D.W. Griffith’s The Birth Of A Nation has gone down in cinematic history. This has not always been for the right reasons, but the sheer power of this film cannot be denied.
Based on Thomas Dixon Jr’s novel, The Clansman, this 1915 film follows two families over several years, showing how the American Civil War impacted on their lives. It also charts the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, as they attempt to bring ‘order’ to the ‘unruly’ south.
Watching The Birth Of A Nation nearly 100 years after it was first released is extremely interesting. It shows how filmmaking and society has changed in the US, and how things, which were once common place have now become taboo. The ‘black-facing’ of white actors is now a cultural no-no, but it was very matter-of-fact when the film was released (and even until relatively recently), while the portrayal of the KKK as heroic keepers of the peace makes for somewhat uneasy viewing in this day and age. Having said all that, it’s hard not to watch Griffith’s film and be impressed by its majesty. It looks amazing, and its three hour running time is incredibly impressive for a film made in the silent era.
The Birth Of A Nation may not be for everyone, but the film is an incredible piece of cinematic history, which documents an important time in American culture (it depicts events a little over 50 years after they occurred). It’s a powerful piece of cinema, one which may not be wholly enjoyable, but that shouldn’t deter from its importance.
Eureka DVD’s Masters Of Cinema series continues to impress. This remastered Blu-ray is glorious, the photography and footage on display here is worth the price alone. Then throw in a (somewhat dry) making-of documentary from 1993 and nearly 2 hours of D.W. Griffith’s early Civil War shorts. It’s a powerful package that is both a great primer for American history and also an important part of its cinematic past.