Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

Birth of a Nation


Recommended Posts

Well, the legislature scene is full of actual black actors, the uniformed mob that traps the family in the house has a lot of actual black actors...but the point escapes me. I'm sure you could have paid a black actor to play the evil attacker- actors are paid to portray people they aren't.

 

It's got nothing to do with a personal like or dislike on anybody's part in the depiction of the black characters. But as that depiction is, after all, of maurauding beasts whipped up to a frenzy by an evil half breed would-be leader of a race-based state. Couldn't that percieved as racist?

In that these are again, fictitous characters who do fictitous deeds means there is no "historical context" for them, that is to say, history records only the men and deeds that ACTUALLY existed. This is phantasy. It was all a creation of a novel writer. The setting the story is planted in could have been ancient Egypt or the planet Mongo and it would be no more or less real because some actual events are referenced....even with footnotes.

A writer has absolute, total control over his make-believe universe. Anything can happen at all. So Dixon, and then DWG issue forth a story that BY CHOICE makes the black race into the monsters seen. Why would you need to do a story with such elements? I think we're getting to the "R" word again....

Link to post
Share on other sites

this is getting boring.... yes if was BY CHOICE that they made a black man into a rapist... SO WHAT???? If you don't like the film, then utilize YOUR CHOICE and don't watch it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Factotum, I will answer what you "might or might not" be thinking, even though you didn't ask.

I would say the large majority of white America, circa 1915, had warped ideas about blacks in general. My guess is many did not see them as equals. I'm not saying it was right. I'm just saying that that is probably how it was. I'm sure a "liberal attitude" probably meant "paternalism".

Wouldn't be surprised to find out that some blacks probably bought their own negative stereotype. After all, this was the thinking of the day.

So. Yeah, there is absolutely a racist element to this film. And it played to a wide audience.

For instance, Joe Louis. "A Credit To His Race".

That is an amazingly demeaning statement today. Yet, at the time, it changed a lot of thinking.

And NO, I certainly wouldn't thrill to BOAN if I was black. Hell, the scenes in "The House of Rep" are as racially charged as the much aforementioned plot.

My thing is this. On a technical level in so far as filming a complicated story is concerned, BOAN is a monumental achievement.

On a historical level, the film has value because of it's wide acceptance.

That, in and of itself, tells us where race relations were in 1915.

I would disagree with the idea that this story is "factually" correct. Clearly the Klan were responsible for many atrocities. But the idea that this was mainstream entertainment, ie , the pop art of it's time, I believe is very telling. We can't erase attitudes that died 100 years ago.

To dismiss one as an artist because of his "archaic attitudes" is whats known as "revisionist history".

As ugly as this may sound, for every white man in the US that really believed "all men are created equal"in 1915, you probably could have counted three that had at least some of Griffiths beliefs.

I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying it's probably a more honest assessment of the way things were.

Strictly on that basis, BOAN is a culturally significant film.

Link to post
Share on other sites

You're absolutely right, Mickee, this is an extremely important film, it is a watershed technical and cultural achievement. I myself have been highly moved by it (when it's projected at proper speed with appropriate music.)

But you can be manipulated by propaganda, if it's done right, by nazi and communist films, too.

The condescending attitude was the progressive one then, and DWG was I believe, trying to show he wasn't a racist by emphasising that blacks could never really be capable of such evil unless they were under the spell of an evil charlatan. That that character is a mulatto, what does that imply? That Blacks could never raise to lead anybody if the were left to their own feeble but pure racial identity? Does it imply that the child of miscegenation is unholy and must be evil? After all, among "Silas Lynch"s desires is making interracial sex the law of the land- guaranteed to be an explosively horrible idea to the world of 1915. But then again, how much subtlety can you chance so that the **** looks sympathetic and honourable?

