The Birth of a Nation (1915) Review


Verdict: First ever blockbuster?

Crazy long, with an ideology that is hard to handle but a masterpiece in its day.

Review

This is the movie that D.W. Griffth is most famous for, and which earned him millions of dollars. The film follows two families: The Stoneman family and the Cameron family who are close friends with each other and eventually result in romance between the daughter and son. Mixed in with this melodrama is the backdrop of the civil war, as well as the creation of the Ku Klux Klan.

Keeping in mind that this was made in 1915, the movie was considered to be a huge breakthrough. Griffith did not invent any new cinematic techniques, however was the first one to use a lot of these techniques (tracking shots, wide angle shots, close ups) in one film. He was also the first to create a film this long.

It is actually not so boring, but it is just really long. In addition to that, the film’s racist ideology makes me wonder why this film keeps being shown in film studies classes. Understandably, it is depicting the historical context in which it was made in, but it really is just so racist. The African-Americans in the film are actually Caucasians with charcoal on their faces and bodies. The film also portrays them as violent and uncivilised people.

With its mass actors and wide angle shots of war, this film can be said to be the first blockbuster ever. So for that reason, and that reason only, I give this film a slightly higher rating than I would have originally. Griffith does use cross-cutting rather efficiently and for the beginning of the 20th century, it must have been a shock to watch.

Rather than being a film to review, I feel that this film is more of a depiction of film history (which I guess answers my previous question. So, I won’t give a summary here, but will still rate it.

I give this a 5/10.

Have you seen Birth of a Nation? What do you think, should it still be shown in classes?

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