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"Arrival of a New Stage in the Art of the Movies." Rev. of Birth of a Nation. Current Opinion April 1915: 251.
The unnamed author focuses his attention on Reverend Dr. Thomas B. Gregory's appraisal of Griffith's film in the New York American. Gregory, calling it "the greatest thing that has ever come to New York," commends the monumental cinematic progress made by Griffith in his lengthy "masterpiece." Additionally, the Reverend applauds the world of possibilities that Griffith's film opens up for the art as a whole, declaring its potential to be a new "educator of the human race." The aspect that Gregory finds most remarkable, however, is the movie's factuality and realness, which he personally attests to since he lived through the film's actual events. With the production of a film so accurate and faithful to historic facts -- essential in Reverend Gregory's opinion -- he ultimately suggests that a new level of respect be established for the art of cinema.
Bush, W. Stephen. Rev. of Birth of a Nation. Moving Picture World 13 March 1915: 1586-87. Silva 25-28. Lang 176-78.
Bush focuses more on the outstanding cinematic effects used by Griffiths rather than the film's quite controversial tone. He acknowledges the fact that the film does represent a rather one-sided view and speaks of the criticism and astonishment some react with to such a prejudiced piece of work, but he pays more attention to the artistry of the film itself. Bush gives homage to Griffith's exceptional portrayal of both Abraham Lincoln and his assassination, declaring that it is acted out "in the most irreproachable and touching manner." He also gives praise to the excellent use of photography, acting, and Griffith's ability to pull in an audience by using suspense, all of which make Birth of a Nation one of the strongest films of its time. By bringing to light all of the positive aspects of the film and acknowledging yet glossing over the more negative undertones, Bush reminds the audience that this film, although controversial, remains one of the most well-produced and filmed movies of its time.
"Capitalizing Race Hatred." New York Globe 6 April 1915. Silva 73-75. Lang 164-65.
The Globe criticizes Griffith's film: it reignites ill feelings between blacks and whites. While Griffith portrays the southern whites as the "good guys," the North and the former slaves are not villains. The North accepted the South back without repercussions, and most of the blacks' actions did not resemble those in the film. The blacks did not deserve the punishment portrayed in the film. In fact, "what man will say that the outrages of black on white equaled in number of the outrages of white on black?" It is unfair for either race to hold the other completely accountable for the atrocities that occurred. The slaves endured great difficulties: they were taken from their homes, brought to a foreign land, and treated like property. Even after freedom, these men and women were still thought to be inferior to whites. The Globe attacks the film as a way to make money by slandering an entire race of people. This influential editorial generated responses by both Griffith and Dixon.
"Dramatized Race Prejudice." The Independent 5 April 1915: 21.
Birth of a Nation is a masterpiece in the art of filmmaking wasted on the subject matter. The writer alludes to the fact that Griffith's skillful shooting of the film produced an effect that brought the Civil War era to life through the silver screen. This high praise is completely overshadowed by what the author calls "the immoral lesson which the play is designed to teach." He clearly notes that the misrepresentation of black society coupled with the hero worship of the Ku Klux Klan is insulting to many, while bolstering those who concur with the ideas expressed in the film. Even though the author makes no qualms about stressing the inappropriate nature of the work, he does not support its censorship: "we cannot deny them the right to express their opinion in their own impressive way," as it would put the decision of "what is history?" in the hands of those not qualified to make such a judgment.
Greene, Ward. Rev. of Birth of a Nation. Atlanta Journal 7 December 1915. Silva 30-33. Lang 179-82.
Greene praises Griffith's work, stating how the film emotionally moves all viewers, regardless of age or gender: "For The Birth of a Nation is the awakener of every feeling." Scenes with bravery in battle especially elicited strong emotions. Feelings of pride and awe override and eliminate those of "race prejudice," "injustice," and "suppression," and Greene thinks the viewer is too moved to see those sorts of characteristics in the film. "Technically, The Birth of a Nation is perfect," not only with an amazing plot, but the cinematography and advanced film techniques bring the picture to life in a way never before seen. The sister's horrific death escaping from a "crazed" black enables Greene to transition into the heroic role of the Ku Klux Klan and the joyous reaction to them by viewers. The audience was not "raging nor shot with hatred" but rather gained a better appreciation for what the Confederate soldiers went through in order to create the South. Greene is very proud of Griffith and thinks his work a momentous accomplishment in film and in storytelling about the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Hackett, Francis. "Brotherly Love." New Republic 20 March 1915: 185. Silva 84-86. Lang 161-63.
Hackett's condemnation of the film is extremely visible. He is especially critical of Mr. Dixon's "personal temperament," which far exceeds those of others in the sense that he has a "lack of inhibition" and his depiction of the Negro in the moving picture is really a depiction of his own "malignity." Hackett hacks Dixon's script apart as he describes the obviously fake things that Negroes do in the movie. Negroes are inflamed with power and are abusing it constantly, something that was never seen during Reconstruction. Because of Dixon's likely personal portrayal of Negroes, they are destroyed by the Ku Klux Klan, which appears to be right in audience eyes after "Mr. Dixon has identified the Negro with cruelty, superstition, insolence, and lust." The "film is aggressively vicious and defamatory" because Dixon has dreamed up perversions of the Negro and used them to "flatter the white man and provoke hatred and contempt for the Negro."
