D.W. Griffith Presents "The Birth of a Nation" Page: 8 of 20
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A TRIBUTE TO
"THE BIRTH OF A NATION"
@ '7 EN HEN a great achievement of human genius is put before us, we can
become partners in it in a way by applauding-it with something of the
o ^ /op Eenthusiasm that went into its making. It is that sort of collaboration
that I am impelled to attempt in what follows.
When I saw "The Birth of a Nation" the first time, I was so overwhelmed
by the immensity of it that I said:
"It makes the most spectacular production of drama look like the work of village
amateurs. It reduces to childishness the biggest things the theatre can do."
For here were hundreds of scenes in place of four or five; thousands of actors in
place of a score; armies in landscape instead of squads of supers jostling on a platform
among canvas screens. Here was the evolution of a people, the living chronicle of a
conflict of statesmen, a civil war, a racial problem rising gradually to a puzzle yet unsolved.
Here were social pictures without number, short stories, adventures, romances,
tragedies, farces, domestic comedies. Here was a whole art gallery of scenery, of humanity,
of still life and life in wildest career. Here were portraits of things, of furniture, of
streets, homes, wildernesses; pictures of conventions, cabinets, senates, mobs, armies;
pictures of family life, of festivals and funerals, ballrooms and battlefields, hospitals
and flower-gardens, hypocrisy and passion, ecstasy and pathos, pride and humiliation,
rapture and jealousy, flirtation and anguish, devotion and treachery, self-sacrifice and
tyranny. Here were the Southrons in their wealth, with their luxury at home, their
wind-swept cotton fields; here was the ballroom with the seethe of dancers, here were
the soldiers riding away to war, and the soldiers trudging home defeated with poverty
ahead of them and new and ghastly difficulties arising on every hand.
Here was the epic of a proud brave people beaten into the dust and refusing to
The pictures shifted with unending variety from huge canvasses to exquisite miniatures.
Now it was a little group of refugees cowering in the ruins of a home. A shift
of the camera and we were looking past them into a great valley with an army fighting
its way through.
One moment we saw Abraham Lincoln brooding over his Emancipation Proclamation;
another, and he was yielding to a mother's tears; later we were in the crowded
theatre watching the assassin making his way to and from his awful deed.
The leagues of film uncoiled and poured forth beauty of scene, and face and expression,
beauty of fabric and attitude and motion.
"The Birth of a Nation" is a choral symphony of light, light in all its magic; the
sun flashing through a bit of blown black lace and giving immortal beauty to its pattern;
or quivering in a pair of eyes, or on a snow-drift of bridal veil, or on a moonlit brook or
a mountain side. Superb horses were shown plunging and rearing or galloping with a
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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/m1/8/: accessed July 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library.