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5.0 out of 5 stars I wish this film weren't so forgotten by today's filmgoers!
I am one of the rare people in my generation who loves silent movies. This ranks among my top three favorites. It is a classic story of the Civil War, told from the South's point of view (controversial at the time and still so today). "Birth of a Nation" tells the story of two families, one from the North and the other from the South, whose friendships and loves are...
Published on May 19 2004 by Sara M. Kay

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3.0 out of 5 stars A monumental if deeply disturbing film
I can only liken finally watching "Birth of a Nation" to the times when I have viewed Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda films -- I admire the filmmaking but I deplore the content. Terms such as "groundbreaking" and "landmark" are used pretty freely in film history, but BoaN deserves all the technical accolades one can muster. I had to keep reminding myself that this...
Published on May 17 2004 by Daniel S. Russell


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5.0 out of 5 stars I wish this film weren't so forgotten by today's filmgoers!, May 19 2004
By 
Sara M. Kay "pagan bookworm" (Newport, OR) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Birth of a Nation (DVD)
I am one of the rare people in my generation who loves silent movies. This ranks among my top three favorites. It is a classic story of the Civil War, told from the South's point of view (controversial at the time and still so today). "Birth of a Nation" tells the story of two families, one from the North and the other from the South, whose friendships and loves are tested by the war and its tragic aftermaths.
One of the greatest actors of all time, Henry B. Walthall, portrays Ben Cameron (The Little Colonel) with both physical and romantic grace. His character is a soldier, a son, a brother, an avenger, and a lover. He plays each of these sub-roles with dignity and skill not seen much in Hollywood these days. A beautiful and delicate Lillian Gish plays Elsie Stoneman, the woman he loved without even meeting her at first. Mae Marsh is delightful and tragic as the ill-fated Flora, Ben's little sister. Other noteworthy performances given are Joseph Henabery as an uncanny and kindhearted Abraham Lincoln; Ralph Lewis as the stubborn and powerhungry Austin Stoneman; the classic beauty Miriam Cooper as Margaret Cameron; and George Siegmann as the mulatto villain Silas Lynch.
This film has romance, action, drama, and even some bits of humor as well. If you're ever in the mood for a film which touches the heart as well as the mind and body, then please search out "Birth of a Nation". You'll be so glad you did.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I wish this film weren't so forgotten by today's filmgoers!, May 19 2004
By 
Sara M. Kay "pagan bookworm" (Newport, OR) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Birth of a Nation (VHS Tape)
I am one of the rare people in my generation who loves silent movies. This ranks among my top three favorites. It is a classic story of the Civil War, told from the South's point of view (controversial at the time and still so today). "Birth of a Nation" tells the story of two families, one from the North and the other from the South, whose friendships and loves are tested by the war and its tragic aftermaths.
One of the greatest actors of all time, Henry B. Walthall, portrays Ben Cameron (The Little Colonel) with both physical and romantic grace. His character is a soldier, a son, a brother, an avenger, and a lover. He plays each of these sub-roles with dignity and skill not seen much in Hollywood these days. A beautiful and delicate Lillian Gish plays Elsie Stoneman, the woman he loved without even meeting her at first. Mae Marsh is delightful and tragic as the ill-fated Flora, Ben's little sister. Other noteworthy performances given are Joseph Henabery as an uncanny and kindhearted Abraham Lincoln; Ralph Lewis as the stubborn and powerhungry Austin Stoneman; the classic beauty Miriam Cooper as Margaret Cameron; and George Siegmann as the mulatto villain Silas Lynch.
This film has romance, action, drama, and even some bits of humor as well. If you're ever in the mood for a film which touches the heart as well as the mind and body, then please search out "Birth of a Nation". You'll be so glad you did.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A monumental if deeply disturbing film, May 17 2004
By 
Daniel S. Russell "syzygy121" (Blacksburg, VA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Birth of a Nation (DVD)
I can only liken finally watching "Birth of a Nation" to the times when I have viewed Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda films -- I admire the filmmaking but I deplore the content. Terms such as "groundbreaking" and "landmark" are used pretty freely in film history, but BoaN deserves all the technical accolades one can muster. I had to keep reminding myself that this film was made in 1915, only three years after the Titanic sank. Griffith takes risks and blazes trails at such an early date.
