The Birth of a Nation

directed by D.W. Griffith
Category: "Drama"
Year of Release:1915
Date Added:04/04/2008
Date Watched:10/18/2004
My Rating:6

Reviews for The Birth of a Nation

Review - Birth of a Nation, The

Set during and after the Civil War. Austin Stoneman is an abolitionist senator. His two sons travel to South Carolina to visit their friends, The Camerons. (The oldest son from each family met at boarding school.) Tod Stoneman falls in love with Margaret Cameron, while Ben Cameron falls in love with a photograph of Tod’s sister, Elsie. When the war comes, the families are on opposing sides. The younger Stoneman son and the two younger Cameron sons die. Ben is injured and taken to the hospital where Elsie is his nurse. The two fall in love. After the war, Senator Stoneman is one of the movers and shakers who determine to handle the South roughly. He promotes the mulatto, Silas Lynch who rallies the Blacks and prevents the Whites from voting so that he becomes Lt. Governor. Soon the Blacks are running the town and demanding the right to marry White women. When one of them pursues young Flora Cameron and forces her to jump off a cliff to her death to preserve her honor, her brother Ben comes up with the idea of the Ku Klux Klan. Things soon get out of hand. The Whites, North and South unite in Aryan unity (it actually uses the word “Aryan.”), and even Senator Stoneman joins in when Lynch presumes to marry Elsie and takes her prisoner. The Camerons are trapped in a small cabin surrounded by murderous Blacks when the Klan arrives and drives them off and disarms them. Tod ends up with Margaret and Ben marries Elsie.

• The movie is based on the novel The Clansman by Thomas F. Dixon Jr.
• The racism is overt. Blacks are stereotyped as stupid, prone to dancing and constantly leering after White women. The only good Blacks are the loyal Cameron slaves who stay with their masters after the war. Most of the Blacks were played by Whites in black face.
• The Klan is represented as heroic. There isn’t a touch of blame. The point of the movie is that we have the Klan to thank for saving the nation and making things the way they were in 1915.
• The over-acting was amazing. Characters mugged and held their mugs for long pauses. During chase scenes, they would stop running to wave their arms back and forth.
• There was no camera panning. The same sets appeared over and over with various characters taking turns moving through them.
• Three hours is a long time to watch a silent movie.
• Many of the text screens were written so flowery as to be totally incomprehensible.

I enjoyed it from an historic standpoint, but I’m not eager to watch it again.
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