A benign view of Blacks as childlike, often comical people was in the mainstream, perhaps more generous whites of that time. Look at the debris of American culture left behind. Movies, comic strips, popular literature, even advertising. Blacks are seen as friendly but none too clever. That's why they wear funny clothes,are confused by even the simplest gagets, and work as farm hands or servants. I'm sure you all have encountered such old time images. But that was what tolerance meant in that far off day. I don't know as the blacks were completely unhappy with most of these depictions either.

If you read early black newspapers, especially the humour and cartoon pages, they seem to be supporting their own stereotypes. Often it's said how offensive Amos and Any were to blacks, or how the slow witted, seemingly **** Stepin Fetchit offended blacks, yet if you see the black-produced race films for exclusively black audiences of the 1930's & 40's, they do A & A impersonations- The stereotype was apparently sound. That Fetchit shows up in them, must mean he had some kind of approval. (though I always thought Stepin Fetchit could offend everyone as an insult humanity as a whole!)

But to be seriously shown as a lot of crazed defilers of white women, and in a larger sense, white civilisation, betrays a fear/hatred/guilt that a small strata of the American psyche, that of the vanquished southern landholder, who decade after decade nurtured a self-righteous rage of victimhood. They generally took it out on their black citizens, consciously and unconsciously. BIRTH is a reflection of that.

Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

 

And, just as with so many of the cartoons from the '30s and early '40s, there is a great lesson to be learned from this and other films - but only when they are shown with someone/something to give context. Otherwise young and/or na?ve people will be taken in and think both that the movie (being so old and closer to the times, of course!) must be historically accurate and that the feelings one feels (at Griffith's direction) must be bona fide and perfectly ok, even though a huge majority have moved past those (even if we grew up with them).

 

Since I'm a South Carolina native, this movie has always pulled me about in so many ways. Reconstruction is still an ongoing process (though it only historically lasted 10 years) for so many people around me. There are klan units still operating (though small) within 10-20 miles......

 

The most important thing with so many old movies (not just of this type) is to give them historical perspective for younger viewers. After all, how many people have any clue as to the identity of the radio stars being parodied in "The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos"? I was born in mid-century (literally), but from a fairly early age I heard about those names from family or read old books and scrapbooks, etc. So MANY references are made in passing in the movies to personages everybody would (then) understand; if you know your history, these movies don't seem old. If you don't, how can you make any real connection at all.

 

Show the movie; try to understand what brought (the novel and) it about, and where people "were coming from." But not as true history and not without guidance of some sort. It was and is a sensationalist bit of film-making, full of technical innovations but also slanted and backward-looking. And, yes, the TCM version is far better than anything I saw for the first 20 years I'd known it.

 

Bill

Link to post
Share on other sites

no... it's the verdict of YOUR history and nothing more. Deconstruct the film as much as you want so you can be all comfy and cozy with your contemporary (and implied superior) sensitivities. The film is what it is.

 

Aside from the ridiculously trumped up "racist" moments, the film is really about the inanity of WAR and was made as Europe was moving toward war. Griffith's real message was to avoid war, not to be wary of mulattos in the woods.

 

And if the audience didn't get the point in 1915 (and many obviously didn't), he gave them INTOLERANCE in 1916 with another picture about the waste of war.

 

Griffith was a product of his time. It's a huge waste of time trying to attach contemporary mores and labels to a man born in 1875.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Not to belabor this Factotum, but a couple of things;

 

"But you can be manipulated by propaganda, if it's done right, by nazi and communist films, too."

 

True enough. But I'm not so sure if even Griffith was fully aware of the power of the medium yet. In fact, I would go as far to say that BOAN was a landmark because it was one of the first major demonstrations of the power of suggestion in film.

 

"A benign view of Blacks as childlike, often comical people was in the mainstream "

 

Again, I agree. But, interestingly enough, as soon as Eddie Anderson walks onscreen in anything, that film just "got a raise" in my mind. Because he's funny. As in "a good comedian/actor".

 

I could see where BOAN could cause riots then and now. I just can't dismiss it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree. I'll go top five. I think it's indisputable. Thats the main reason I can never seem to "lay off" this topic.

