Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLI, Number 86, 9 February 1915
Clansman’s realism, inspires awe
By GUY PRICE
THE mastery of David Ward Griffith in the motion picture production field, it would seem, is now supreme. If this remarkable director never again touches his hand to pictography—and it would indeed be regrettable if he didn’t—his ’’Clansman” will stand as a monument of glorious achievement in the future annals of cameric art.
The picture was presented here, for the first time in public, at Clune’s Auditorium last night, and the Jam of people that packed the mammoth theater “from cellar to garret” is only more convincing evidence of the growing interest in the newer branch of indoor amusement. There was not a vacant seat in the entire house – if there were, only the fellow with the magnifying or field glasses could discover them. Whether this exuberance of enthusiasm was prompted by curiosity or a wish to pay deserving tribute to the “wizard of the film” or just another example of the ever increasing tide of favor toward the “movies” we are not prepared to say offhand, but to the man up a tree it looks like the theatergoers had about come to a realization of the vastly important part the camera lens is now playing in this game of make believe and they deeply appreciate the work the Griffith brain and hand are doing in the way of advancing a worthy and educational science.
“The Clansman” has a score and more good features, and possibly only one or two to criticise and these latter come under the heading of “photographic inconsistencies.” While the immenseness of the picture (it is in twelve reels and each reel is crammed full of situations that only can be fully described by the adjective “gigantic”) strikes you as amazing, the artistic scale on which it is built astounds the more. It is hardly conceivable that a so tremendously big production could be made so realistic and yet retain its wondrous beauty.
There is the great battle scene in which 25,000 soldiers participate (this is the press agent’s estimate, not ours; after witnessing the men in action on the screen we should say there were 250.000), the thrilling rides of the white-cloaked members of the Kin Klux Clan, the assassination of Lincoln, the burning of Atlanta, the capture and rout at the little old log cabin, the clash in the street between the whites and blacks—and oh, so many other moments of intense excitement that the mere repeating sends the chills on a marathon in our spinal region.
Startling all of them, even awe-inspiring, but never sensational. Quite the most spectacular section of the film is the battle of which we already have spoken, and Sherman’s triumphant march to the sea, which follows on its heels. These scenes are the very acme of realism, the strictest attention having been paid to the details as recorded by authentic histories.
In one scene Florence is shown going to the spring for water after having been warned by her brother not to expose herself. The Journey is a quick one, covering only a few feet of film. While still at the stream, the girl is surprised by Gus, a burley black, and she begins her fight for her honor. She breaks from the embrace of her assailant and runs, with the negro at her heels. The picture takes her over mountain, across prairie and desert and finally reveals her in a leap from a high cliff to her death. Another scene that is intensely dramatic is the one where a friend of the Ku Klux clan leader battles his way to victory against a horde of his enemies.
The story of the play is equally as absorbing as it is dramatic. It deals with the Civil War and the reconstruction period, showing with graphic intensity the causes that led up to the vital struggle and the anguish and suffering that were unavoidable after-effects. Racial prejudice figures to quite a surprising extent, but offense can scarcely be taken at this because without it a drama depicting the conflict between north and south would be inadequate and unreal. Director Griffith evidently knew beforehand the ability of his players else he would not have risked so important assignments in their hands. The leads are taken by Henry Walthall, May Marsh, Lillian Gish, Mary Aiden, Donald Crisp, Miriam Cooper, Spottiswoode Aitken, George Seigmann, Sam De Grasse. Robert Harron and Jennie Lee. The photo-drama that is superior to “The Clansman” has yet to be produced.
During the Intermission between Parts One and Two, Judge A P Tugwell of the moving picture censor board told why the board favored showing of the film.
Guy Price – 1915
Note: “Clansman” aka “The Birth of a Nation”