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Birth of a Nation
D.W. Griffith, Director
Robert Lang
Rutgers University Press, 1994
The Birth of a Nation (1915) remains the most controversial American film ever made, and its director, D. W. Griffith, one of the most extraordinary figures in film history. It was the first true feature film and did more than any other to launch Hollywood both as an industry and as an idea. The film consolidated a trend in cinematic technique and an approach to dramatic narrative that define American cinema to this day. As a great but ideologically troubled film that offers us a reflection of ourselves as Americans, The Birth of a Nation continues to intrigue, challenge, infuriate, and awe.

Robert Lang's introduction to this volume explores in fascinating detail the warped view of history that this great film presents. Griffith, a Southerner, was intent on resurrecting, idealizing, and justifying the South. In The Birth of a Nation, it is racism that unites the white North and South; the protection or abolition of slavery is not the divisive issue. In a powerful synthesis of spectacle and narrative, Griffith seeks to give the Southern cause a sense of glamour and high purpose. Lang considers the film as a historical melodrama, and by examining Griffith's "historiography as ideological practice," he traces the way in which the bloody, traumatic reality of the Civil War and Reconstruction becomes melodramatic myth. This unparalleled guide to The Birth of a Nation offers a shot-by-shot continuity script; a biographical sketch of the director; a sampling of contemporary reviews; a series of essays by distinguished critics including James Chandler, Michael Rogin, Janet Staiger, and Mimi White; and a filmography and bibliography.
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Cinema's Original Sin
D.W. Griffith, American Racism, and the Rise of Film Culture
Paul McEwan
University of Texas Press, 2022

For over a century, cinephiles and film scholars have had to grapple with an ugly artifact that sits at the beginnings of film history. D. W. Griffith’s profoundly racist epic, The Birth of a Nation, inspired controversy and protest at its 1915 release and was defended as both a true history of Reconstruction (although it was based on fiction) and a new achievement in cinematic art. Paul McEwan examines the long and shifting history of its reception, revealing how the film became not just a cinematic landmark but also an influential force in American aesthetics and intellectual life.

In every decade since 1915, filmmakers, museums, academics, programmers, and film fans have had to figure out how to deal with this troublesome object, and their choices have profoundly influenced both film culture and the notion that films can be works of art. Some critics tried to set aside the film’s racism and concentrate on the form, while others tried to relegate that racism safely to the past. McEwan argues that from the earliest film retrospectives in the 1920s to the rise of remix culture in the present day, controversies about this film and its meaning have profoundly shaped our understandings of film, race, and art.

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D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film
The Early Years at Biograph
Tom Gunning
University of Illinois Press, 1991
The legendary filmmaker D. W. Griffith directed nearly 200 films during 1908 and 1909, his first years with the Biograph Company. While those one-reel films are a testament to Griffith's inspired genius as a director, they also reflect a fundamental shift in film style from "cheap amusements" to movie storytelling complete with characters and narrative impetus.

In this comprehensive historical investigation, drawing on films preserved by the Library of Congress and the Museum of Modern Art, Tom Gunning reveals that the remarkable cinematic changes between 1900 and 1915 were a response to the radical reorganization within the film industry and the evolving role of film in American society. The Motion Picture Patents Company, the newly formed Film Trust, had major economic aspirations. The newly emerging industry's quest for a middle-class audience triggered Griffith's early experiments in film editing and imagery. His unique solutions permanently shaped American narrative film.

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Stagestruck Filmmaker
D. W. Griffith and the American Theatre
David Mayer
University of Iowa Press, 2009
An actor, a vaudevillian, and a dramatist before he became a filmmaker, D. W. Griffith used the resources of theatre to great purpose and to great ends. In pioneering the quintessentially modern medium of film from the 1890s to the 1930s, he drew from older, more broadly appealing stage forms of melodrama, comedy, vaudeville, and variety. In Stagestruck Filmmaker, David Mayer brings Griffith’s process vividly to life, offering detailed and valuable insights into the racial, ethnic, class, and gender issues of these transitional decades.

Combining the raw materials of theatre, circus, minstrelsy, and dance with the newer visual codes of motion pictures, Griffith became the first acknowledged artist of American film. Birth of a Nation in particular demonstrates the degree to which he was influenced by the racist justifications and distorting interpretations of the Civil War and the Reconstruction era. Moving through the major phases of Griffith’s career in chapters organized around key films or groups of films, Mayer provides a mesmerizing account of the American stage and cinema in the final years of the nineteenth century and the first three decades of the twentieth century.

Griffith’s relationship to the theatre was intricate, complex, and enduring. Long recognized as the dominant creative figure of American motion pictures, throughout twenty-six years of making more than five hundred films he pillaged, adapted, reshaped, revitalized, preserved, and extolled. By historicizing his representations of race, ethnicity, and otherness, Mayer places Griffith within an overall template of American life in the years when film rivaled and then surpassed the theatre in popularity.
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