The Many "Firsts" of Birth of a Nation

         Living in the day and age of not only color films but also films with sound, most movie audiences would never think of how movies have got to the point where they are now. Most regular movie goers have not seen a silent black and white movie, and they are missing out on a lot of movie history. Where would the colored and sound-filled movies of today be without the silent movies of yesterday? Even more importantly were the new techniques that D.W. Griffith used in his 1915 film, Birth of a Nation. With these new techniques, he advanced silent movies, which are the mothers of current cinema.

         During the time Griffith filmed Birth of a Nation, stage actors were much more important and famous than film actors. Yet with new techniques on how to film these actors and the scenes of the movie, Griffith changed this point of view. One of these techniques is the idea of using close ups in movies instead of filming the actor head to toe. We see this used throughout Birth of a Nation, yet one example is the first scene where we find a close up of a mother and her children crying on a hill. When Griffith pans away from these characters, we witness Sherman's army marching toward Atlanta. This gave the audience not only a personal idea but also a historical idea placed together in one scene.

         Not only did Griffith "invent" the close up in movies, but he also used flashbacks in a film. At the time, this was only used in literature; but Griffith decided that this would be a good idea for film also. Griffith also used parallel scenes next to each other to create the sensation of being in two places at once. Also in certain scenes he sped the action up, showing that film could do so much more than stage acting could. With all these new techniques introduced into film making, the popularity started to grow and it has not stopped since.

Amy Hiett

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