What is also important to consider is that this film was made when a good deal of the cast, as well as the audience watching it had lived through Reconstruction. It reminds us how deeply divided the nation was even 50 years after Appamatox. This presentation is hardly balanced -- the cartoonish portrayal of the non-sympathetic charaters is so brazen the film is rendered preachy and heavy-handed, if not laughable. It is important to note the roots of fear that this film highlights -- mulattos are the dregs of society and miscegenation is the greatest evil imaginable. It's amazing to see how deeply racist the world-view is here, again reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.
The making of documentary is hardly enlightening. It does provide some look into the production itself, but very little comment is made on the social and ethical context here. Why are some of the black characters played by African-Americans while others are simply white actors in black face? One wishes that the DVD producers would have had more foresight or nerve to talk about the 10 ton elephant in the corner that I guess they wish we would ignore.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Birth of Seventh Art and history written in lightning, March 29 2004
By 
nicolaos (Thessaloniki, Greece) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Birth of a Nation (DVD)
Silent motion picture historical epic, about a Southern family’s experiences during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and Reconstruction, based on two novels and a play by Thomas Dixon. The movie costed 110.000 $ and was a big box-office hit, (10.000.000 $ in its time, about 1 billion $ today !!) but it also inspired race riots , protests, boycotts and eventually a move toward film censorship laws. Released in 1915, this film was directed by D. W. Griffith and is notable for its radical technical innovations. The Birth of a Nation is considered among the most important and influential films ever made, for its success established not only the feature-length film but also the Hollywood star system ,Griffith as the leading motion-picture producer of the time and motion pictures as an art form for cultured spectators, stunning audiences with its dazzling spectacle of a still-recent event. Until Griffith's time, motion pictures had been short, rarely exceeding one reel; episodic rather than dramatic; and poorly produced, acted, and edited. Griffith's films were frequently several hours in length, contained powerful dramatic situations and vivid characters, and were produced with technical virtuosity. Besides that’s why he is often called The Father of the Motion Picture.
Unlike most of his predecessors, Griffith used in Birth a variety of camera angles and close-ups, for dramatic emphasis and moved the camera close to the action, using many separate shots with flashbacks, which for purposes of clarification of plot or characterization, introduce scenes antedating those already shown. He was one of the first to use a technique called crosscutting( parallel editing), which involves switching back and forth between different story lines to achieve suspense, and an other called fade-out, a transition from one scene to another by the gradual disappearance of the first scene from the screen. Griffith’s extensively collaborator and legendary cameraman Billy Bitzer did a great work, so did Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, Henry B. Walthall and other great actors under Griffith’s direction that emphasized an intimate, restrained style of acting suitable for camera close-ups.
The film is also notable for the enormous controversy it aroused because of its “racist” portrayal of African Americans, except the faithful servants, and its very pro southern view of Civil War and Reconstruction era. Griffith traces the disastrous effects of Civil War through the lives of two friendly associated families, Camerons from South and Stonemans from North, divided now by war’s storm. When Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall) returns to the South after the Civil War, he feels that the region is being torn apart by carpetbaggers and black people in positions of power, like Silas Lynch the mullato lieut. Governor of S. Carolina, backed from Radicals (Congress’s main political force) and their leader Austin Stoneman (a character merely inspired from radical Edwin Stanton), head of Stonemans’s House, who promote complete equality between blacks and whites and the crash of South’s white dominion.
After Abraham Lincoln’s assasination (truthfully depicted), who stood against the severe treatment toward Southern States, Radicals can easily carry out their plans. Meanwhile a love affair flourishes between Ben and Elsie Stoneman(Lilian Gish), Stoneman’s daughter. After a black man (Gus) attacks his little sister (Mae Marsh), Ben organizes the Ku Klux Klan, a name adapted from the Greek word kuklos (“circle”), and with his companions rise the ancient Scotland’s “flaming cross”, to restore law and order in the South, defending the white-aryan supremacy and protecting racial purity. A controversial cause in its own time and repugnant decades later in modern Hollywood. Lynch betrays Stoneman and uses his power to force his daugter Elsie to marry him and plans to turn the South in to a “Black Empire”. Elsie resists, defending her “white woman’s pride”, in a scene where Gish gives a great performance. Finally after an epic ride of Ku Klux Klan’s cavalry, and the disarmament of the black pro federal troops Ben saves his beloved Elsie from Lynch’s hands and sets an and to anarchy and oppression. President Woodrow Wilson was so impressed with this version of the Reconstruction that he said it was “like history written in lightning.”.