It's importance is so multi-faceted. The fact that it is so controversial only adds to it's significance.

It's not just a landmark film. It's really the "landmarks landmark".

Sure, there were important films before it, but again; not with that impact, technique, controversy, etc.

I'll put it this way; had Griffith never made BOAN, the film of it's stature would have been "Intolerance".

And while I believe it would be as important, {if not more so by not having a predecessor}, it would not have the "shelf life" of BOAN.

Not that any one has implied it, but for the record, I don't believe I have "race issues".

Link to post
Share on other sites

Mick nor do I.... I am an ardent supporter of Obama (and yes my money is where my big mouth is)...... The film is so rich and complex. BOAN is the first Griffith film that fully utilizes his incomparable eye for composition. There is action in the foreground and the background. The film is so alive. It also boasts great performances by Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, Lillian Gish, Mary Alden, and yes even Walter Long.

 

Griffith showed his abilities in JUDITH OF BETHULIA and THE BATTLE OF ELDERBUSH GULCH to layer the storyline by use of foreground and background to create a whole new cinematic art (many thanks to the great Billy Bitzer) as well as using film editing as a tool to create tension, excitement, etc (especially in INTOLERANCE and WAY DOWN EAST).

 

The man created cinema as we know it.

 

Message was edited by: drednm

Link to post
Share on other sites

>But as that depiction is, after all, of maurauding beasts whipped up to a frenzy by an evil half breed would-be leader of a race-based state. Couldn't that percieved as racist?

 

This isn't any worse than the "all white anglo saxon protestants are evil" theme in "Little Big Man", or the "crazy yellow hordes" in any wartime movie about the Japanese, or pre-war films about the wild Chinese and their war lords, or most of Oliver Stone movies about American soldiers. Why are you ranting about this particular film?

Link to post
Share on other sites

THE BIRTH OF A NATION is the first great American film. It's the first blockbuster. The film marks the arrival of the first great and serious American filmmaker. The racist argument is inconsequential since EVERY depicted act of "racism" can be historically documented. In the long run the film is no more racist that GONE WITH THE WIND 24 years later.

 

I fully applaud the great talents of Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, Eddie Anderson, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, etc. for achieving what they did in the Hollywood of their day. But to dismiss THE BIRTH OF A NATION as a racist film is to dismiss the very birth of American film as art.

Link to post
Share on other sites

thanks, Fred.... but as great as I think BOAN is, I think INTOLERANCE is even greater.... The Babylonian arc of this film is just amazing, and the film boasts great performance by Constance Talmadge, Mae Marsh, Robert Harron, and Miriam Cooper.

 

what a feast!!!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Basically, I'm "ranting" about this film because it's a thread about this film, so my comments are a propos.

In LITTLE BIG MAN, their are scenes of white massacring red man. There really were events like this. Not to mention, though thoroughly not politically correct, that the reverse quite often happened also in the years known as "The Indian wars".

Crazy Yellow hordes of Japanese did in fact terrorise half the globe during World War Two. It is well documented what the depths of their evil actions against helpless millions did. That Hollywood films of the time may depict them in a ham-handed, overwrought, even cartoonish way, doesn't deny there is an element of truth in them.

Oliver Stone is different, He needs attention in the worst way, and he gets it with his absurd conspiracy rubbish. His film about the assasination of President Kennedy is a quivering mass of paranoid nonsense that never happened. There must be, to make most any film palletable, be artistic licence. But this is just made-up stuff. He's a leftist propagandiser making anti-American films for anti-Americans all around the world.

Back to our point- there was no such thing as a black army marauding across post civil war Dixieland, killing and ****. That is not a historical event. There is no truth to it. If you doubt that this was a definate, obvious racist film even in 1915, why then, were there no other films of the time showing blacks doing this? This single film is the whole story. It inspired a black response in the film SYMBOL OF THE UNCONQUERED (1920) which also has the **** and an evil Mulatto. The white men want to rape the black women. BIRTH must have left the black population very hurt.

