“The Greatest Thing In Life” – Wid’s Daily (1919)

  • Wid’s Daily – Thursday, January 2, 1919
  • The Recognized Authority

Griffith Puts Over Winner in His Latest Film. It’s Human

D. W. Griffith Presents

“The Greatest Thing In Life.” – Artcraft

Producer/Director D.W. Griffith, AUTHOR Captain Victor Marrier, CAMERAMAN G W Bitzer, SCENARIO BY Captain Victor Marrier

  • AS A WHOLE.. . . ..Splendid production with strong human interest element; war scenes presented in masterly fashion.
  • STORY Has a real theme apart from war, developed with keen comprehension of feminine nature in search of “the greatest thing in life.”
  • DIRECTION Reveals the flawless technique expected of Griffith: always avoids the superfluous and makes much of seeming trifles that spell reality.
  • PHOTOGRAPHY Always superior
  • LIGHTINGS Excellent in getting beautiful modulations of light and shadow; never permit monotony.
  • CAMERA WORK Notable for the introduction of a new and artistic close-up suggestive of an impressionistic photograph. Effects gained by what may be termed “a soft focus”
  • PLAYERS Lillian Gish vivacious and charming ; Bobby Harron registers fine characterization; David Butler and others add to story.
  • EXTERIORS Delightful to look at; largely because of excellent photography.
  • INTERIORS Richly furnished when situations demand it; always look like real thing.
  • DETAIL Includes significant incidents; subtitles give natural expression to the mood of the
  • CHARACTER OF STORY Shows Germans as “the enemy”, but doesn’t harp on atrocities.
  • LENGTH OF PRODUCTION About 6,500 ft.

Griffith remains pre-eminent on account of what he doesn’t do as well as what he does. When a scene has reached the “punch” point he uses the scissors, and the audience isn’t bothered by the loose ends of dramatic action. He doesn’t work with stereotyped characters because they are convenient; he doesn’t show a German officer assaulting a woman because it has become the custom to present brutality in war films; he doesn’t use a sledge hammer to pound home his meaning and he doesn’t hesitate to tackle a delicate situation because there is danger of its not getting over.

Get “The Greatest Thing in Life” and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll see the difference between the output of a creative artist and the work of a conscientious craftsman who learns to do well something which others have done before him. There’s a big difference and it is the difference that makes this a distinctly superior production.

Griffith took a story of character good enough to have been developed irrespective of the war angle, yet so devised that it appears to have its natural outcome in the world conflict. Lillian Gish is a French girl, vivacious to the point of seeming triviality. Living with her father, who runs a shop in New York, she seeks, under a cloak of laughter, the perfect man, the ideal love, the “greatest thing in life.”

The Greatest Thing in Life (Lillian Gish and David Butler)

Bobby Harron is the incarnation of snobbery. He detests commonness in all forms, but incongruous as he feels it is, he is fascinated by the merry Lillian, who might love him if only he were more human. David Butler, a great stupid French boy, is all human, he is everything that Bobby is not, but he has no poetry in his soul. Lillian tests him with merry talk about Rostand’s “Chantecler” and the Golden Bird. But to the French youth, a chicken is only a chicken and can never be anything else.

France calls them all—father, daughter and the dissimilar suitors—the France of shell-torn villages. Characters are tested in the crucible. The French materialist dies a valiant soldier, still declaring that a chicken is only a chicken; the snob, reborn a human being in the trenches, heads the American soldiers into the French village, occupied by the Germans to save the girl and her wounded parent. This sketchy outline of the plot may suggest nothing new. It is the wealth of incident and characterization that make it throb with feeling. At first there is contagious animation in following the flirtatious Lillian through her days at the little shop. The performance of Miss Gish is a delight, while Harron supplies a striking portrayal of the snob.

There is humor here, and humor mingled with pathos when the scene moves to France. The war phases of the production, having suspense and thrills galore, are finely harmonized with the personal elements of the story. Be it noted to Griffith’s credit that he defies precedent by not showing any assaults on defenseless women.

A high spot in the picture, one that gets over superbly despite its dangerous character, brings out the transformation of the snob, when, lying in a dugout with a dying negro soldier, he listens to the pathetic appeal of the hysterical man for one kiss from his mammy. Bobby brings happiness to the negro in his last moments by impersonating the mammy and kissing him.

Lillian Gish – The Greatest Thing in Life

Be Sure to Let Folks Know What You Have. They’ll Come to See it

Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor.

