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The Birth of a Nation - Was it REALLY that Important?


Metropolisforever
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I believe it was a very important film and it's a shame that it involves the **** b/c that definitely overshadows the technical acheivements of the film.

 

When it was released in 1915, the Hollywood movie industry was still in its infancy as movie makers such as DeMille had only been there about a year or so. Most movies were made on the East coast and used artificial lighting which often gave the films a very flat look. I haven't seen the whole film but I have seen several clips from it on one of the episodes of the *Hollywood* series and I can say it looks like a very impressive film.

 

Most filmmakers in Hollywood then would film outside until the late afternoon and then close up shop. Griffith however liked to use lighting just as the sun was going down as it gave everything a soft glow.They showed some scenes that were lit this way and they were just beautiful. Far better than anything you could have acheived in a set with artificial lighting in those days.

 

The battles scenes also looked very good, like a lot of care was taken to set them up and make them as realistic as possible. This kinda of an epic was rare for the times and must have surprised most movie goes who were more used to short films (Birth of a Nation was over 2 hours) that were often shot on sets with artificial lighting.

 

It's not fair to other films and filmmakers to say this film and this film alone changed movie history but it's definitely on the short list of films that did along with DeMille's *Squaw Man* released the previous year as Hollywood's first feature length film.

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Some of the innovations of BOAN-- (it should be noted that while Griffith didn't originate all of the techniques used in BOAN, he was the first to integrate them all so seamlessly in a feature-length film)

 

Night-time photography--Billy Bitzer achieved by firing magnesium flares into the night for the split-screen sequence of the sacking of Atlanta.

 

First film to have an original score

 

First film to employ hundreds of extras for the battle scenes

 

Flashbacks and parallel editing

 

Extensive use of close-ups and long shots, dissolves, etc, in order to heighten the impact of the story

 

There are more--I found these on this website---

http://www.sparknotes.com/film/birthofanation/section1.html

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One of the cinematic tricks Griffith used in Birth of a Nation, during the battle scenes, was to have people setting off explosions and powder charges a long distance away from the camera, way in the background of the film scene. Most of the people in the battle were in the foreground, but with the explosions and all the smoke way in the background ? as far away as half a mile or more ? it looked like the battle itself was taking place over a large wide area, with thousands of soldiers involved.

 

He used a similar technique in ?San Francisco?, during the brief scenes of people camping out in Golden Gate Park after the big earthquake and fire. He worked as a Second Unit director on that film. The camp goes on and on into the distance, implying thousands of people.

 

Unfortunately, we?ll never get to see most of Griffith?s films since they were made so early.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9mIR0y1WQM

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A good number of Griffith major feature films from the teens and 20s still exist. Not all of them were great but BIRTH OF A NATION, INTOLERANCE, BROKEN BLOSSOMS, WAY DOWN EAST, and ORPHANS OF THE STORM should be enough to convince anyone of his great talent.

 

and for the millionth time, the "racism" depicted in BIRTH OF A NATION is historically accurate.... you may not like it but you can't re-write history.

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"A good number of Griffith major feature films from the teens and 20s still exist. Not all of them were great but BIRTH OF A NATION, INTOLERANCE, BROKEN BLOSSOMS, WAY DOWN EAST, and ORPHANS OF THE STORM should be enough to convince anyone of his great talent.

 

and for the millionth time, the "racism" depicted in BIRTH OF A NATION is historically accurate.... you may not like it but you can't re-write history."

 

Regardless of your imagined stalking anxiety issues, Dredm is totally correct in everything he said about this film.

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GET A GRIP, FRED.... my comment wasn't aimed at YOU. I hit the REPLY to your message instead of REPLY TO THIS THREAD....

 

And from the content of MY note it should have been clear I wasn't responding to you PERSONALLY

 

SHEESH

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Drednm say's "but it's historically accurate..... what the **** has been in recent history is NOT what it was post civil war".

 

 

I agree.....and what's more,it played perfectly to it's chosen audience in 1916. I believe Woodrow Wilson had a highly publicized private screening at the White House.

Griffith grew up under the shadow of reconstruction......not one of the more popular era's in American history. The scene in the House of reps. is particularly repugnant today. But this is the way they thought. So there is clearly an overt "racist tone" to this movie. Yeah, the **** may have taken up the "noble cause" of harassing "carpetbaggers and profiteers",but they were doing race based lynchings, too.

It's not just that the **** are played as the "heroes"........but "who the bad guys are" is drawn up with intent. That's why the film was and is considered offensive.

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Thanks, I'll check the link out. I love Griffith's films, I have 2 DVDs of a lot of his Biograph shorts, including the first film he made with the Gish sisters (also their first film--the one with the gun sticking through the hole in the wall threatening them)), and Mary Pickford's first film --"Her First Biscuits". I can watch these films over and over, sometimes there's something very strange about some of them (besides being silent, etc). Something about the ambience of some of them is almost decadent.

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I love "Way Down East", he did a fantastic job of taking an old stock melodrama and making it into a fresh and moving story for its day. And of course I love the back-story about Lillian Gish actually trailing her hand and hair into the icy water, and Richard Barthelmess literally rescuing her from the ice floe in the nick of time. Such dedication! And Lillian Gish, at least, knew that they were creating art for the ages--I'm glad that she convinced Mary Pickford to not destroy her films when Mary wanted to, late in her life. She didn't want "The Little Girl" to be sneered at. What treasures would have been lost to us! There'll never be another time in movie-making like that again-of course, there can't be, it was in its infancy, and they had no blueprint--they were creating it as they went-but it's so special, to me.

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