IMHO Birth’s portrayal of African Americans is no more racist or stereotypical than this of other national groups often harshly humiliated by US Motion Picture Industry’s products, such as the Germans, the Indians, the Japanese, the Russians, the Romans etc., yet none received so much criticism. Before condemning D. W. Griffith that offered a biased view of black people and glorified Ku Klux Klan, we should consider that he was the son of a ex-Confederate Colonel and he grew up attending stories about the Civil War, the South’s humiliation during Reconstruction’s era, and Klan’s rebelion. Therefore, he saw these historical facts through a southern perspective and put all his ideological passion in his work. So, what? As an artist, he had any right to express his beliefs, controversial or not, and anybody can disagree with him using arguments . Intolerance (1916) was Griffith’s statement of feeling persecuted for his beliefs.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Birth of Seventh Art and history written in lightning, March 29 2004
By 
nicolaos (Thessaloniki, Greece) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Birth of a Nation (DVD)
Silent motion picture historical epic, about a Southern family's experiences during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and Reconstruction, based on two novels and a play by Thomas Dixon. The movie costed 110.000 $ and was a big box-office hit, (10.000.000 $ in its time, about 1 billion $ today !!) but it also inspired race riots , protests, boycotts and eventually a move toward film censorship laws. Released in 1915, this film was directed by D. W. Griffith and is notable for its radical technical innovations. The Birth of a Nation is considered among the most important and influential films ever made, for its success established not only the feature-length film but also the Hollywood star system ,Griffith as the leading motion-picture producer of the time and motion pictures as an art form for cultured spectators, stunning audiences with its dazzling spectacle of a still-recent event. Until Griffith's time, motion pictures had been short, rarely exceeding one reel; episodic rather than dramatic; and poorly produced, acted, and edited. Griffith's films were frequently several hours in length, contained powerful dramatic situations and vivid characters, and were produced with technical virtuosity. Besides that's why he is often called The Father of the Motion Picture.
Unlike most of his predecessors, Griffith used in Birth a variety of camera angles and close-ups, for dramatic emphasis and moved the camera close to the action, using many separate shots with flashbacks, which for purposes of clarification of plot or characterization, introduce scenes antedating those already shown. He was one of the first to use a technique called crosscutting( parallel editing), which involves switching back and forth between different story lines to achieve suspense, and an other called fade-out, a transition from one scene to another by the gradual disappearance of the first scene from the screen. Griffith's extensively collaborator and legendary cameraman Billy Bitzer did a great work, so did Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, Henry B. Walthall and other great actors under Griffith's direction that emphasized an intimate, restrained style of acting suitable for camera close-ups.

The film is also notable for the enormous controversy it aroused because of its "racist" portrayal of African Americans, except the faithful servants, and its very pro southern view of Civil War and Reconstruction era. Griffith traces the disastrous effects of Civil War through the lives of two friendly associated families, Camerons from South and Stonemans from North, divided now by war's storm. When Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall) returns to the South after the Civil War, he feels that the region is being torn apart by carpetbaggers and black people in positions of power, like Silas Lynch the mullato lieut. Governor of S. Carolina, backed from Radicals (Congress's main political force) and their leader Austin Stoneman (a character merely inspired from radical Edwin Stanton), head of Stonemans's House, who promote complete equality between blacks and whites and the crash of South's white dominion.

After Abraham Lincoln's assasination (truthfully depicted), who stood against the severe treatment toward Southern States, Radicals can easily carry out their plans. Meanwhile a love affair flourishes between Ben and Elsie Stoneman(Lilian Gish), Stoneman's daughter. After a black man (Gus) attacks his little sister (Mae Marsh), Ben organizes the Ku Klux Klan, a name adapted from the Greek word kuklos ("circle"), and with his companions rise the ancient Scotland's "flaming cross", to restore law and order in the South, (...) protecting racial purity. A controversial cause in its own time and repugnant decades later in modern Hollywood. Lynch betrays Stoneman and uses his power to force his daugter Elsie to marry him and plans to turn the South in to a "Black Empire". Elsie resists, defending her "white woman's pride", in a scene where Gish gives a great performance. Finally after an epic ride of Ku Klux Klan's cavalry, and the disarmament of the black federal troops Ben saves his beloved Elsie from Lynch's hands and sets an and to anarchy and oppression. President Woodrow Wilson was so impressed with this version of the Reconstruction that he said it was "like history written in lightning.".
