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Birth of a Nation


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KarasBR02,

 

TCM has aired THE BIRTH OF A NATION. They last ran it in 2006. And it was the Photo-play Productions version, by far the best print of the film that I have ever seen anywhere. I have it on DVD-R. The Kino and Image DVD versions, are nowhere near as good of a quality!

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Jeff,

 

It drives me crazy that people still yap about the "racism" in THE BIRTH OF A NATION, now 93 years old, when Griffith made it VERY clear that everything in the film was historically accurate. It's a fabulous film, one of the all-time greats.

 

 

But it's the same crowd that yaps about the "racism" of minstrelsy and black face performances by Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland, Irene Dunne, Betty Grable, Marion Davies, and scores of others.

 

You just cannot judge literature or films by today's standards or sensitivities. One of the saddest film events of the last 10 years was when the Director's Guild removed the name of D.W. Griffith from its lifetime achievement award because of his supposed racism. What a sham.

 

And by the way, I am a MAJOR supporter and contributor for Barack Obama.

 

And Jeff I agree about the hideous violence of video games, etc.

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Ed,

 

Well, I actually do have an X-Box. But only about 7 or 8 Video games in 4 years, mostly Wrestling, and College Football.

 

I agree the demise of the D. W. Griffith Award is absurd! People who made that decision, probably have never seen a one of his films???

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Dear Drednm,

You must understand; these pompus know everythings that whine on and on about racism,sexism, whateverism, are not offended by these old films. They are not offended by injustice, or the excesses of capitalism or an endangered ecology. They're all fully functioning, cognisant adults who actually understand the world far better than most.

They NEED to be seen BEING offended. They crave looking as caring champions of the helpless, to be spreading the gospel of love and activism. In other words, they KNOW they are far superior beings to all of us who toil far from the fields of media, but must constantly have reassurance of such superiority by way of their causes.

A movie that made racist controversy a hundred years ago? That's the sort of cause that's tailor made for the Hollywood liberal activist because it's so dead easy. It's as easy as damning those who once held slaves and "apologising" for it, as Mr. Bill Clinton did a few years ago.

 

Do you think that the Director's Guild members are now being lauded as those great fighters for justice, righters of wrongs, defenders of the weak, as they envison themselves? no- absolutely not. Who are they? They don't effect me in any way! Who cares about them or ther organisation? Could any of them make an anywhere nearly important film as BIRTH OF A NATION? A bit unlikely. Hollywood once was a land of giants, now it's populated by maggots who can only gnaw at their bones.

 

Message was edited by: Factotum

 

Message was edited by: Factotum

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D.W. Griffith may have _believed_ his movie was "historically accurate", but that doesn't mean it was. There are also people who believe in UFO's and alien visitations, but that doesn't mean they're right.

 

D.W. Griffith _was_ a racist. You don't have to be part of a lynch mob to be a racist. D.W. Griffith referred to blacks patronizingly as "children". The only black character in his first talkie (Abarham Lincoln, 1930 - how ironic) to utter a line is actually played by a white actor in blackface. Griffith couldn't bear to have a black man speak onscreen.

 

I have no problem with the Director's Guild taking Griffith's name off the award. I would feel a lot better if more black directors were given opportunities to direct major motion pictures. A black actually winning an Oscar for best director would mean a lot more than a name on an award. It's still upsetting to think that John Singleton (for the breakthrough and daring Boyz in the Hood) lost to Jonathan Demme (for the sadistic and disgusting Silence of the Lambs; most of what could be called its good qualities were plagiarized from The Collector).

 

Oh, BTW, I also support Barack Obama, as well as TCM's occassional showings of Birth of a Nation.

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karlofffan,

 

For crying out loud. The one thing that you guys are missing is this, "THE BIRTH OF A NATION", was based on a Novel! "THE KLANSMAN"! Indeed the original title of the film was going to be "THE KLANSMAN"! Griffith made a big screen adaption of that Novel! Now, A book called THE KLANSMAN is not going to be fair to Blacks, or the Irish or Catholics, or The Chinese for that matter!

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thanks, Factotum... Griffith is one of the great figures in the history of film and THE BIRTH OF A NATION is a masterpiece. Personally I prefer INTOLERANCE but that doesn't detract from BOAT at all.... Griffith was not a racist and anyone with a brain could tell so from his other work.....

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Actually I don't care that much for BIRTH, I think it's on the plotty side, certainly INTOLERANCE was a more entertaining film. Griffith was a Victorian moralist, who liked the hammy old melodramas of the EAST LYNN, BLUE JEANS and UNCLE TOM'S CABIN variety. One of his best remembered films was WAY DOWN EAST, based on a creaky 1890's potboiler about sin, sex and salvation.

