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Wednesday Movie Discussions

14 Years Ago


On my myspace and livejournal blogs I run a discussion of movies and social values/topics on Wednesday nights. I'd love to do it here too!

This is last weeks topic: Birth of a Nation

Wow, everyone. I hadn�t seen this movie before I assigned it to you, nor did I know how important a film it is to cinema. I heard that it was controversial, I didn�t know the controversy is a deeper discussion of being able to separate values and contributions.

�Birth of a Nation� has been cited as the single most influential movie in American Cinema. The three hour film changed the way film makers developed and practiced their craft. It was also a box office smash, charging an unheard of $2 per person to see. It is hard to tell now when we watch �Birth of a Nation� how revolutionary it was, especially if we aren�t that well versed in the history of film. Many of the styles of camera work, cinematic bridges, etc we still use today were developed for this movie. Still, the message of the movie, which is very clear towards the end, is the writer and director�s vision of a slippery slope if black people were given equal rights. The message is defiantly not one of tolerance and loving one and other.

In a synopsis and analysis of Griffith's film, Filmsite.org notes:
"New controversy [arose] when [Birth of a Nation] was voted into the National Film Registry in 1993, and when it was voted one of the 'Top 100 American Films' (at # 44) by the American Film Institute in 1998. Film scholars agree, however, that it is the single most important and key film of all time in American movie history - it contains many new cinematic innovations and refinements, technical effects and artistic advancements, including a color sequence at the end. It had a formative influence on future films and has had a recognized impact on film history and the development of film as art. However, it still provokes conflicting views about its message[s], including the suppression of the black threat to white society by the glorious Ku Klux Klan."

Should �Birth of a Nation� be celebrated as one of the best movies of all time or does its blatantly racist plot resign it to suffer the shame of the movie�s message? What can we take from this movie? What acknowledgments can we, as a responsible public, give to a movie so shamelessly racist? Can we put our seal of approval on a movie for its contributions in the ways of cinematography or technology without approving the message film? Is it possible to separate the message (racism) from the messenger (the film making)? To answer these questions honestly I think we need to ask ourselves; if a movie came out today with the same message but was equally revolutionary in the area of film making, would you see it or would you boycott it on principle?

Small question: Are the KKK members wearing toilet plungers on their heads?

Next week�s movie: Hard Candy