Throughout life, one tends to watch a lot of films. This is a part of our culture that has become borderline obsessive in developed countries. It is a pastime that ranks right up there with watching professional sports. When I am on a college campus (as I have been for the last four years) I commonly hear the murmur of
"That movie is coming out this weekend." It is rare that I ever hear
"That movie that was from the earlier 1900's was amazing!
I feel that audiences have forgotten to take the time to appreciate movies that in today's society would be one word--borderline awful. The reason these films may be viewed as awful, is due to the movie being taken out of context. In our English 313 class we took the time to have viewings of films that have influenced the present cinema industry that we see all around us. Audiences always focus on what a film is lacking to decide whether or not the film was good or bad. It is exactly what this film lacks that makes it so vital to our studies of films for the future. There have been many educated persons who can be quoted saying, "It is only by learning from our past that we can move on to the future." This is so true. This film lacks the animation, drama, literary sound, and action that today's films must have in order to be ranked according to Yahoo as rotten free.
It is hard to go back and watch a movie of the past and not compare it to films that I am used to viewing. The technology is so much more advanced these days, yet it is by viewing the older films that I learn to appreciate just how far we have advanced in the cinematic world. The film Birth of a Nation (D. W. Griffith 1915) was actually fairly advanced for its own time. The moment this film had been finished in filming it had claimed the title for "the longest and most expensive motion picture yet made in America." In this film D.W. Griffith had integrated all of his most technologically advanced skills he possessed. Griffith used a series of different film shots such as: medium shots, extreme long shots and multiple camera setups. Griffith also used editing techniques to execute flashbacks and accelerated montage sequences. He performed camera movements that had not yet been seen in a film such as, tilting, panning, sweeping, iris shots, and masks. These are advancements that most people neglect to think about when viewing this film. Audiences that viewed the film when it was first presented were even quoted saying the film was "Epoch-making" or "prestigious" despite how racist it had seemed (Cook 65).
In today's day and age audiences have a hard time paying enough attention to a film that does not move its camera, or a film that does not have multiple plots and beautiful heroines or heroes. This film The Birth of a Nation was very much a building block to all of these factors that we have grown to crave. It contained all the makings to inspire the films we so love today. It had the heroines and heroes. It had the camera movement and multiple plots. Today's audiences need movement in a film; they need something to grasp their attention. This film may not be worshipped and appreciated by every viewer in our society. It can, however, be appreciated for how far it has helped cinema's society come. Had Griffith not inspired other directors to "work outside the box" or try anything new, we may still be watching one-dimensional film, with one-dimensional plots at our local movie theatres.
Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004.