Monday, June 9, 2008

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

The bringing of the African to America planted the first seed of disunion.
War, the breeder of hate.

That's for sure. Just think in a few years after this movie was made, WWI ended and the hating began. I thought it was interesting that Lincoln actually comes off as sort of benevolent toward the South (after the war) as depicted until his untimely death that they reenact with historical precision as the inter-titles tell us. John Wilkes Booth shouts out: "Sic semper tyrannis!"Sic semper tyrannis

The most successful and artistically advanced film of its time, The Birth of a Nation has also sparked protests, riots, and divisiveness since its first release. The film tells the story of the Civil War and its aftermath, as seen through the eyes of two families. The Stonemans hail from the North, the Camerons from the South. When war breaks out, the Stonemans cast their lot with the Union, while the Camerons are loyal to Dixie. After the war, Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall), distressed that his beloved south is now under the rule of blacks and carpetbaggers, organizes several like-minded Southerners into a secret vigilante group called the Ku Klux Klan. When Cameron's beloved younger sister Flora (Mae Marsh) leaps to her death rather than surrender to the lustful advances of renegade slave Gus (Walter Long), the Klan wages war on the new Northern-inspired government and ultimately restores "order" to the South. In the original prints, Griffith suggested that the black population be shipped to Liberia, citing Abraham Lincoln as the inspiration for this ethnic cleansing. Showings of Birth of a Nation were picketed and boycotted from the start, and as recently as 1995, Turner Classic Movies cancelled a showing of a restored print in the wake of the racial tensions around the O.J. Simpson trial verdict. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 187 mins
The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Woodrow Wilson's/"History of the American People":
"...Adventures swarmed out of the North, as much the enemies of the one race as of the other, to cozen, beguile, and use the Negroes...In the villages the Negores were the office holders, men who knew none of the uses of authority, except its insolences."
"...The policy of the congressional leaders wrought...a veritable overthrow of civilization in the their determination to 'put the white South under the heel of the black South'"
"The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation...until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country."

For her who had learned the stern lesson of honor we should not grieve that shy found sweeter the opal gates of death.

The only special feature is a documentary commentary by David Shepard entitled "The Making of "The Birth of a Nation" in 1993 by Film Preservation Associates.

In 1915 the Supreme Court gave States and local municipalities the right to enact "prior restraint" and censorship of motion pictures, when it wrote that,
"The exhibition of motion pictures is a business pure and simple, not to be regarded as part of the press of the country or as organs of public opinion, they are mere representations of events of ideas and sentiments published and known, vivid, useful and entertaining no doubt. But as we have said, capable of evil having power for the greater because of the attractiveness and manner of exhibition."

Obviously a racist piece of propaganda as a portrayal of Negroes, but shows a period of deep racial divide that even 50 years after the Civil War still felt a lot of animosity in the country.

Judge Tourgee fo the carpet-baggers.

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