The greatest films of all time:12.The Birth of a Nation (1915)(USA)

I will make a song for these states that no state may under any circumstances be subjected to another state,                                                                                    And I will make a song that there shall be comity by day and by night between all the states, and between any two of them,                                                And I will make a song for the ears of the President, full of weapons and menacing points,                                                                                                                                   And behind the weapons countless dissatisfied faces;                                                              And a song make I of the One form’d out of all,                                                                   The fang’d and glittering One whose head is over all,                                                               Resolute warlike One including and over all,                                                                               …….Democracy! near at hand to you a throat is now inflating itself and joyfully singing…….And I will not sing with reference to a day, but with reference to all days,

Walt Whitman                                                                                                                                                                                                 Starting from Paumanok                                                                                                                    Leaves of Grass                                                                                                                                1891                                                                                                                                                                                 



The birth of a nation, is an American epic movie about how this country was unified and became The United States of America or USA as we know it today. This frontier movie or the first major American feature film was made by David Wark Griffith (1875-1948) in 1915, at the time when Europe was burning in the World War I (1914-1919). The film was a pioneer in cinema with never seen before advanced camera and editing techniques, by the man who is collectively known as the Father of American Cinema or Hollywood. With a low budget cost of $110,000, it returned tens of millions of dollars in profits, making it, perhaps, the most profitable film of all time, taking into account the inflation rate. (1) Despite all these, the film for its content of portraying Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as the saviors of the white south against the blacks during the “Reconstruction” era after the Civil War, has been widely condemned. This collective condemnation, not only affected the film at least in US later on, if not at the time, it also outrageously disgraced Griffith, who had made 500 films by the time of his death in solitude! (2-3)

This silent film with a length of more than 3 hours, unheard and unusual for the time and years to come, in two acts, is a historical depiction of how the states of America, became united. The first act is on the civil war (1861-1865) of the north against the south to join them by force to the “Union” and make the whole country as one nation. The second act is after the civil war and during the reconstruction era (1865-1877) in the south, to transform the southern united states as directed by the congress with the reconstruction of the states and the society. Later on we will discuss and review these events, that are the content of the story of the film as a historical fiction, for the wrong understanding of many including the media, the film critics and film historians for the unjust condemnation of the film and its great creator. Unfortunately none of these critics have done a descent study and review of the historical events in the film, that indeed happened and cost Americans close to 1,000,000 lives in the civil war, more than any of their wars and both World War I & II combined, and the failure of their “Reconstruction” and transformation of the south and worsening the racial conflict in the south and the whole country. (4-5) But before all these, lets know better the man behind the camera who caused all these negative commotions, and at the same time is respected by other filmmakers, world-wide as a genius, and not deserving a life in isolation at the end!      



Before The Birth of a Nation:

Griffith was born in Crestwood, Kentucky to Mary Perkins and Jacob Griffith, who were of Anglo-Welsh ancestry. Jacob Griffith was a confederate army colonel in the civil war and was elected as a Kentucky state legislator. Griffith was raised a Methodist and was taught by his older sister, Mattie Griffith at home. After his father died when he was ten, the family struggled with poverty. When Griffith was 14, his mother abandoned the farm and moved the family to Louisville, where she opened a boarding house, that failed shortly after. Griffith then left high school to help support the family, taking a job in a dry goods store and later in a bookstore. He began his creative career as a playwright but met with little success with only one of his plays being accepted for a performance. Griffith then decided to become an actor, and appeared in many plays as an extra in Biograph company. In 1908, Biograph’s main director, Wallace McCutcheon became ill and his son, Wallace McCutcheon, Jr., took his place, but was not able to bring the studio any success. As a result, Biograph co-founder, Henry “Harry” Marvin, decided to give Griffith the position, and the young man made his first short movie for the company, “The adventures of Dollie”. Griffith would end up directing 48 shorts for the company that year. Four years later he produced, directed and released his first feature, Judith of Bethulia, in 1913, one of the earliest to be produced in the United States. Because of company resistance to his goals, and his cost overruns on the film, $30,000,Griffith left Biograph. He took his stock company of actors with him and joined the Mutual Film Coroporation, and formed a studio with the Majestic Studio manager Harry Aitken that became known as Reliance-Majestic Studios (that was later renamed Fine Arts Studio). (6-10)

 The Birth of a Nation:

Through Reliance-Majestic Studios, Griffith produced and directed “The Birth of a Nation”, in 1915, as one of the first feature length American films, as most previous films had been less than one hour long. The Birth of a Nation changed the industry’s standard in a way still influential today, but aroused much controversy due to its depiction of the KKK’s as the saviors of the white south against the black south with strong criticism from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). But despite all these, the film was the first “blockbuster” motion picture, and broke all the box office records, and benefitted people such as Louis Mayer who with the money he made, started his own studios of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. (11)

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The greatest films of all time:12.The Birth of a Nation (1915)(USA)