D.W. Griffith Presents "The Birth of a Nation" Page: 6 of 20
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"The most beautiful picture ever put on canvas, the
finest statue ever carved, is a ridiculous caricature
of real life compared with the flickering shadow
of a tattered ilm in a backwoods nickelodeon."
HE above assertion was made by Dr. E. E. Slosson, of Columbia University
( in an article entitled "The Birth of a New Art" which was published in
the Independent of April 6th, 1914.
On April 1st, 1914, David Wark Griffith, the subject of this sketch,
set to work laying the ground plans for a great picture which has since
been introduced to the world under the name "The Birth of a Nation."
Neither Dr. Slosson nor Mr. Griffith knew of the other's mental processes. While
one was proclaiming the dawn of a new era the other was at work upon the long lookedfor
American play. It is rare to find prophesy and fulfillment so closely linked together.
No discussion of the relationship of motion picture art to contemporary life can be
complete without a knowledge of what D. W. Griffith has done to develop and enlarge
the artistic standards of motion photography. There is in his work a distinctive touch
of individual craftsmanship; an all embracing attention to detail which has come to be
known as the Griffith art.
No form of expression seeking to reveal the truths and beauties of life has ever made
such progress within a given lapse of time as motion photography. Perhaps this is because
motion is the essence of realism and life itself is but a part of the impulse of the
In developing the dramatic possibilities of the screen
dramas Griffith has shown
that he is not only a poet. He is a master technician. His accomplishments are the
major part of the history of motion pictures in America. He is the creator of practically
every photographic and dramatic effect seen today. He is responsible for nearly
every innovation of the past decade. He was the first producer to bring rhythm and
perspective into motion pictures and make them the background of his story.
Griffith's poetic imagination stretches across dreamy dales, through swaying trees,
back to distant mountains with their snow crested tops blazing in the sunlight, it reaches
across the lapping waves of a deep blue sea to what seems the end of the universe. From
one of these far away vistas he brings forth a young girl and shows her progress until she
comes so close you see a tear drop quiver on her eyelid before it falls to her cheek. This
you see so clearly that through her eyes you read her innermost emotions. It seems
almost too intimate, too realistic.
And then in a flash you see great plains and on them nations grappling ini their death
throes and worlds battling for military supremacy. Such sequences and multiplicities
of action appear quite simple now, yet they had to be carefully thought out. We say
with pride that an American invented the technique required to produce them.
When Griffith began directing picture plays the idea of showing human beings
otherwise than full length was regarded as rank heresy. He created the "close up."
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Griffith, D.W. D.W. Griffith Presents "The Birth of a Nation", book, April 1, 1924; New York. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth21924/m1/6/: accessed September 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library.