Some pictures are just artistic, some just business-getting, some are both, and I should say most decidedly that this is one of them. I don’t care what kind of a house you are running; this Griffith offering is bound to please your patrons. Don’t worry about whether or not folks are getting their fill of war films. “The Greatest Thing In Life” isn’t really a war picture; it’s a picture with a mighty interesting group of human beings who happen to get mixed up in the war. There’s a distinction here, and it’s the kind of distinction that’s going to make some productions live while others die. The name of Griffith is enough in itself to assure interest, and in addition to that you have the two Griffith celebrities, Lillian Gish and Bobby Harron, to attract the crowd that remembers “The Birth of a Nation” and “Hearts of the World,” not to mention numerous other pictures.

All that you need to do is to advertise in a big way and figure to hold the film long enough to profit by the word-of-mouth boosting which it is sure to receive. If you spend a little money with your newspapers, it ought not to be difficult to get picture layouts along with more than the usual amount of reading notices dealing with the career of Griffith and the stars he has developed. No doubt you will be supplied with plenty of effective lobby material of an artistic nature suitable to the character of the production. By all means get this if you can and don’t worry about the return on your investment.

Paramount and Artcraft Press Books (Dec 1918) Greatest Thing in Life advertising – posters

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“Broken Blossoms” – Wid’s Daily – 1919

Wid’s Daily – Sunday, May 18, 1919

“Broken Blossoms” is Poignant Tragedy Given a Masterly Production

D. W. Griffith Presents “Broken Blossoms”

Griffith Productions

  • DIRECTOR D. W. Griffith
  • AUTHOR Thomas Burke
  • SCENARIO BY D. W. Griffith
  • CAMERAMAN G. W. Bitzer
  • AS A WHOLE Wonderfully poetic expression of heart-gripping tragedy; production has the tone quality of a beautiful painting and the emotional force of a dramatic masterpiece.
  • STORY The spiritual romance of an idealistic Chinaman and a brutally abused white girl, ending in death.
  • DIRECTION Superb
  • PHOTOGRAPHY Many glorious effects marking a distinct advance in the impressionistic method of motion picture photography.
  • LIGHTINGS Every scene is given a tone in keeping with the mood of the action.
  • CAMERA WORK The soft focus introduced in some of Griffith’s recent productions is frequently used here; many of the close-ups are works of art.
  • PLAYERS Lillian Gish supplies a marvelously appealing portrayal of the pitiable little girl; Donald Crisp is tremendously forceful as the father and Richard Barthelmess gives a finely conceived impersonation of the Chinaman.
  • EXTERIORS Admirably devised to lend atmosphere to the story.
  • INTERIORS Appear correct even to the smallest item in the furnishings.
  • DETAIL The entire production is a composition of significant details perfectly blended; subtitles are beautifully worded in poetic passages; elaborately decorated borders and backgrounds are dispensed with and the dignity of the picture is increased as a result.
  • CHARACTER OF STORY Poetic tragedy
  • LENGTH OF PRODUCTION 6,000 feet
Broken Blossoms

“BROKEN BLOSSOMS” is a rare accomplishment even for D. W. Griffith. There has been nothing like it in all the annals of the screen—nothing, perhaps, that in the delicate shades of spiritual expression attains such subtle effects; nothing so tremendously, uncompromisingly tragic ; nothing so permeated with poetry and feeling; nothing so frightfully brutal and wonder by turns, as this story of a pure love that is pushed to death—the love of a Chinaman who lives a world of opium tinted dreams and a poor little white girl who never learned to smile.

Griffith has made bigger pictures, certainly he has made many more in accord with the popular taste; but ”Broken Blossoms” is as sadly beautiful as the suggestion of its title. And how much finer it is to give a picture a soul than to dress it up in costly settings.

Behind the story one detects a serious theme—a touch of satire that is well directed at the smug complacency of western civilization, steeped in materialism, yet officiously ready to convert unregenerate Orientals to the gentle practices of Christian nations. In its fundamentals the drama presents a conflict between spirit in its most refined form and matter in its dominant arrogance. The sweet natured, self-effacing Chinaman and the poor little shrinking flower of a girl represent spirit; the prize fighter typifies matter, physically virile, spiritually sterile.

Richard Barthelmess is met as a young Chinaman who is shocked by the combative spirit of American sailors on leave in a Chinese port. Fired with an ambition to spread the doctrine of kindness and charity among western peoples, he sets forth as a missionary of peace.

