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on February 11, 2003
It's sad to think that this notorious and rather dismal effort from D.W. Griffith will be the first (and possibly last) silent film encounter for many viewers. Unlike another pioneering feature Intolerance (the main case for Griffith), Birth of a Nation plays out like an overlong American Biograph (the assembly line shorts he made prior to Nation) exhibiting all the trademarks: poor production values, distracting use of blackface, scurrying.... Frankly, if real black actors were cast in the more offensive, leading 'colored' roles, my objections to the film would be more muted as they centre more on its amateurish presentation than on its objectionable political views. Griffith is the pivotal figure in silent cinema, but his work alone cannot contain the creativity and visual splendour of the genre.
Still, if you must, this is the definitive DVD edition, a repackaging of the Image edition along with seven civil war biographs, a visual essay and a fascinating prologue. Yes, we'd all love to have a cleaner print and a scholarly commentary, but given the small market for silents, fans have learned to settle.
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on July 9, 2009
One general problem with most of the DVD reviews found on Amazon is that they focus too much on the plot and background of a movie, but do NOT go into the technical details of the quality of the overall viewing experience. In the case of "public domain" films, it is the quality of the print used to transfer the movie to DVD which too often makes or breaks the enjoyment of the viewing experience. I've learned this the hard way and now have complete confidence in some studios (Kino, Legend Films, and not as much to absolutely none in others.

I shall skip the plot summary of Birth of A Nation and the controversy surrounding the movie because I am sure most people reading this are VERY familiar with it all. Instead, I'll simply say that since the price was right, I recently purchased the Alpha Video version and was VERY pleasantly surprised. The picture was sharp and clear, and there didn't appear to be much damage on the print they had used to make the movie. Clearly, someone at the studio had put his foot down to ensure that a high-quality product was produced, or perhaps they simply lucked out and found a really well-preserved copy of the film. In any event, I liked what I saw a lot. I got a hold of a copy from Kino (a studio I purchase DVDs from without a second thought)to compare the quality, and thought that the Alpha Video version was much sharper and enjoyable to watch. It is just a pity that it doesn't have all the supplementary features that comes with the Kino version.
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on May 19, 2004
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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on March 29, 2004
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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on March 29, 2004
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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on December 27, 2003
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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on December 24, 2003
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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on September 6, 2003
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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on August 14, 2003
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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on July 25, 2003
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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