D.W. Griffith Presents "The Birth of a Nation" Page: 7 of 20
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When he first photographed the faces of his actors, withholding everything not essential
to the needed effect, audiences that now applaud, showed their disapproval by stamping
their feet upon the floor. Critics said his characters did not walk into the pictures,
but swam in without legs or arms. He next conceived the idea of the "switch back."
By this device he shows a character under certain circumstances and the next instant
by switching the action back to something seen before he makes you see what the character
is thinking of. An improvement upon the original idea he accomplished by the
slow fading in and out of mystical or symbolic figures which make you see what other
characters are thinking of, thus avoiding the harsh jumping from one scene to another
which had been the rule before.
While Griffith was making these mechanical improvements he was keenly alive to
the needs of improved screen acting. No ten other men in America have developed so
many film favorites. He is a born director of people, and can discover latent talent in
a camera recruit quicker than any other man in the world. He loves to work with raw
material and see a young player blossom into the full power of poetic expression. His
aim has been to produce natural acting. The old jumpy-see-sawing of the arms and
pawing of the air, mis-named pantomime, has disappeared under his watchful care. In
less than six years Griffith has made screen acting a formidable rival of that seen on the
These developments are but details of the forward movement of the art of motion
photography. The old stilted forms have passed. The motion picture artist must henceforth
be capable of taking infinite pains. He must have the poetic imagination and the
technique to give expression to his dreams. With these requisites he becomes the superartist
of the new movement. This Griffith, whose vision leaps to the furtherest ends
of the world of fancy-pausing here to note the smile in the eyes of Youth; then to see
the shadow of sinister crime fall across the vision of unsuspecting Purity; picturing now
a tear on a child's cheek; now a nation in the throes of war, while roses bloom and pastoral
scenes, such as Corot never dreamed of reproducing, form the background. These
are the things that Griffith's art shows as no drama of the spoken word could.hope to do.
A new epic force illuminates human vision and human figures alive with the instincts
and purposes of life obey the will of the super-artist.
This pioneer who has done so much to show the possibilities of this new art is unresponsive
when it comes to his personal life. He thinks only of his work. He holds
that people are interested in the deeds that men do, rather than in who the men are.
We asked Mr. Griffith for a biographical sketch. He answered that he was born in Kentucky,
that he grew up in a house like most boys; started out after his school and college
days to find his place in the world, and that since he went into the business of producing
pictures he has lived most of the time under his hat.
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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/m1/7/: accessed September 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library.