landmark is as much part of American history as the Civil War, and its impact on our society as well as American cinema cannot be overstated. The camera and storytelling techniques pioneered in the making of "Nation" have influenced nearly every film that came after it, and modern cinema owes a great debt to the director for his unwavering vision and talent. However, I cannot say that I enjoyed the film, as "Nation" is clearly a direct reflection of the director's deeply racist opinions, and is simply put a morally reprehensible affair. Nevertheless, it is permanent blemish in the pages of our American history, and it must be confronted; discussion and reflection are the preferred methods, not blissful ignorance.
March 17, 2012
Who needs Adolf Hitler when you've got D.W. Griffith? After 20 odd years of suspicious curiosity, I finally put three hours aside to watch America's very own Nazi propaganda film, "The Birth of a Nation." It is sickening to hear this piece of filth described as a touchstone of American cinema.
The story is told in two parts: The Civil War and Reconstruction. In the first part, the movie sides with the South, but it doesn't demonize the North. In fact, President Lincoln is presented in a rather rosy hue. His murder, which is staged in the movie, is presented as a tragedy.
But in the second part, the agents of Reconstruction are demonized the way the Nazis portrayed Jews. Black men are portrayed as "crazed negroes" (to quote a term used on one of the title cards) and lust-mad rapists terrorizing white women and girls. In one of about 100 jaw-droppingly disgusting sequences, a black man is depicted as chasing a white teenage girl through the woods. The terrified girl throws herself off a cliff rather than allow herself to be captured and raped by the man. Griffith actually films the girl plummeting to her death, her body slamming into the rocks below, just for maximum effect.
Lillian Gish plays one of the major characters, a woman who must be rescued by the Klan when a mixed-race political leader kidnaps her, attempting to force her to marry him.
The central message of the film is to celebrate the formation of Ku Klux Klan and the return of black Americans to second-class status after the brief period of Reconstruction. In one of the final scenes, a line of Klansmen on horseback stands outside a polling place, preventing black men from entering. This is presented as a good thing, keeping black men from voting.
Part of me thinks that all copies of this film should be destroyed just as a purification ritual. But another part believes the film should be seen, if only to expose how much sickness there was in American society in the early 20th century. America likes to think of itself as largely responsible for ridding the world of Nazism. But a substantial portion of the white men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War 2 had a Nazi mentality themselves. If they were German, they would have loved Hitler.
Let's not forget that "Birth of a Nation" was a gigantic hit. It not only played throughout 1915, it was also revived in most areas of the country (not just the South) annually for special return engagements. White America loved "Birth" more than any other movie of its time. It was their "Wizard of Oz," to be watched over and over.
I will never look at D.W. Griffith the same way again. In my view, he should be described as America's very own Hitler.
November 28, 2011
Now we come to a film where one really has to grapple internally with how to rate it. After seeing something like this, you think to yourself 'do I give it an honest rating based on how I feel about it, or do I rate it based solely on what it means for cinema in general?' Most ratings fall somewhere in between for most people, and as for myself, it does just that when it comes to The Birth of a Nation. D.W. Griffith's landmark epic has been steeped in controversy since it first hit screens in 1915. Griffith was more surpised than anyone that people would take offense to his film, overshadowing not just the film itself, but the man and his career. Being blind to reason, he didn't realize just how controversial it was. Full of enough racism to make even the most monstrous bigot scratch his head, it's a wonder that this film is still around over 100 years later. To be fair, it is cosmetically unique and interesting - just looking back at the era it was made in, and the storytelling qualities of silent films. However, times do change and time hasn't been very kind to this film. What worked then doesn't work now and the film is rather ineffective outside of it being very offensive (not that I was offended by it, but you understand what I mean). It's certainly an important film and should definitely be kept alive (and seen by as many people as possible), but don't expect to be blown away by a hidden masterpiece. It isn't that. What it is is a great curiousity, directed by a man who championed filmmaking as an artform. For that reason alone, the film bears merit.
