The Birth of a Nation (1915)

This film by D.W. Griffith is a three and a half hour piece of propaganda glorifying the KKK. Although putting the extreme racism aside the film was clearly made with no sense of cinematic narrative structure. This can be attributed to the lack of cinema at the time and sheer amazement people would have felt at seeing a picture on a screen, but even so I have a hard time believing that this film would have kept audience glued to the screen for the entire three and a half hours.
It was an adaptation of a book ‘The Clansman‘ , but I feel Griffith was simply trying to replicate the book instead of adapting it to the new medium. While I have not read the book, I think that the story presented on film would be a much less boring experience being read.
The film undergoes seemingly random chroma changes. The first few chapters start out yellow and then there’s a short two or so in blue and then back to yellow. The only change with any discernable purpose is when it becomes red to represent bonfires and various parts of war.
The iris effect that Griffith seems quite fond of was annoying. I assume the idea was to show where the focus in the scene should be, however this can be easily achieved by framing the shot properly.  It does make me curious as to what the audience would have thought of the effect at the time.
The sets look quite realistic with the exception of one indoor fight scene where a man lifts and throws another on to a wall that moves, clearly showing that it is a flat.
It seems like Griffith used both real black people and fake black people via the use of (unconvincing) make up. The fakes were easy to tell as they simply did not look authentic and were only used for key roles.
The acting was generally believable until it got over dramatic near the end or unprofessional, e.g. at one point early in the film a girl spiked the camera in a crowd scene.
Music was generally appropriate however I did notice that at some points it was too epic for the action going on. For example in a scene of someone sitting down and talking the music should not have been fast paced and very loud.
This film shows the beginning of large production budgets (originally US $40,000 but rose to $112,000) and the potential of films to make absurd amounts of money, grossing $10 million.


March 5, 2009. In class.

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