First time he sees her (Broken Blossoms)

Years later, in the slums of London, he is an ineffectual shopkeeper, dreaming his dreams in hopeless resignation. Like ships that meet in the dark of a spiritual night, Lillian Gish, half starved, and clothed in rags, passes before his window and the Chinaman sees beauty in her sad face and appealing eyes.

Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms 1919

Donald Crisp is Lillian’s father, a prize fighter who drinks, then vents his ugliness with unspeakable fury upon his wan little daughter. One night, after she has been beaten almost into insensibility, Lillian staggers out to the alleyway and finally falls exhausted in the Chinaman’s shop.

Lillian Gish fainted in Cheng Huan’s shop (Broken Blossoms)

He cares for her, he gives her gorgeous garments and a doll that she holds fondly to her breast. His dreary world is transformed into a dream paradise if only he may kneel beside his princess and hold her hand.

Donald Crisp and Lillian Gish – Broken Blossoms 1919

Donald wins the fight for which he has been training. Told of his daughter’s presence in the Chinaman’s home, he leaves the ringside to avenge his honor. For sheer tragic power and heart rending poignancy nothing could well exceed ensuing scenes that show the father dragging Lillian to their house and eventually killing her. The Chinaman follows, shoots the prize fighter and carries the body of the lifeless girl back to his rooms.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess in “Broken Blossoms” (Lucy Burrows and Cheng Huan “Chinky”)

With infinite tenderness he places silk coverings over his princess and having performed the last rites for the dead, plunges a dagger into his heart.

Miss Gish has given many excellent portrayals, but it is doubtful if she has done anything so superlatively artistic as this interpretation of the abused child. Her expressions are irresistibly touching at all times and there are moments when she reaches emotional heights seldom attained by any actress. Also, it would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of Mr. Crisp and Mr. Barthelmess to the production.

Lillian Gish – Broken Blossoms

Offers a Chance to See If the Public Will Accept a Tragic Ending

Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor

In a brief curtain speech after the first public showing of “Broken Blossoms” at the Cohan Theater, Mr. Griffith spoke modestly of the picture and referred to vital necessity of a producer pleasing the public, His tone might be taken to indicate that he questions a wide appeal of an uncompromising tragedy, however it may be handled, a conclusion pretty much in acord with prevalent opinion. At all events, the producer had the courage of his convictions in carrying the story to its logical conclusion without resorting to the customary happy ending, the taste of the public will be put to the test, if is not accepted there is little chance for genuine tragedies, because “Broken Blossoms” is a masterpiece of its kind.

As shown under the director’s supervision, it opens with what is termed thematic overture, a sort of symbolical prologue set to music. This, of course, will be beyond the scope of smaller theaters, as will be a complete rendition of the elaborate music score; but even without such helpful auxiliaries there is no reason why the picture cannot be presented with appropriate dignity.

Passing by the more unusual and significant elements of the production and looking for something likely to appeal to a fan crowd that prefers physical to spiritual combats, you may count on the effectiveness of some cleverly handled prize fight scenes. Really, however, the picture should be accepted as a work of art without resorting to the conventional advertising appeals.

Lucy’s smile … (Broken Blossoms)

“Broken Blossoms” – Wid’s Daily – 1919

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“True Heart Susie” – Wid’s Daily – Thursday, June 5, 1919

Wid’s Daily – Thursday, June 5, 1919

Story is Slight But Characterization Is True in Griffith Picture

  • D. W. Griffith Presents “True Heart Susie” – Artcraft
  • DIRECTOR D. W. Griffith
  • AUTHOR Marion Fremont
  • CAMERAMAN G. W. Bitzer
  • AS A WHOLE Very slight plot forces the picture to depend almost entirely on characterization for interest and appeal.
  • STORY True in its treatment of the marriage theme; the climax bringing the death of the pleasure-loving wife seems forced.
  • DIRECTION Marked by the finely sympathetic touches to be expected in a Griffith production.
  • PHOTOGRAPHY Excellent; some of the pastoral scenes are works of art.
  • LIGHTINGS Soft and natural
  • CAMERA WORK Up to Bitzer’s standard which is high, but once in a while there is a tendency to overdo the “soft focus” effect.
  • PLAYERS Lillian Gish gives touchingly expressive portrayal of the simple hearted country girl; Robert Harron scores as the minister; others are of secondary importance.
  • EXTERIORS Country locations that could not well be excelled.
  • INTERIORS In keeping with the story
  • DETAIL Always accurate in the costuming of village characters and in giving the situations the appearance of lifelikeness.
  • CHARACTER OF STORY Heart interest drama dealing with rural types; occasional interludes of natural comedy.
  • LENGTH OF PRODUCTION 6,213 feet
True Heart Susie

