The First Full Film, It Had It All

        The film Birth of a Nation, (director D. W. Griffith, 1915) held the biggest impact for me historically. Not only was the film one of the first full-length films, it was also the first to cause such controversy in the nation. Originally called The Klansman, the film was a story of two families and their relationships during the American Civil War. One family was Southern and the other Northern. Through the war and famine brought on by war we watch the two families divide a various catastrophe's occur.

        The film portrays the black slaves as barbaric revolters and the slave holders in somewhat of an angelic light. D. W. Griffith has been called the "cinema's first great auteur"and "the Shakespeare of the screen." Despite his artistic talents, it seems improbable that his vision would be so limited by his very obscured opinions. When he directed the film he only wanted to portray the South as he knew it. He was appalled at the violent reaction that Americans had to the film.

        Over looking the somewhat biased depictions of the slaves, the film was a beautiful work of art. The narrative techniques used in Birth of a Nation would eventually become conventional techniques used in cinema. His innovative ideas were not formulation ones; they were simply problem solving. He took some inspiration from the Victorian novels he had read in his youth for ideas in narrative techniques, but mostly he used whatever worked for the tale. Griffith employed a very creative technique to emphasize the dramatic climax. He would cut back and forth between scenes until they all accelerated and ended in one very dramatic ending. This technique came to be known as "Griffith's last-minute rescue." The effectiveness of this technique came from the medium itself telling the tale by intercutting the shots. Griffith's creative genius in film would live on forever in the history of cinema, and it is hoped that intuitive ideas such as these will outline his other not-so-flattering reputation.

        The story in Birth of a Nation, although told from a biased point of view, portrayed the most pivotal and trying time in our nation's history. The American Civil War was a terrible bloody war fought at first with a passion and pride almost unrelented. But after the soldiers began to realize it was not going to end soon, the war and the moral changed for the worse. Families fought against one another, families on the home fronts were caring for draft dodgers, or wounded soldiers. Sometimes, and many times their homes were being invaded and terrorized by enemies. Towns were starving and falling prey to prejudiced and violent leaders. Throughout history our nation has been trying to overcome the perils left by the injustices done to many. The war spawned most of the other major movements that shape our nation including the most powerful, The Civil rights Movement. The film Birth of a Nation echoed a past of hatred and visualized for many Americans exactly what hate and blurred vision can cause. Its controversy called on every citizen to question his or her beliefs and ideals we are forced, when a film such as this comes along, to remember and honor how our nation has changed. We are forced to contemplate what is missing from our society to bring it further and further away from where we were those many many years ago.

         Birth of a Nation has everything a phenomenal film requires. It has genius film techniques, wonderful narrative, a great cast, and a creative director, and a HUGE reaction from its audiences. Whether the revival of the film was positive or negative, a good film is one that can gracefully employ these characteristics and be remembered by millions as one that evoked emotion and some great appreciation of our American value system.

Marilyn Kennon

Table of Contents