IMHO Birth's portrayal of African Americans is no more racist or stereotypical than this of other national groups often harshly humiliated from the US Motion Picture Industry's products, such as the Germans, the Indians, the Japanese, the Russians, the Romans etc., yet none received so much criticism. Before condemning D. W. Griffith that offered a biased view of black people and glorified Ku Klux Klan, we should consider that he was the son of a ex-Confederate Colonel and he grew up attending stories about the Civil War, the South's humiliation during Reconstruction's era, and Klan's rebelion. Therefore, he saw these historical facts through a southern perspective and put all his ideological passion in his work. So, what? As an artist, he had any right to express his beliefs, controversial or not, and anybody can disagree with him using arguments . Intolerance (1916) was Griffith's statement of feeling persecuted for his beliefs.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An European Opinion, Dec 27 2003
This review is from: Birth of a Nation (DVD)
Okay, as an European citizen I may not be in the position to make any comments about political rights or wrongs in America.
But I recommend this movie to all people, who don't only ask WHAT, but do ask HOW and WHY, too.
Simplified: In Europe we are used to look at both sides of a horse, before we buy it... (history taught us so.)
The movie gives an insight of what events lead to the foundation of the KKK. I am not to decide if these shown events ARE history (I'm European and - you may have guessed it - in school we didn't learn anything about South Carolina's history), but they are the historical events, as a Southerner may have seen them in the first years of the last century when the movie was made. (History for sure isn't always an exact science - it depends on the side, from which you are looking). So, when I bought this dvd, I didn't search for historical facts - I wanted to understand. And the dvd satisfied this need fully...
And now I understand the discussions around this movie, too - it's because it must be a dilemma for today's Americans:
-If the shown events were true, it would be (- if that is possible in these days) a shock for the selfunderstanding of today's modern America.
-If the shown events were not true, then it wasn't the German nazis or the Russian communists of the 1930s, who invented the "Propagandafilm" to manipulate their own people. And then someone may ask the question 'which pictures we have seen up until today are true, which are not?'
So all in all: This movie may not be a historical documentation - but a historical document it is for sure!
At least it is for people, who are trying to understand different points of view, too. To prevent the return of bloody events, history mustn't only teach us what happend - history must teach us why it happened!!! "Birth Of A Nation" gives this insight, I think. Not only with it's content, but with it's sheer existence. And with showing us, how different historical facts can be seen with different eyes...
And before I forget it: The war scenes are very good and the scenes with the hundreds of riding clansmen, with their white robes flying in the wind, are simply beautiful.
Hey, from the technical and cineastic point of view - for sure!!!
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4.0 out of 5 stars An epic silent masterpiece in a terrific DVD release!, Dec 24 2003
By 
This review is from: Birth of a Nation (DVD)
D.W. Griffith's 1915 epic silent masterpiece "The Birth Of A Nation" gets an excellent DVD treatment by Madacy Entertainment (yes,that's right Madacy!).We all know that Madacy has produced worst quality DVD'S (ex:METROPOLIS)through the years,but "The Birth Of A Nation" is an excellent example of how a great film should be restored by such a low-budget manufacturer like Madacy has done! I originally used to own this film on VHS (also by Madacy),but now that I have this version on DVD,it's even better than the original VHS quality print! Although the film is presented entirely in black & white,it runs close to three hours (175 mins) since a few bits of scenes were cut and in its original projection speed.The musical score is also excellent which includes excerpts from classical music to even folk songs which helps the film give a period feel to it.Extras are pretty much so-so such as the trivia quiz,and also includes an interesting poster gallery which includes three different posters promoting the film during its original release and also two publicity stills.I only give this DVD four stars,not because of the film itself and also quality,but the extras could've been more entertaining like a making of the film and also production info on how this controversial and groundbreaking film was made.But nonetheless,it's a outstanding DVD and that the picture quality is sharp and crystal clear which makes it more interesting to watch! If you don't have the money to buy the Image DVD version of BOAN,I would strongly recommend this version by Madacy.You will not be dissapointed!A real must-have DVD.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Incredible Masterpiece of the American History, Sept. 6 2003
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This review is from: Birth of a Nation (DVD)
I am totally impressed by this movie, as I am a huge fan of D.W. Griffith's work. He was a consummate professional and perfectionist in getting the detail in the films he made. This is among his best and also most controversial. The film, based on the Civil war and the assisanation and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan is powerful. I find it wonderful to see that D.W. recreated faithfully the details surrounding this "dark age" of American history. Lillian Gish, as always, is as brilliant as her director and her character is magnificent. Henry Walthall is just as brilliant as the brother who goes to war and also revenges against the black man who caused his baby sister (Mae Marsh) death, Miriam Cooper is a wonderful figure, and of course the actors themselves are brilliant. America is ashamed to see this movie as it reminds them of its past, but indeed it is a powerful film and any portrayal of the film, though directed by a man who was a bit bigoted (not his fault I must say though), since has failed to match it in artistry. I recommend this film for historians and for fans alike. It is truly a masterpiece!! Bravo D.W.!