FUNDAMENTALLY, Marion Fremont’s story of “True Heart Susie” is excellent, because it is true and sincere and pertinent to modern life and character. That a small Indiana town happens to have been chosen as the locale and that the people portrayed are products of their environment does not necessarily localize the theme. In the city or the country the same thing is constantly happening—a man marries the wrong girl, while the right girl waits patiently with tears in her eyes and a breaking heart. The trouble here is that there is not enough plot substance to balance properly a production of this length. At times the picture drags, not through any deficiencies on the part of the players, or any shortcomings in the direction, rather owing to a lack of variety in the action. The thinness of the plot makes necessary the too frequent repetition of scenes that in their meaning and expression of emotion are virtually the same. In more abbreviated form, “True Heart Susie” might easily have become a masterpiece of screen character action. At present it suggests an ideal short story expanded to novel length. it is doubtful if there has been any photoplay giving a deeper and kindlier insight into the heart of a simple country girl, and most assuredly Lillian Gish presents the character of Susie with great appeal. Her philosophy of life is so simple and beautiful. She loves, and to her love means sacrifice and an abiding faith in the ultimate goodness of things.

True Heart Susie

Any of you who have seen Miss Gish in a role of this sort know how perfectly she imparts life and feeling to a screen figure, and then there is Bobby Harron, who with manlike egotism and self centered obtuseness accepts the devotion of the little girl who loves him. Also, with manlike folly, he is fascinated by the first silk-stockinged flirt that rolls her eyes at him. He actually fancies that she will make a satisfactory wife.

Even in their schooldays, when Bobby and Lillian were sweethearts, the girl was ready to help. At the outset there is a delightfully acted scene when the girl passes her classmate in a spelling match and then tries to make amends because Bobby’s pride is hurt. And how happy she is when they carve their initials side by side in the bark of a tree.

True Heart Susie

The boy’s ambition is to go to college, but his father is unable to send him. Keeping the sacrifice a secret and making it appear that the money has come from another source, Lillian accumulates the tuition fee, even at the sacrifice of the family cow. Bobby returns with a cute little mustache and an education. He becomes pastor of the village church and Lillian writes in her diary about their approaching marriage.

Clarine Seymour is the flashily dressed, painted and powdered young milliner who spoils her dream, although Bobby has assured her that men marry the simple kind. As a wife, Clarine is “just a trifle unfaithful” and anything but domestic. After a period of unhappiness, the flighty little fun-loving creature dies from a cold caught on one of her surreptitious escapades and the way is cleared for the union of the childhood sweethearts.

True Heart Susie

The conclusion is permissible from an audience viewpoint, granting the desirability of a happy ending, but artistically it does not ring quite true. The cast includes Loyola O’Connor, Walter Higby, Kate Bruce and Raymond Cannon.

Name of Producer Is Enough to Assure Patronage

Box Office Analysis for the Exhibitor

As already mentioned, “True Heart Susie” is prolonged beyond the needs of the story material and may be criticised on that score, but that does not mean that the picture is seriously jeopardized as a box office success. Its commendable features, in the human treatment of an interesting theme and in the really fine characterization, are compensation enough. Nobody is going to leave your theater without feeling that the time has been well spent. Effective exploitation in a case of this kind is comparatively simple. In many neighborhoods it is not necessary to do much more than announce a new production by D. W. Griffith to assure patronage. This never was truer than at the present time when the fame of the director’s recent masterpiece, “Broken Blossoms” is being heralded throughout the country. Use the name of Griffith in front of your theater and give it big type in all of your printed publicity. Then make as much as you can of the fact that both Lillian Gish and Robert Harron are in the cast. In this instance they are not billed as stars, but each has come to mean more to the public than many players who are boosted as a picture’s chief asset. If you played “A Romance of Happy Valley” you may judge pretty accurately the tone of this production and the style of characterization offered by the leading players.

Catchlines: “Does it pay for a girl to be simple and true? The little country maid in ‘True Heart Susie’ thought so—but—see D. W. Griffith’s appealing story of a plain girl.” Another one: “What wins a husband and what holds him? See how these questions are answered in D. W. Griffith’s ‘True Heart Susie’.”