Link to post
Share on other sites

>Back to our point- there was no such thing as a black army marauding across post civil war Dixieland, killing and ****. That is not a historical event. There is no truth to it.

 

No, you are wrong. The film did depict what actually happened during the so-called ?reconstruction? days. This information was common in American history textbooks back when I went to school. But that information has been erased from our modern history books. However, you can still read about it in 19th Century books and journals:

 

The Atlantic monthly. / Volume 39, Issue 232

 

Pages 179-180:

 

This paragraph starts at the bottom of the column in the right, and it continues on the next page:

 

?The demoralization became inconceiv-

able. Larceny was universal. If a man

hung up his coat at one end of a field,

before he could plow to the other end

and back it was stolen. Cows turned

loose to browse came home milked dry.

Live stock of all kinds was killed in the

woods in the day-time. Cotton was

picked from the fields at night, and

corn ?slip-shucked.? Gardens and or-

chards were stripped, and water-melons

actually became a rarity on white men?s

tables. Burglary, especially of smoke-

houses and barns, was common. Every-

body had dogs and guns, and thousands

kept watch at night over their property.

 

In short, from 1868 to 1874 inclusive,

the government of South Carolina was

a grand carnival of crime and debauch-

ery. After a year or so, the oppression

grew so grinding that in many counties

Ku-Klux Klans were organized.?

 

http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/gifcache/moa/atla/atla0039/00185.TIF6.gif

 

http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/gifcache/moa/atla/atla0039/00186.TIF6.gif

Link to post
Share on other sites

no... it's the verdict of YOUR history and nothing more. Deconstruct the film as much as you want so you can be all comfy and cozy with your contemporary (and implied superior) sensitivities.

 

I'm still trying to figure out what part of my post you're responding to, in what manner, and for what reason(s).

 

What I said was, same as others have said, that the movie depicts acts that most likely did happen. Griffith lived through the end of that time; he would have known. Certainly Dixon, in writing "The Klansman," was writing a version of what he saw or had been told. In today's South, remnants of the same behaviors can still be found, especially in and around rural towns.

 

As you say (and I didn't say anything different), the movie is what it is. BUT - so many younger people, regardless of race, have no clue as to our nation's history (or geography, but that's another matter!). There have been periods of time when the attitude was, "Drop it, and maybe it will go away." Not! People seeing this movie today need guidance - and yes, we are far enough removed from WWII and Korea that the same is true of many of those movies. Propaganda is always based on some element of truth; whether the basis was commonly or seldom observed, it was there. Propaganda's purpose is to hammer it home, sometimes slyly, sometimes bluntly.

 

Griffith (and Bitzer and the actors) do this brilliantly. But - and I speak from long years of teaching HS Social Studies in two of those communities of which I spoke - among a certain group of people, it only takes the least justification to bring back the behaviors toward others that we (most of us?) thought had been buried.

 

I repeat, this film should never be shown (at least to younger audiences) without competent guidance, preferably both before and afterwards. Colleges could probably make a quarter/semester-long course on it! (And probably have, somewhere)

 

And I say all this as a (guarded) admirer of the film. I had never given much thought to its being the ultimate anti-war film, but that is a good take. My attention has always been so grabbed (inflamed?) by too much else that happens in it. And it's not as though I've screened it over and over. I have seen parts of it and shorter, older versions of it in years past; I have probably actually watched it - all the way through, in one sitting or mostly - twice. Every couple of years is probably quite often enough for it to be shown. Unless they can get the proper hosts each time, certainly.

 

Bill

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes Bill.... It just boggles the mind that a 93-year-old film can generate such emotional responses. I re-read your post. Sorry if I misconstrued.

 

I also remember clearly history classes in Maine in the 50s. Revisionist history does no one any favors, or perhaps it's more a regional approach to the horrors of the American Civil War. The Reconstruction Period was an American tragedy for sure and likely wouldn't have happened had Lincoln lived.