February 26, 2011
Divided into two parts, the first part of the film concerns the path of the Civil War and then into the second part, which follows Reconstruction when the blacks are freed and gain their rights. Controversy begins when the blacks are portrayed by whites in minstrel-style blackface and shown as all being angry, drunk, murdering, lecherous sexual deviants who aim to kill all whites and take over the south. The "heroes" here are the KKK, formed to hold off blacks and keep the caucasian race in power. Extremely one-sided in its views, the film gives some great performances by its cast, but the lack of visual dialogue makes it near-impossible to follow most everything anyone is saying. Still, an important part of early filmmaking considered an early blockbuster.
February 14, 2011
It almost seems fitting that America's first full length feature film was so controversial that people are still taking about it today. Talking about it and getting it all wrong that is. The group that will tell you it's racist are generally the group who haven't seen it. Face it America, you have a racist history, you're not alone though, we all do, it's just that you're is more recent. The world has watched America, a young country, go through the paces at breakneck speed and this film brings that development to life brilliantly. Everything that happens in the film is based on fact. The black men are portrayed unfortunately but I believe this to be nothing more than an error in judgement and not born from Racism. It's fairly obvious today that Griffith never really got his message across and this film is destined to be misunderstood for years to come, even though he made Intolerance a few years later! He does however point out the true misunderstandings that lead to racist atrocities and you will find that there are corrupt white men behind most of them! It's fair to say also that Lynch did more hard than good and that understanding comes after making a few mistakes along the way - It's what we learn from them that counts! Watch the film before you judge it, the KKK are not glorified what so ever, so please don't believe everything you hear about this film, judge for yourselves!
Back to the film - It's all good, a real triumph - D W Griffith is the father of the Feature Motion Picture without a doubt. My favourite part was the assassination of Lincoln, Booth lurking in the shadows was beautifully filmed. A very important film that everyone should see!
September 16, 2010
Today it is still hard to believe that Griffith ever made this movie. I wouldn't recommend watching this movie unless you're watching it for research.
September 14, 2010
Mind-numbing, soulless and gratingly offensive, The Birth of a Nation is nonetheless one of American film culture's most important, if not the most important, landmarks. I recognize and value the incredible craftsmanship and innovation that went into it, but I'm ecstatic that I never have to watch it again.
May 14, 2010
I give this rating with reservations. It is indeed a tremendous motion picture. D.W. Griffith used many MANY groundbreaking film techniques that are standard in the business now. Excellent performances throughout, and the Civil War battle scenes seem as real as anything done today. Griffith deserves every accolade he received for this film. A landmark film.
That's the good news. Now for the bad. Be prepared to be shaken to the core by the way the Ku Klux Klan are portrayed...not as the disgusting hatemongers they were (and are), but rather as heroes who rescue and protect the country from the evil influences and corruptions of the black race (the film's perspective, not mine). One can argue that Griffith, being a Southerner, was a product of his raising and the times, but it's still VERY difficult to watch how the KKK are showered with glory in a parade thrown for them. This film caused riots at the time it was released, and even though it is an important picture and should be seen, would likely cause a similar reaction if released today. Still a must-see from a technical standpoint, but a real kick in the chest from a philosophical standpoint.
September 14, 2009
It's seen as an epic film, that changed film history, however, I can not get past the overt racism that claws at my deep sown ethics and morals so badly that I just cannot look past it. Sorry.
