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Art, culture and ethics in black and white

More than a century after its release in 1915, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation remains one of the most controversial films in cinema history. Drawing together a range of scholars and practitioners, this volume reveals a continued fascination in this film as a gauge of American racism and a milestone of early cinema that allows us to recognise the complex relationship between art, culture and ethics. Through stimulating analyses and new research on its reception, both on its release and one hundred years later, this book offers fresh, engaging perspectives on Birth. Topics include the presence of African American actors in the film, the craft of Griffith’s racist dialectics, public reception of the film in the state of Virginia and re-reading promotion of the film as ‘fake news’. It traces Birth’s legacies through historical and contemporary cinema and art, demonstrating that its significance has not diminished. Vivid relationships are drawn between the film and the art of Kara Walker and Kehinde Wiley. Traditions are found both upheld and challenged in film works by Oscar Micheaux, Matthew McDaniel, DJ Spooky, Nate Parker and Quentin Tarantino. In the context of ongoing struggles over racial inequities in the twenty-first century, with white supremacist activity very much a part of the contemporary world, this book thus offers relevant and productive routes into the study of Griffith’s film.

A timeline
Jenny Barrett

... tossing wildly and rhythmically like the sea’ and compares Griffith’s artistry to Byron and Marlowe. 1916 Pamphlet D. W. Griffith The Rise and Fall of Free Speech in America (Los Angeles

in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation
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Sam Rohdie

motifs and subjects: hands, eyes, ­monsters, aircraft, bestiality, savagery, executions, heroism, innocence, dance, war, slaughter, the Holocaust, Hitler, Mussolini, Hitchcock, Rossellini, John Ford, Jean Renoir, Nick Ray, D.W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin. There had been a debate in the late 1950s and early 1960s originating from a reading of Bazin between those in favour of mise en scène (leaving scenes whole, the shot sequence, depth of field, the unity of surfaces, the integrity of space and time) and those who were partial to the use

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

I am writing to a rhythm and not to a plot. ( D.W. Griffith ) The great achievement of D.W. Griffith was not this or that narrative technique of editing or shooting but his realisation (conscious or not) that the image had first to be detached from what it represented enabling it to attain autonomy and independence

in Montage
Jonathan Ward

This chapter examines the function and representation of the White Saviour in D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), as well as thinking about the particular legacy of this figure as seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). In terms of filmic representation and racial ideologies, the White Saviour is an example of Griffith’s legacy that is

in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation
The Birth of a Nation in the era of ‘fake news’
Jenny Barrett

Robert A. Rosenstone, in his book History on Film/Film on History , uses the director D. W. Griffith as an example of a pioneering filmmaker who had faith in the capacity for film to tell history visually. Rosenstone calls Griffith ‘a virtual missionary on the topic’. 1 In an interview, Griffith’s confidence in historical films even led him to predict that, one day

in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation
Robert Giddings

extended well into the twentieth century, and served to turn Carton into the star of the show. The influence of A Tale of Two Cities on film-makers was clear and is very marked in D.W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm of 1921. The crowd scenes are still impressive. The novel was filmed again in 1926 with Maurice Costello and John Martin-Harvey as The Only Way . A famous version with Ronald Colman came

in British cinema of the 1950s
Don Fairservice

Seen from the outside Throughout his work, D. W. Griffith almost never used the point-of-view shot. With very few exceptions he also avoided using shot/reverse-shot structure as well. Griffith’s camera was that of an observer. There can be no doubt that he was aware of the growing acceptance of these alternative shooting and editing methods, they had begun to appear in Danish films as early as 1912 and

in Film editing: history, theory and practice
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The legacy of The Birth of a Nation
Ian Scott
Douglas Field
, and
Jenny Barrett

respect from the establishment reached its zenith when the Directors Guild of America (DGA) instituted the D. W. Griffith Award in 1953 as its highest honour. It was forty-six years later before the then president, Jack Shea, rebranded the prize the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, citing The Birth of a Nation ’s modern reception and the racial intolerance it promoted as a reason why the honour

in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation
Timing The Birth of a Nation
Anke Bernau

As well as causing political controversy from the moment of its release, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) was hailed as a milestone in cinema history. Endorsed on a political level by President Woodrow Wilson – whose scholarship on the American Civil War was explicitly referenced in the film’s intertitles – it was also praised by film critics and viewers

in Medieval film