Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Birth of a Nation

D.W.Griffith, 1915, 180m

Being three hours long and silent are not big faults in this film since it manages to keep a hold on your interest for most of it's duration. For a movie to be silent is not a limitation but a genre. It has been proved time and again that a silent film can often do things a talkie cannot. For an outsider, this film provides, for all it's alleged distortions, a historical framework from which one can extrapolate and construe the painful pangs of labor that must have been the American Civil War (one of the bloodiest, with 600,000 lives lost) and the history flowing  in an unbroken series from then onwards to the present. It graphically portrays the divisions within American society which led to the conflagration. It is retrospectively startling that the rock solid edifice that is the US was not that long ago rift by a fratricidal struggle of such dimensions. Part of the power of the film derives from it's honest racialist point of view which convincingly meshes with the historical facts. It is a genuine piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is history. It may be simplistic and give a one sided picture but it does present that one side authentically and skillfully just as Riefenstahl's film about rising Hitlerism. It even seems ludicrous that in this movie of 1915 the Ku  Klux Klan should be shown as knights in shining armor. Griffith must have been a bigoted and blood thirsty Southerner with a precocious talent for film making.

Stars: 4.5/5


Anonymous said...

Its weakness is as fascinating as its strength. I don't like its racistic view, but I could not help myself from admiring its storytelling skill and technical aspects while horrified by the second part. "Oh, F*ck, it works terrific!"

S. M. Rana said...

Racism is a fact of history and the fact that the director is himself one gives the film a kind of ambivalent, scary, realism, it's strongly disturbing quality. Even in Riefenstahl's movie about the Nuremberg rally, the complete mesmerization of the masses, makes one disturbingly realize, it could have been any of us there, helplessly cheering the despot.