June 18, 2009
My rating is heavily inflated, becaue I'm not letting my personal feelings override the importance of this film. Yeah, I know this film is racist, and controversial,(even by today's standards). Yes, this film is pushing 100 years old, and being that dated, it really shows. Yes, this film is propaganda, and yeah, I recognize that it purposely gets hiistory wrong to make its point. I didn't inflate it for these reasons. None of what I mentioned so far bothers me. I accept it. What bothers me is that this film is overrated, and I gave up doing a lot to make myself watch it. I've seen far longer films, but this is really pretty boring a lot of the time. True, there are some really neat war scenes, and some exciting stuff later on, but a lot of it is really melodramatic and meandering. However, as dated, racist, and boring as this movie is, it is still great. It is an important film. For it's time, it was really innovative, and for the longest time, the film was extremely influential. How influential this film still is is something unknown to me, but hey, it's 2009 and I was compelled to watch it, so I guess that counts for something. The film, as I said, is innovative. For a product from 1915, I was impressed with how it was all pulled off without advanced special effects or CGI. Being that it's a silent film, music is crucial, but even then, I found the use of the music to go above and beyond at times in terms of the effect it was suposed to have. Unfortunately, this film will offend and/or bore most people who watch it. I've admitted it, but even then there are still some things about it that are aesthetically pleasing (and I'm ignoring the fact that the film is racist propaganda-I'm not a hater, so don't think that). Even though this is not a film for everybody, it should still be seen by everybody, if possible, due it's important role in the history of cinema and culture. See, this is one of those times where I let my degree in history influence my decisions, but hey, I did say that I enjoyed some of it in general (and not from a scholarly POV). Bottom line, put all the racism aside (if you can) and, if possible, see this film. Cinema was never the same after it was released.
May 25, 2012
I just watched an over three-hour long 1915 silent film about the Civil War, the Lincoln assassination and a newly restored United States' subsequent Reconstruction era and the simultaneous formation of the KKK. There, that should probably tell you how much free time I have on my hands. Really, what I should be worrying about the most is whether or not this review secures my stance that Alabama is not filled to the rim with racists anymore, and really I don't think that this film is making it all that fair, because even the most ignorant hole in West Virginia is going to get uncomfortable watching this film. Well, really, come on, what did you expect? This is a 1915 film by a man from Kentucky that's about the Ku Klux Klan, so the racism in this film is anything but subtle, and the protagonistic tone over the KKK isn't making things any more comfortable. Hey say what you will about those maniacs, becuase lord knows I will, seeing as how [b][u]"Alabama is not racist"[/u][/b], but they sure make for a fairly decent watch in a movie. Still, if you're thinking that an over three-hour long 1915 silent film about the Civil War, the Lincoln assassination and a newly restored United States' subsequent Reconstruction era and the simultaneous formation of the KKK won't lose you here and there, then maybe you movie buffs should cut back a bit on Terrence Malick films and lower the standards for dullness.
It's been noted that this film broke ground with its inventive narrative methods, some of which stand prominent today, and I have to say that if D. W. Griffith's the one who came up with overdrawn scenes of nothingness in a failed attempt at exposition, then racism doesn't appear to be this film's only issue. I understand that they had stuff along those lines everywhere back then, yet those pieces of nothingness were often for the sake of fluff with no subtlety. This film makes an early attempt at a manipulating the nothingness to actually supplement the subtlety, and that is a method that hardly works now, let alone back in 1915, yet it's a method that feels just as cocky no matter what time you're in. Hey, even things do get silly, due to the time (As really pretty as Lillian Gish was, if you thought that a lot of actresses were terrible from the 30s to 60s, then just wait until you see the actresses of the '10s, back when the only thing they could do was expressiveness), you'd be hard pressed to find a groundbreaking film at an unsubtle and underdeveloped time in cinematic history that's not cocky, yet that doesn't make the overbearing tone any less dated and discomforting. The same can be said about the racial overtones and glorification of radicalism, which I find problematic on a personal level for obvious reasons (*cough*Ala*cough*bama*cough*not*cough*racist*cough*) and problematic on a critical level, as the messages of the film, whether they be moral or not - and boy, are they not -, are rather forceful in their delivery, and I understand that the limitations of the time tainted subtlety, yet that doesn't keep it from being a fault in the film. That excuse certainly isn't helped by the fact that the film, even with its faults and lapses in subtlety, still has a certain subtle grace about it that was unheard of at the time, and remains engaging to this day. Sure, maybe the newfound methods of subtlety were quite faulty in their prototype stage, certainly to where the film is rendered unable to transcend to a terribly upstanding point, yet through all of its faults, the film engages through its inventive methods, some of which impress to this day.