Paramount and Artcraft Press Books (May 1919) True Heart Susie 2

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Great War Films (Hearts of the World 1918) – Lawrence J. Quirk 1994

  • The great war films
  • Lawrence J. Quirk 1994
  • A Citadel Press Book Published by Carol Publishing Group
Hearts of the World (Paramount, 1918) – Herald

Hearts of the World 1918

PARAMOUNT / ARTCRAFT 1918

CAST: Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Dorothy Gish, Josephine Crowell, Jack Cosgrove, Adolphe Lestina, Kate Bruce, Ben Alexander, George Fawcett, George Siegmann.

CREDITS: D. W. Griffith, director; D. W. Griffith (under an assumed name), screenplay; Billy Bitzer, photographer; James and Rose Smith, editors. Running time: 122 minutes.

Hearts Of The World Press Book – The Bride Gish

Established as master of war movies, D. W. Griffith took on World War I in Hearts of the World. It was made at the request of the British government in 1917-18, and is as much a propaganda film as a drama, with much newsreel footage thrown in for good measure. But its leads (Robert Harron, Lillian Gish, and Dorothy Gish), its villain (George Siegmann), and an adorable child actor, Ben Alexander (who was to become a poignant, vulnerable soldier in All Quiet on the Western Front twelve years later), help greatly to put it over. And it also offers a glimpse of Noel Coward, age eighteen, pushing a wheelbarrow through a French village street.

Lillian Gish – Hearts of the World

As always in Griffith works, the battle and skirmish scenes are handled with consummate depth and force, and Bitzer’s photography and James and Rose Smith’s editing point up the locations—many of them authentic—shot in England and France, with later photography in Hollywood. Griffith’s aptitudes with actors are also on impressive display, as he coaxes a winsome vulnerability from Lillian Gish; a manly, sensitive, but bewildered persona from Robert Harron; and a hoydenish esprit from Dorothy Gish, who plays a minxy type pursuing Harron, and whose title in the film (The “Little Disturber”) was to be her trademark henceforth and largely shape her screen characterizations through the 1920s.

Dorothy Gish in The Hearts of The World

Siegmann delivers in grand style as the “Bad German”; he is up to no good here—and in spades. Siegmann was to give Erich Von Stroheim a run for his money in “Bad German” parts. Even his name, “Von Strohm,” was a takeoff on Von Stroheim’s.

Griffith never made any bones of the fact the picture was designed to effect America’s entry into the war: The project was conceived early in 1917, before the United States’ engagement in the European fracas, and released in 1918, at the height of the war. The story deals with Harron, the son of an expatriate family living in France, just before the outbreak of war, next to another American family whose daughter is Lillian Gish.

Hearts of The World

A romance develops between these two young people, but Dorothy Gish’s high-spirited singer seeks to win Harron for herself, even though his heart is permanently Lillian’s. (The romantic leads (Lillian Gish and Harron), are known throughout as “the Boy” and “the Girl.”) Just as they are to marry, the war breaks out. Though he is an American, Harron feels he should enlist on principle, and joins the French army. While Harron is off fighting, his family’s village is attacked and devastated by the Germans, and members of both expatriate families are killed. In a famous scene, Lillian, clutching her bridal gown, and deranged by her experiences, comes upon Harron—who lies seriously wounded. She sits beside him, and they spend in silence and terror (on her part) and oblivion (on his) what should have been their wedding night. When in the morning she looks for help, the Red Cross takes the wounded Harron away. She thinks him dead. Back in the village, the Little Disturber (Dorothy) now redeemed, nurses Lillian back to health.

Lillian Gish in Hearts of The World

Later, the Germans take over the village and make slave laborers of the inhabitants, including the Girl, while the Boy, who has recovered in a military hospital, becomes a spy behind German lines. He eventually makes his way back to the village in time to rescue the Lillian Gish character from a “fate worse than death” at the hands of a lustful German officer.

Such are the bones of the plot—but all is redeemed by Griffith’s authoritative handling of the suspense and terror and unpredictability of war. Masterfully he guides Gish and Harron into sharp portrayals that, despite their conventional outlines, take on a poignant individuality. And the attack on the village, and other action scenes, are riveting.

Robert Harron, an actor close to Griffith during his early career, was a sensitive, handsome performer who died in 1920 in a mysterious shooting accident. He was only twenty-six. His work in Hearts of the World, and his other fine performances, keep him alive for audiences and commentators alike.

