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THE BIRTH OF A NATION – Henry Jackman

October 18, 2016 2 comments

birthofanationOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

In 1915 the pioneering film director D. W. Griffith released The Birth of a Nation, which he had adapted from the novel The Clansman by T. F. Dixon Jr. Looking back on it now, it is clearly one of the most groundbreaking and important films ever made, but at the same time it is one of the most abhorrent too. Despite being a silent film shot in black and white, it broke ground in terms of cinematic artistry; Griffith essentially invented many of the filmmaking tools we take for granted today, including pans and zooms, close-ups, cross-cut editing in order to tell parallel stories simultaneously, and choreographed action sequences. It also featured one of the first ever commissioned film scores, written by composer Joseph Carl Breil. As a technological achievement, the original Birth of a Nation is an absolute masterpiece. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most racist films in the history of cinema. To boil it down to its nuts and bolts, it’s a heroic tale about the Ku Klux Klan, who become righteous freedom fighters in the aftermath of the Civil War, saving the noble white folk in the south from the “insolent niggers” from the north, most of whom were played by white actors in eye-rolling, mugging blackface. Time has not been kind to Griffith’s film, and rightfully so; today most film scholars praise its technological achievements, but utterly denounce its content, although Roger Ebert did write of it: “The Birth of a Nation is not a bad film because it argues for evil. Like Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, it is a great film that argues for evil. To understand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even something about evil”. Read more…