 

I truly believe that given the era in which BOAN was made, the events in Europe, and Griffith's own sensibilities he used hideous events from our last major war to try to prevent Americans from getting carried away with "war fever." Although the film was a blockbuster, it certainly didn't prevent the politicians from steering us into war a few years later.

 

Maybe I give Griffith more credit than he deserves in this capacity, but judging from the CONSISTENT anti-war message of TOLERANCE that runs through his films, I will simply never dismiss this great filmmaker as being a "racist." That's all too simple and and smacks too much of the easy labeling that comes out of the simplistic PC era.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you Mr. Dobbs, I admire those who know how to use sources, especially musty old forgotten publications. That's what good historians do.

The serruptitious pilferage of the countryside in postwar America is not unknown to me; this is an undeniable fact. But though your citation has to do with how South Carolina came up with their solution, Klanism, this is actually a far wider phenomena.

There were also thousands of white families utterly wrest from their property, families and ways of life in the aftermath of the south's devastation. Children went to orphanages or became beggars. Women became prostitutes and descended on major ports or went west with the new settlers. New Orleans became so choked with them, they decided to legislate a special legal district for them in the 1890's, forever to be known as "Storyville" the city councilman who sponsored the ordinance.

The broken men however, spread across the nation, behaving in just the same manner as described in the ATLANTIC article, though white. They tended to stay in rural areas, where the agents of law and order were few and far between.

At best they would go from farm to farm begging for a handout, sometimes doing a bit of needed work for food and lodging. They might be temporary labourers, or "Hired Hands". When farm work stopped during the winter, these men might resort to criminality.

At worst, they were just marauders, stealing whatever they could, living hand to mouth. They were called hobos, tramps, bums. They could assemble in one area, creating "Hobo Jungles", which usually gave local populations reason to anticipate a lot of trouble. Desperate men could be very violent. A huge upturn in crime swept the states.

If you look at the humour of late 19th century America, a very odd stereotypical character keeps popping up, one that we have no connexion with now, the travelling tramp. He's not of course, going to be scary like a real "Knight of the road", he's a funny bungler, often attemping to steal a farm wife's freshly baked pies sitting on a window shelf to cool down. He's often foiled by a watchdog..

Early strip cartoons make lovable heroes of them, such as HAPPY HOOLIGAN, PETE THE TRAMP, MOONEY MIGGLES, SLEEPY WILLIE, etc. They were such a part of everyday life then, in the days before social security.

The black thieves of the time were also noticed in popular culture- the hit song "Way Down Yonder In The Corn Field" describes blacks making off with a farmer's crop and implements. That (as noted in the Atlantic piece) watermelons were a choice target, has eventually come down to us as some strange passion for them unique to blacks. Watermelons were comically referred to as "African Grapefruit"! The onetime image of blacks robbing a henhouse lead to a similar percieved weakness for fried chicken. A joke of those days has the white farmer on the trail of the thief, hiding in the henhouse. He yells "Who's in there?" The black man replies, "No one here but us chickens!"

So yes, there is some bit of truth to this, you could describe them as an army of plundering ex-slaves, but they weren't exactly the same as the organised, uniformed literal army with a charismatic commander guiding them seen in the film.

Link to post
Share on other sites

>Thank you Mr. Dobbs, I admire those who know how to use sources, especially musty old forgotten publications. That's what good historians do.

 

You should have done that before your rant about the film, but you were hoping there were no historians here. The rest of your most recent post was about things that were not in ?Birth of a Nation.?

 

The fact is, the things shown in the film did happen. Not everywhere, not all the time. But for a period of about 12 to 15 years after the War, they did happen around the South. That?s all the film is about. It?s just the same as the way the story in ?Mississippi Burning? did happen. Not everywhere, not all the time, but it did happen, and that?s what that film is about. Today, we?ve got ?gangs? in many large cities, with many murders, more than one a day in many cities. So, in 30 or 40 years, maybe a ?L.A. Gangs, 2008? film will be made.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0hQuf0287g

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltWCBDinSxI&feature=related

Link to post
Share on other sites

You should have done that before your rant about the film, but you were hoping there were no historians here. The rest of your most recent post was about things that were not in ?Birth of a Nation.?