Dorothy & Lillian Gish, D.W. Griffith (President Harding )

*** Admin note: Griffith, Lillian and Dorothy Gish were invited as guests by President Harding – April 22, 1922 Exhibitors Herald. – in Mr. Quirk’s book this photograph is captioned wrong as “Griffith (right) with Dorothy and Lillian Gish, abroad to make the film.”

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Great War Films – Lawrence J. Quirk 1994 (The Birth of a Nation 1915)

  • Great War Films
  • Lawrence J. Quirk 1994
  • A Citadel Press Book Published by Carol Publishing Group

The Birth of a Nation 1915

D. W. GRIFFITH / HARRY E. AITKEN / EPOCH PRODUCING CORP. (distributor)  1915

CAST: Lillian Gish, Henry B. Walthall, Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, Wallace Reid, Miriam Cooper, Donald Crisp, Joseph Henabery, Raoul Walsh, Walter Long, Eugene Pallette.

CREDITS: D. W. Griffith, director; D. W. Griffith and Frank E. Woods, screenplay; based on the novel The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon; G. W. Bitzer, photographer. Running time: 185 minutes.

D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation remains one of the most famous and influential motion pictures of all time. It was the first great epic, and the film that introduced many of the cinematic conventions we take for granted today. And it is one that has been steeped in controversy from its initial release right up to the present day.

Birth of a Nation details the events before, during. and after the Civil War of 1861-65 and focuses on two families—one Northern (the Stonemans) and one Southern (the Camerons)—whose sons are friends. Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall), known as “The Little Colonel,” falls for Elsie Stoneman (Lillian Gish) just by looking at her picture; one of the Stoneman boys, Phil (Robert Harron), also falls for one of Ben’s sisters, Margaret (Miriam Cooper).

Movies in America – Birth of a Nation

But the love stories are secondary to the Civil War action; Birth of a Nation features panoramic battle scenes employing thousands of extras who engage in fighting in such a realistic manner that it creates a near-documentary effect. Stoneman and Cameron eventually meet as enemies on the battlefield, where the latter is badly wounded but succored by his new found friend, who writes to sister Elsie, asking her to take special care of his pal in the hospital where she is a nurse.

Cameron’s reunion with his mother is touching, as is an affecting scene when he finally comes back home and greets his older sister on the doorstep; the two feign a happy air at first, but eventually both succumb to grateful tears. The assassination of Lincoln at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, is meticulously detailed. For many of the war scenes, Griffith worked from photographs by Matthew Brady and others to help recreate the settings and action as authentically as possible. The picture is initially choppy and episodic, but eventually the audience comes to know the characters and gets caught up in their stories.

The main problem with Birth of a Nation is that it has absolutely no perspective (thus giving it an almost comically dated quality), as it is told by Griffith—a native of the South—strictly from the Confederacy’s point of view. Thus the scene that follows the title card “The master in chains before his former slaves” is not depicted as poetic justice but as the tragic downfall of a noble character (Ben Cameron, who later forms the Ku Klux Klan in response to Northern and carpetbagger-inspired Negro outrages).

The depiction of blacks in Birth ofa Nation has always engendered much comment. On the one hand, the scenes of blacks rioting, breaking into houses, and disporting themselves in a disgraceful manner often seem disquietingly and shamefully contemporary. On the other hand, Birth of a Nation unmistakably suggests that the only “good blacks” are those who toe the line and remain loyal to their former masters. Virtually all of the black characters (most of whom are played by white actors in black-face) are negatively portrayed, and their Northern supporters are the worst kind of “guilty white liberals.” Phil Stoneman’s father is pleased to hear that his protege, mulatto Silas Lynch, is going to marry a white woman. That is, until Stoneman learns that Lynch has designs on his own daughter—after which he is repulsed and furious. The final scenes show the “heroes” in their white hoods and raiment rushing to the rescue of the Camerons who are trapped in a cabin by crazed Negroes and Northerners. Birth ofa Nation may be historically accurate in some respects, but it lacks balance.

The NAACP protested strongly against the film upon its release, and many in this era of political correctness would like to see it consigned to oblivion. Others, such as black filmmaker John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood), feel that Birth of a Nation’s artistic achievements override its political content. “It’s like the Holocaust,” Singleton has said. “We should never forget.”—W. S.

The great war films – Birth of a Nation

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