Hare, Harlow. Rev. of Birth of a Nation. Boston American 18 July, 1915. Silva 36-40. Lang 186-89.
In addition to being a highly controversial film, Birth of a Nation introduced the practice of accompanying American movies with a specifically arranged orchestral score. Several French imported films in 1908 had musical scores, but director Griffith moved the use of music in film far beyond what had ever been done before. Hare's encyclopedic knowledge of music gives the reader a much greater understanding of what Griffith was trying to accomplish with the movie's soundtrack -- whether it be Griffith's use of Southern tunes such as "Dixie," "My Maryland," and "Marching through Georgia" in the early part of the film, his use of strains of "America" when Generals Grant and Lee clasp hands at Appomattox, or sweeping music such as Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" during riots and battles in Piedmont near the end of the film.
McIntosh, Ned. Rev. of Birth of a Nation. Atlanta Constitution 7 December 1915. Silva 33-36. Lang 182-85.
McIntosh's review is one truly spoken from a Southerner. He embraces Griffith as a great historian and filmmaker and describes the experience of seeing the film at the Atlanta Theater. The people follow along with every emotion described. Many of them probably lived through that era and the film brought tears, cries, clapping, and cheers to the happy participants in the theater. The film jumps ahead of Dixon's book and is a masterpiece of history. Griffith moves the audience in the beginning, forgetting the war, and then brings forward the pain and suffering the South was engaged in as the war thunders on. Time and time again, McIntosh uses examples that show that the tempo of the movie is completely directed at the Southern sentiment: "History repeats itself upon the screen with a realism that is maddening." McIntosh describes certain scenes as well as most of the plot and tries but fails to fully succeed in putting his emotions into his words. He cherishes the musical score of the movie as one that "wrests a cry from your throat." He ends by supporting the movie against all criticism, saying it is a quintessential movie for a thinking body of people.
Parkhurst, Dr. Charles H. "The Birth of a Nation." Silva 102-3.
Parkhurst encourages people to see the movie in four ways: he praises how the film makes one feel, questions why people are objecting to the film, suggests it is an educational tool, and glorifies the beauty of the film. "Everyone who has seen it is saying something about it"; thus, you, an American citizen, should not be left out of a national conversation. The National Board of Censorship approved the film, so it cannot be objectionable. Furthermore, by trying to prohibit the viewing of the film, everyone now wants to see it. Birth of a Nation is a better tool for explaining the Civil War to children who do not have prior knowledge of the war, and if the negro is misrepresented, it is because the film is reflecting their actions after being freed not the present day negro. Finally, the battle scenes are hailed for their realism, the Lincoln assassination as acted beautifully, and the surrender between Lee and Grant dignified. The essay's value is its strength to sway public action into viewing the film.
Rev. of Birth of a Nation. Moving Picture World 13 March 1915: 1587. Silva 28-29.
This review lauds the film as "a sensational success," asserts that the public presentation of in New York at the Liberty Theatre on March 3 exceeded its "much-heralded" expectations and garnered the support and approval of its audience. The popular attraction of the show filled the theatre with dramatic critics, prominent New York figures, and other noteworthy individuals who collectively surpassed the supply of seats. The sentiments and emotional impact of the film was well received by the audience who clearly "felt the grip of the story and sympathized with the work."(29) Further, the review positions Griffith as a noble artist, who according to Mr. Dixon, is "the greatest director of the world." Moreover, the review contends Griffith's "dignified" speech that took place at the close of the second act was poised, modest, passionate. Griffith elegantly acknowledged "his aim was to place pictures on a par with the spoken word as a medium for artistic expression appealing to thinking people." The review attempts to present a diplomatic assessment but achieves more of a subdued praise.
"The Birth of a Nation." Outlook 14 April 1915: 854.
The review condemns the film for its broad brush and lauds it for its "interest and technical mastery." The review fails to mention director Griffith once -- preferring to credit the film and its perceived lacks to the author of the book upon which it was based, Thomas Dixon. The review initially mocks the story, citing the elements of the film in quick succession and exposing their lack of historical accuracy. The review later concedes that "many of the most effective and most misleading scenes . . . doubtless occurred some time, somewhere, in the South." It closes by additionally conceding that the Reconstruction period was so shameful enough that it would be difficult to make it more so, while chastising Dixon once more for calling the film "history."
Vance, Mark. Rev. of Birth of a Nation. Variety 12 March 1915. Silva 22-25. Lang 173-75.
Vance is full of awe and astonishment that such a film exists. He praises Griffith for creating a film that is truly American, and the few flaws in the film are overpowered by its "bigness and greatness." Vance praises Griffith and his directors for the countless hours of dedication given to the film "to shape the story into a thrilling, dramatic, wordless play." Vance admires the battle scenes, President Lincoln's assassination, the struggle between Flora and Gus, the Reconstruction, the persecution of the whites, and he esteems the actors for their dedication. Finally, Vance credits Griffith for bringing the "‘$2 picture' to the box office." Griffith's film is art, and he is "the first director . . . that can compete in $2 theaters with $2 stage productions."(24) The film, even with an orchestra and theater staff, can give more performances than a stage production. Thus, Griffith is great for the film industry, and he should be praised.