We must see that DWG was a man of his time, and a racist. BIRTH sparked riots in several cities. Some banned it. And it inspired the rebirth of the ****. Bona Fide racists like Woodrow Wilson loved it; Black organisations opposed it vigourously. Griffith's protestations that the film was innocent were ridiculous. He couldn't NOT understand why all the furore associated with his film! He was from the southern states, with very deep rooted prejudices and grievances stemming from the loss of the American civil war and the oppressive occupation by the North following it, all of it painfully in the living memory of millions. They would have supported DWG's vision and cheered for the opportunity for their story, as they saw it, to be so brilliantly told to so many. Well, those people are all dead and gone, and all we have left is the artifact. In 2008 it is not debatable as it was in 1915. There are not two sides to it, the verdict of history is that it's a racist film that had a negative societal impact for several decades. Griffith was a racist.

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"Racist" is a relative term. Calling Griffith a racist is like calling him (or De Mille) a sexist. It makes no sense in the context of their era. Just because Blacks were insulted or people picketed the film in 1915 STILL doesn't make it racist because the events in the film, historically accurate in every detail, took place 50 years before the film was made. The prologue to the film makes it very clear that it is based on documented historical events.

 

If people think that the blacks in the film portray types that never existed, they live in a fool's paradise. If people think the **** is misrepresented in its post-war actions, they need to read some history.

 

It's a sensitive issue now (and was in 1915) but that doesn't make the film or Griffith a racist any more than Judy Garland was in donning blackface. The fact that Griffith used white actors to play blacks is meaningless.

 

The film is over 90 years old. GET OVER IT! If you can't, then DON'T WATCH IT!!

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Lillian Gish speaks to this issue in her book THE MOVIES, MR. GRIFFITH AND ME (pgs 164-170). She describes Griffith's use of records from the House Of Representatives, his pamphlet on censorship and Thomas Dixon's published rebuttal to attacks of BIRTH OF A NATION...worth a look.

 

Also there's an interview with D.W. Griffiths, filmed with sound in the special features on the Kino box set.

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Amazing that this film still stirs up so much passion. Quite an achievement for a film closing in on a century old.

I'll weigh in simply. Griffith was a product of his times and environment.

Racist?

By today's standards, I guess I'd have to say yes. The problem is, Griffith doesn't live today.

I really don't feel like this is some kind of special talent, but;

"Why is it so many people have trouble looking at history through the context of it's own times?"

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Box office records are very scant for the early days, but if you believe the reports of Lillian Gish, who was mostly reliable as a film historian, THE BIRTH OF A NATION may still be the biggest box office success of all time. The film played for YEARS and often played to three times the the population of a town.

 

Regardless of its financial success, the film is a terrific artistic success and provided huge roles for Mae Marsh and Henry B. Walthall.

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I don't believe your'e being quite open-minded about this, drednm. Please consider:

Griffith was a man of his time, with the sensibilities of his time, yes. Of course he was. His film was in his time, in everybody living in 1915's time, with their 1915 sensibilities, and many called it racist. Grif's protestations of being innocent messenger of historical fact, quoting this or that source as his almighty "Proof" shield is dishonest as he is not making a document based on any specific event, well-known or obscure, he's presenting a film based on a novel, a work of phantasy. True enough, any historical novel will relate actual events, in this case, Abraham Lincoln was assasinated, and we see that. The defeated southerners return to a broken and brutally occupied homeland, and we see that. A product of their resentment, The **** is organised, all true. But Dixon's fiction is about an evil half-black leading the ex-slaves who are all filthy drunken brutes, and the one in particular lusts to rape a white girl, but ends in her murder instead. Those are the made-up things. That's the tale that Griffith wanted to tell. He is showing Blacks as filthy drunken rapists. The fictitious characters are the ones that are offending ones. This is a racist story- it glorifies the Ku Klux Klan! It inspired it's rebirth! It was used (historical fact) as a recruitment film for the Klan. Decade after Decade ignorant and violent men were dazzled by the heroic image of Walthall on his noble steed in shining white. Do we need to debate that the Ku Klux Klan was the most virulent racist (and often criminal) organisation in American history?

If you were black, wouldn't you be insulted? Recall that Lillian Gish once said that DWG "loved" the negro race. His love is not felt in BIRTH.

And Judy Garland, or anyone else, playing minstrel is not the same as the white man (Walter Long) playing the sex mad black beast in BIRTH. Modern liberal film scholarship usually sees no difference, but that's quite overreaching.

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You can dwell on your perception of the film, but I don't agree with you at all on your take on the historical context.... so be it. Just because you don't like the ways blacks are portrayed doesn't make Griffith a racist and it doesn't make the portrayal false.

 

His use of whites in blackface was a necessity because there weren't a lot of black actors in California in 1914.

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