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Movie Is Great, But What Is the Soundtrack Like?, Aug. 14 2003
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This review is from: Birth of a Nation (DVD)
I'm not going to buy this DVD, but not because the movie is bad (it isn't) or because it's racist (although it is). No, it's the soundtrack that concerns me.
Back in the 80s, this movie was shown on PBS with a truly magnificent soundtrack. So good was the soundtrack, that the movie would have been worth watching no matter how bad the picture was.
Since then, I've seen several different versions of this movie, but in every case the soundtrack was so insipid, and the contrast with the remembered PBS soundtrack so jarring, that I couldn't sit through more than fifteen minutes of it.
A good soundtrack is crucial to the enjoyment of a movie, and this is especially true for silent films, which have neither dialogue, nor sound effects, nor integrated music of their own. When a silent movie on video is sold to the general public, I think it is imperative that the soundtrack be clearly identified. It would be best if 30-second sound samples were provided, like those provided for music CDs. Otherwise, people like me, who are looking for a version with a particular soundtrack, will simply refuse to buy.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Piece of History, July 25 2003
By 
Jason Robey "horakhti" (Silver Spring, MD USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Birth of a Nation (DVD)
What can one say about one of the single most important events in cinematic history? There is not a film today that doesn't owe something to "The Birth of a Nation", the grandfather of all films. Director D.W. Griffith almost single handedly transformed film from mere sideshow curiosity to a legitimate art form in a single fell swoop.
Unfortunately however, it is hard to praise "The Birth of a Nation" without likewise condemning it. It is one of the most racist movies ever made. There are still those today who want it banned. However, in my opinion, banning this film was a question for Americans in 1915, not 2003. It has already made its mark in the world and today it is more or less a historical artifact. Rather, I think that we should be encouraged to watch it, to critique it, to praise its technical innovations and artistic breakthroughs, and to condemn its unapologetic racism and misguided moral stances. In its triumphs and its downfalls, "The Birth of a Nation" has much to teach us.
As for the film itself, it's best to research ahead of time why it is such a technological and artistic breakthrough. There are several sites on the web that discuss all of the innovations employed in the movie by director D.W. Griffith (and his unheralded cameraman, Billy Bitzer.)
Historical significance aside, is "The Birth of a Nation" an enjoyable film? In my opinion: yes, with the right frame of mind. It's a silent film, so you have to infer a lot of things from the subtitles and the acting. It's a bit like watching a foreign film in that respect, though the acting tends to be melodramatic in exchange for dialogue.
The story, about two families from the North and the South, is well told and always engaging. The first part of the movie deals with the pre-Civil War era up through Lincoln's postwar assassination. The second, more controversial half deals with the Reconstruction of the South.
Throughout we are given historically accurate vignettes, such as Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomatox. My favorite was the magnificently edited scene at Ford's Theater. On the other hand, I found it hard to follow many of the Civil War battles, which were often filmed from afar or at night. Especially annoying is the red tint that was used for scenes where something is burning. These are cinematic innovations, but they are still taxing on the eyes.
The acting is very charming. Lillian Gish, who is widely heralded as the greatest actress of the silent era, is wonderful, as are Henry B. Walthall as the "Little Colonel" and Mae Marsh as the "Little Sister." Some of the greatest scenes in the film are Walthall's mournful expressions, especially when he returns to his home after the war.
But the way African Americans are portrayed in the film is shocking and appalling. Without exception they are played as grotesque caricatures and stereotypes rather than human beings. The major African American characters are played by whites in blackface, which comes off as extremely disconcerting. Especially creepy is a so-called "mulatto" servant named Lydia who is perpetually aroused throughout the film.
Also, I have nothing against a film portraying the Ku Klux Klan in a historical epic about the Reconstruction, but the idea that a group of murdering racists were the heroes and saviors of the South is difficult to digest, to say the least.
In conclusion, I highly recommend viewing (or purchasing) "The Birth of a Nation", but be sure to do so with a critical mind and a good understanding of where the film's merits and weaknesses lie.
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Birth of a Nation
Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith (DVD - 2004)
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