1. Welcome to the CivilWarTalk, a forum for questions and discussions about the American Civil War! Become a member today for full access to all of our resources, it's fast, simple, and absolutely free!
Dismiss Notice
Join and Become a Patron at CivilWarTalk!
Support this site with a monthly or yearly subscription! Active Patrons get to browse the site Ad free!
START BY JOINING NOW!

D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation

Discussion in 'Civil War History - Secession and Politics' started by Dave Wilma, Jan 22, 2015.

  1. Dave Wilma

    Dave Wilma 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,157
    Location:
    Elliott Bay
    Here is a link to the video version of C-Span's Q&A with author Dick Lehr http://www.c-span.org/video/?323484-1/qa-dick-lehr

    The interview includes clips from the 1915 film that is recognized for its importance to the art of the motion picture and to its influence on popular understanding of the ACW and Reconstruction. The film is credited with a resurgence of the KKK.

    In point of fact, much of Griffith's portrayal of Reconstruction is completely false not to mention amazingly racist. The author of The Klansman on which the script is based, was a chum of President Woodrow Wilson and Griffith showed the film in the East Room of the White House and to the Supreme Court.

    I'm certain Birth has been chewed on here on CWT, but Lehr's interview and the clips are still educational.
     

  2. (Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
  3. John Hartwell

    John Hartwell Captain Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2011
    Messages:
    5,807
    Location:
    Central Massachusetts
    The full 3hrs plus can be seen on Youtube
    . It's also on Netflix.Wilson's overt racism is well known. On viewing The Birth of a Nation, his reaction was: "It's all so true!"
     
    Eagle eye likes this.
  4. TerryB

    TerryB Major

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2008
    Messages:
    8,870
    Location:
    Nashville TN
    Griffith's father was a cavalry colonel in the ACW, serving mostly under Wheeler. He was from Kentucky. I often wonder how much of D.W.'s attitude toward the war and aftermath came from his father.
     
  5. favedave

    favedave Corporal

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2011
    Messages:
    426
    Location:
    Saint Joseph, MO
    This movie, which I've seen twice is like a ghastly traffic accident. You don't want to see it but you can't look away.
     
  6. John Hartwell

    John Hartwell Captain Forum Host

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2011
    Messages:
    5,807
    Location:
    Central Massachusetts
    That's just what makes it a "great" movie. Despite its repugnance.
     
  7. Georgia Sixth

    Georgia Sixth Sergeant Major

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2011
    Messages:
    2,259
    Location:
    Texas
    Just be glad it was a silent film. Can you imagine the dialects and music?

    Still, this film was revolutionary. Astounding to realize how many editorial and cinemegraphic techniques he pioneered to tell a story visually.
     
  8. BrrrBRRRR

    BrrrBRRRR Sergeant

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2014
    Messages:
    724
    Location:
    Chicago
    It's a great movie other than its politics and racism. The one time that I saw it was at the National Film Theatre in London with a live piano accompiment. I was blown away and was actually cheering the KKK by the end. And if it can make a self proclaimed liberal like me do that, DW Griffith had something going on. He invented a lot of new film making techniques to make the emotional impact of his movie so powerful and visceral. Oddly enough, the only other film of his that I have seen is Broken Blossoms which also starred Lillian Gish and dealt with racist themes as well.
     
  9. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2010
    Messages:
    6,851
    Location:
    District of Columbia
    Among the many things that bothered me about this movie is the use of white actors in blackface. Such as in the scene where the character Flora jumps to her death after being chased by a black faced negro villain.

    The fact of a white man in black face portraying an evil negro is disturbing on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. But of course, the movie was made in the era of blackface entertainment, so that was "normal" for contemporary viewers. But by today's standards, it just seems ridiculous.

    I wonder if they tried to get a black actor to play the role of the black villain, but all the guys they asked said **** you, and they had to go to plan B.

    - Alan
     
  10. TerryB

    TerryB Major

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2008
    Messages:
    8,870
    Location:
    Nashville TN
    I was bothered by that, too. But also noticed that the black politicians were actually played by black actors. Maybe those guys were all they had, seemingly about a dozen.
     
  11. Littlestown

    Littlestown Captain Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2010
    Messages:
    5,104
    Location:
    Ohio
    Bothered me too. Considering who made the movie, and for what purpose, I doubt that they "tried to get a black actor " to play any role.
     