Stylistically, the film is considerably more impressive than expected, boasting production designs that stand as elaborate and convincing (The Lincoln makeup effect on Joseph Henabery is a particularly impressive production piece), while not in-your-face to the point of damaging the substance within the film. The production handsomely captures the look of the time, while G.W. Bitzer's then-hardly paralleled and now-still rather impressive cinematography captures the scope, as well as the intimacy with the story in many spots. Still, what might very well engage the most of D. W. Griffith's direction, which was limited at the time and is still problematic in a deal of both critical and personal regards, yet does what it can with a kind of subtlety that was both underlooked and faulty at the time, yet more often than not engages, particularly when Griffith plays with the filmmaking limitations of the time. The full-screen tinting gives the film character and visual dynamicity while supplementing tone, and the score breathes livliness and resonance into the film to mostly compensate for the silence and only a few commendable and ageless expressive performances. For this, credit not only goes out to the components of the production, but Griffith's structure of the film that plays with its components in a fashion that gave a glimpse into the now widely practiced technique of marrying production into substance, whether than simply putting on a show. The film's methods still stand as sadly dated to the point of rendering the film relatively workmanlike, yet there's no denying the landmarks this film set, nor its degree of effectiveness by today's standards. It's an overlong slow-mover, yet a ride worth sitting through, as the film charms and resonantes more than expected, and just enough to keep the audience going - nay - simply enjoying.
At the end of the reel, it's hard to let go of the slowness and excessive padding in an attempt to supplement subtlety, only to supplement a degree of self-righteousness that dulls down the film and intensifies the sting of its likely-to-be personally discomforting bias, yet with handsome production and style played then-highly uniquely and now-still rather impressively by D. W. Griffith to touch the film with a kind of near-unprecedented level of subtlety and substance depth that may not have conquered the test of time, yet still made it through thoroughly enough to leave "The Birth of a Nation" to stand now as a generally enjoyable piece of classic revolutionary cinema.
2.5/5 - Fair
fb721890245January 5, 2012
Useful to watch as a glimpse of the emergence of the film industry in the United States but full of disturbing images. Unashamedly racist as any film which makes members of the Clan heroes is bound to do.
fb208103125January 13, 2012
Racial depictions aside, "The Birth of a Nation" is a technical masterpiece that was astounding for it's time and also a revelation of the cinema as a medium of art and as a business! The film is just over 3 hours in length and color tinted and displays the Civil War in part one and the reconstruction afterwards in part two. There are many white actors in "Blackface" a type of makeup in order for them to appear African American but it is nonetheless easy to identify who is black and who is white. The budget was 40,000 dollars but quickly rose to 110,000 dollars by the time it was done and ticket prices were $2.00 when average ticket prices were around 15 cents. The film is one of the most controversial films of all time due to it's depiction of blacks as mindless and lazy as well as sexually deviant. Also of note is the film's original title "Clansman" which is another huge controversy as the film portrays the Ku Klux Klan as the masked saviors of the crushed whites under the heel of the black south. All racial issues aside, it's an undeniable masterwork that was groundbreaking and has inspired countless Directors over the past 97 years. While time hasn't been kind to the film, it still is a pivotal film in American cinema and film in general.
November 17, 2011
Hard film to critique. On one hand it's a phenomenal work of art and changed the medium of film, and was directed by the first great American filmmaker ever. Yet, on the other hand this film is a manipulating piece of racial propaganda, and is quite gratuitous in length. But, I cannot deny the undecorated fact that this is one of the great films just in influence and impact of our time.
October 22, 2010
I'll give the movie credit for it's innovation for it's time, but it's hardly a classic, to me anyhow. D.W. Griffith is credited as the Father of Film. That may be so, more accurately; he's that verbally abusive father who discouraged and warped your childhood, who you don't talk to anymore and don't attend family functions because of.
February 5, 2010
It's too long and the subject fails to attract me at all. However, the acting has some shining moments.
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