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1001 Club - Birth of a Nation, The (1915)

#3. The Birth of a Nation (1915)

#3. The Birth Of A Nation (1915)

Why It's In The Book: "Simultaneously one of the most revered and reviled films ever made, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth Of A Nation is important for the very reasons that prompt both of those divergent reactions. In fact, rarely has a film so equally deserved such praise and scorn, which in many ways raises the film’s estimation not just in the annals of cinema but as an essential historic artifact (some might say relic).

Though it was based on Thomas Dixon’s explicitly racist play The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, by many accounts Griffith was indifferent to the racist bent of the subject matter. Just how complicit that makes him in delivering its ugly message has been cause for almost a century of debate. However, there has been no debate concerning the film’s technical and artistic merits. Griffith was as usual more interested in the possibilities of the medium than the message, and in this regard he set the standard for modern Hollywood.

Most overtly, The Birth of a Nation was the first real historical epic, proving that even in the silent era audiences were willing to sit through a nearly three-hour drama. But with countless artistic innovations, Griffith essentially created contemporary film language, and although elements of The Birth of a Nation may seem quaint or dated by contemporary standards, virtually every film is beholden to it in one way, shape, or form. Griffith introduced the use of dramatic close-ups, tracking shots, and other expressive camera movements; parallel action sequences, crosscutting, and other editing techniques; and even the first orchestral score. It’s a shame all these groundbreaking elements were attached to a story of such dubious value.…It’s thrilling and disturbing, often at the same time….

It was protested by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), sparked riots, and later forced Griffith himself to answer criticisms with his even more ambitious Intolerance (1916). Still, the fact that The Birth of a Nation remains respected and studied to this day—despite its subject matter—reveals its lasting importance." -1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Member Ratings

Chris Edwards - 8/10
"There’s charm in the film, too; borne in the depth—the literal deepness—of its scenes. Something’s almost always going on behind the main players in Birth of a Nation: a card game between two guards; a doctor tending to the arm of a wounded soldier; slaves working the fields. There’s a whole world here. Griffith worked very hard to create this
place."
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Kim Wilson - 7.5/10
"While this film definitely has racist overtones, I don't think that's enough to negate the important film elements first revolutionized in the production. This film should be watched."
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Lindsey - 7/10
"It was like living my childhood history lessons all over again. I thought I was done with that."
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Adolytsi - 6/10
"This is a hard one to sit through, I’ll admit, and it gets points off because of it. It’s well done, but there just isn’t a whole lot of entertainment value in it, especially any that can’t be found in other more appealing films."
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Nicolas Krizan - 6/10
"a message from another world, historically and politically incorrect on an almost unimaginable scale"
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TSorensen - 6/10
"Did I like it? Hell no! Was it worth watching it? Definitely!"
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Movie Guy Steve - 5/10
"Ultimately, which is more important—the invention and use of new and influential techniques in the cinematic medium or the reprehensible, vicious, and racist story it tells?"
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Squish - 5/10
"The second half of the movie is 'Reconciliation', when the now free Negroes began to be a 'thorn' in the side of whites and the Ku Klux Klan comes and saves the day from the 'power-hungry and harassing' blacks. No it's not convoluted, it's 100% pro-Klan. Hey guess what I think of that?"
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Siochembio - 3/10
"I would never recommend anyone see this unless they need to for a class or unless they are a list completist.  I get no sense of pleasure from watching this movie."
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Overall Rating: 5.9/10


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