    Dedej likes this.
  12. Littlestown

    Littlestown Captain Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2010
    Messages:
    5,104
    Location:
    Ohio
    I could not stand to watch the whole film, so I missed that it did employ black actors.

    edit to add: I stand corrected.
     
    Dedej likes this.
  13. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2010
    Messages:
    19,450
    Location:
    State of Jefferson
    DW Griffith also did a large number of Indian themed films, usually melodramas involving an Indian woman falling in love with a white man and then having to sacrifice herself somehow, or a curious parallel between the lost Indian 'paradise' and the lost antebellum South. John Young Deer, one of the first Native actors and film directors, worked often with Griffith. It's always struck me as curious that Griffith often portrayed the victimization of Native people by whites but seemed blind to the same thing with blacks, with whom he had grown up.
     
  14. Dave Wilma

    Dave Wilma 2nd Lieutenant

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,157
    Location:
    Elliott Bay
    The thing to remember about Griffith and the times is that the vast majority of the (white) population found nothing wrong with these attitudes. Griffith was trying to make a buck and was smart enough to tap into the Lost Cause. His purpose was to entertain and he did that in the classic form of the myth.

    Most movie admissions in those days was between 5 and 15 cents. A ticket to BoaN was TWO DOLLARS. That was a days wage for many people and more if you weren't white.

    The scene of the maiden being chased was picked up in the 1930s by the Nazis portraying Jews assaulting Aryan maidens. Griffith gets credit for that.
     
  15. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2005
    Messages:
    34,934
    Location:
    Near Kankakee
    In those days, blacks were not allowed near the set let alone in it. Haven't finished the movie yet, but I think I recall the scene in which they did employ actual blacks was intended to ridicule them as monkeys.
     
    leftyhunter likes this.
  16. DRW

    DRW Sergeant

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2014
    Messages:
    561
    Location:
    New York
    wilson.jpg

    Speaking of Wilson: I've used this "Birth of the Nation" title card in my talks about the Freedman's Bureau.
     
  17. DRW

    DRW Sergeant

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2014
    Messages:
    561
    Location:
    New York
    Check out Griffith's mega production "Intolerance" where he attempts to make amends for his racist sins. I guess he thought making the audience sit through the 3.5 hours was punishment for his past fans too. At least the Babylonia sets are cool.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2015
    leftyhunter and Georgia Sixth like this.
  18. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Major

    Joined:
    May 27, 2011
    Messages:
    8,035
    Location:
    los angeles ca
    However vile the message of Birth of a Nation is it has to standout has arguably the first great political propaganda film ever made. It simple terms the film worked brilliantly in that many white people who watched it believed the movie and its message. It did generate a lot of criticism and led to an apologetic movie "intolerance" a few years later. I would not be surprised if other propaganda film maker such as Gobbels where inspired by the success of this movie.
    Leftyhunter
     
    Joshism, OldGreyMare and Patrick H like this.
  19. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2009
    Messages:
    32,956
    Location:
    Smack dab in the heart of Texas
    Um. that's sort of a generic (maiden being chased). Way before Griffith made BOAN. :smile: I'm sure the Nazis loved his version, however.
     
  20. Drew

    Drew Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2012
    Messages:
    6,016
    Two dollars a day was a very good wage at that time, relatively speaking. Didn't matter what color you were. Would like to see some sources that support this assertion.

    I know my dad and his family were paying a nickel to see movies in the 1930's, a generation after Birth of a Nation appeared. Two dollars was out of the question for the vast majority of Americans at that time.

    Where this came from will be interesting.
     
    Rebforever likes this.
  21. BrrrBRRRR

    BrrrBRRRR Sergeant

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2014
    Messages:
    724
    Location:
    Chicago
    The guy in the C-Span interview quoted $2 as the price compared to a nickel at the Nicolodums of the time. It was something that he uncovered while researching for his book. He explained that Griffiths had a reason for setting the price so high, but I can't remember what he said. What his sources were I don't know. I also remember my Dad talking about when he was a kid in the 30s and 40s paying a dime to see 2 features, a newsreel and a short at the Sat afternoon matinee.
     
    leftyhunter likes this.

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Loading...

Share This Page


(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)