 

It appears I gave you more credit than deserved. You've taken some small nugget of fact and from it you build it up to the events of "BIRTH OF A NATION" becoming true.

In your impatience and frustration you have resorted to seriously calling my reply a "rant", accusing me of hoping no historians reading it, implying that I am trying to put some great falsehood over on unsuspecting TCM bloggers. Why I would do this I have no idea, it's you that would seem to have the axe to grind.

I wish you were a proper historian, able to debate my points and conclusions offered. The true spirit of historians should be of a cordial, respectful nature, not a take no prisoners, win-or-die competition.

That long posting I composed last week was supposed to intrigue you into a wider conversation about the circumstances of post-civil war American life and culture; the spread of crime and it's impact; the situation in the city as opposed to the countryside; the manifestations of this crime wave in popular memory, etc. As Dixon's novel springs from this milieu, it would seem to be most relevant.

History is not a closed subject; it has many interpretations; and the more one can absorb on a given era, the better equipt he will be to make intelligent discourse on a specific part of it.

"Birth" has been controversial since it was released. There are those that know nothing of that time and place depicted, yet have an opinion to express, and who scream down anyone who disagrees with them; they must be right. There are those who take the opposite of that opinion, who also are unencumbered by facts, who also believe that to out-scream the others leaves them right. It's boring and pointless to "debate" such unreason, clearly what I'm saying is of no interest to you.

Link to post
Share on other sites

>In your impatience and frustration you have resorted to seriously calling my reply a "rant", accusing me of hoping no historians reading it, implying that I am trying to put some great falsehood over on unsuspecting TCM bloggers. Why I would do this I have no idea, it's you that would seem to have the axe to grind.

 

Excuse me, but you were the one who changed the subject away from the movie we were discussing, when you said:

 

>There were also thousands of white families utterly wrest from their property, families and ways of life in the aftermath of the south's devastation. Children went to orphanages or became beggars. Women became prostitutes and descended on major ports or went west with the new settlers. New Orleans became so choked with them, they decided to legislate a special legal district for them in the 1890's, forever to be known as "Storyville" the city councilman who sponsored the ordinance.

 

?Birth of a Nation? has nothing to do with those stories. You can find them in other movies.

 

What you did with this tactic was to take the debate away from the movie we were discussing, and to initiate a rant about white hobos, white orphans, and white prostitutes. If you want to discuss those topics, then go to the appropriate movie thread.

 

>At best they would go from farm to farm begging for a handout, sometimes doing a bit of needed work for food and lodging.

 

Then let?s talk about ?The Grapes of Wrath? or some appropriate movie. What does this have to do with ?Birth of a Nation??

 

>They could assemble in one area, creating "Hobo Jungles"...

 

Sounds like ?Meet John Doe? or ?Heroes for Sale? or maybe ?Sullivan?s Travels?. What does that have to do with D.W. Griffith?s ?Birth of a Nation??

 

>Early strip cartoons make lovable heroes of them, such as HAPPY HOOLIGAN, PETE THE TRAMP, MOONEY MIGGLES, SLEEPY WILLIE, etc

 

Huh? What??

 

>The onetime image of blacks robbing a henhouse lead to a similar percieved weakness for fried chicken.

 

Watch out what you say, bud. I have a weakness for fried chicken.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Your last post just proves my point; you will not talk about evidence exxcept to dismiss without talking about it.You can't tolerate any opposing viewpoint. In fact your gratuitous incivility indicates an irrationality that will be insurmountable.

That makes one, to say the least, of unfit temprament for an historian, or for that matter, most scholarly pursuits.

The internet's anonymity brings down a lot of inhibitions, mate, and I would hope you're not this arbitrarily unreasonable face-to-face.

We are as they say, at loggerheads. I see no point in going further, you're becoming a sinkhole of my good time, better spent elsewhere.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
© 2021 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...