Three centuries before Christus. Young Cabiria is kidnapped by some pirates during one eruption of the Etna. She is sold as a slave in Carthage, and as she is just going to be sacrificed to... See full summary »
Two brothers, Phil and Ted Stoneman, visit their friends in Piedmont, South Carolina: the family Cameron. This friendship is affected by the Civil War, as the Stonemans and the Camerons must join up opposite armies. The consequences of the War in their lives are shown in connection to major historical events, like the development of the Civil War itself, Lincoln's assassination, and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. Written by
Victor Munoz <email@example.com>
Originally presented in two parts, with an intermission. See more »
Car tire tracks are visible in the KKK segment. See more »
While women and children weep, a great conqueror marches to the sea.
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The following was listed in the opening credits: A PLEA FOR THE ART OF THE MOTION PICTURE: We do not fear censorship, for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue - the same liberty that is conceeded to the art of the written word - that art to which we owe the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. See more »
Is the historical importance of this film greatly exaggerated?
I saw this film at a small "Art House" theatre when I was a graduate student. It was supported by program notes, and reviews of the film by respected critics, these stressed Griffith was a trend setting director who had made significant contributions to modern cinema. I remember three major developments were attributed directly to him, firstly his use of a mobile camera for tracking rather than bringing events to the camera; secondly pioneering the use of close-up photography in the cinema and thirdly the incorporation of pseudo-documentary sequences (e.g. the assassination of Lincoln) into a fictional story. I therefore watched this film with great anticipation; but as something of a young idealist I was more and more sickened by what I then felt was glorification of the KKK, and afterwards I was bitterly disappointed by my evening. I decided that if I ever watched TBOAN again it would only be when I was better informed both about American history of the period and about the work of other contemporary Hollywood film-makers. It is now 60 years later and I see "The Birth of A Nation" is scheduled to be screened on TCM next month, so probably the time has come to watch it again; and perhaps comments based on my original viewing so long ago may be appropriate at this time as the impressions I now have of this film will be those that have been with me for most of my life.
Films showing conflicts must present both sides as believing utterly in the righteousness of their cause; but historical films also have at least a moral responsibility to ensure the material shown has some reasonable approximation to historical accuracy, and whenever possible the convictions of both sides should be equally fairly presented. Most of the criticisms of TBOAN on this database derive not from its sympathetic presentation of the KKK but from the fact that this is presented as the only side which is relevant. We need to remember that slavery was introduced into human society back in prehistoric times - it was usually associated with a recognised obligation on the part of the slave-owner to provide a reasonable standard of living for his slaves, and alternative mediaeval societies from which slavery had been eliminated often did not do even this for their dispossessed citizens. Members of ruling classes everywhere lived a lifestyle which required the full time labours of many slaves or underprivileged workers to maintain, and only after the invention of the steam engine did it become possible to picture a world from which slavery might eventually be eliminated. Although this then probably became inevitable, its elimination has still not been completed; and in the United States it took place in an appallingly destructive way, part of which is pictured in TBOAN. Every nation has shameful episodes in its history which have and will cause distress for many generations before they are gradually outgrown. Recognising that the American Civil War did not result only from a dispute about slavery but much more from a whole range of economic and cultural issues, I appreciate that it would be grossly improper for me as a Canadian to seize on some of the controversial aspects of TBOAN as an excuse to condemn the film. I will re-watch it as a valid and important effort to document the concerns of the group of citizens it featured (although I will still reserve the right to feel Griffith should have made more effort to also document the concerns of those with opposing viewpoints.) My concerns here are directed more to assessing the importance of TBOAN in the development of the modern cinema, and I currently find myself siding with the relatively few users who have commented that its significance seems to be greatly overrated. When I first saw this film I had seen relatively few of the important early silent films, and it was easy to accept claims that Griffith's work was of overwhelming importance. Now I have seen other contemporary works; and have also come to appreciate that all surviving copies of about 90% of these works have totally disappeared (whilst probably half of the 10% of which copies still exist are not available for home viewing even from specialist libraries as the only copies are located in inaccessible archive collections). This is not brought out clearly by most of the 200 user comments on this film listed by IMDb, and it is so important that it has led me to pen these further comments. Film-makers in the silent era were extremely productive - Griffith himself is credited by IMDb with having directed over 500 films, most of them silent, and several other directors/producers have well over 100 films credited. Since so few survive, we must recognise how far our current assessment of early directors might change if we were able to see and compare more of their works. I believe that many innovations in film technology have been exclusively attributed to Griffith primarily because of the ready availability today of copies of 'TBOAN', 'Intolerance' and 'Orphans of the Storm'. I found this feeling very strongly reinforced when I had a rare chance to see a screening of Lois Weber's 'Hypocrites'. Weber was, for a time, the highest paid director in Hollywood and received a best director award in 1916 (ahead of Griffith, just one year after he released TBOAN). All I will say at this point is that, although I am admittedly relying on rather uncertain memories, I believe 'Hypocrites' was more stimulating for its innovative cinematographic techniques than 'Intolerance'. It would be interesting to know whether other database users have had similar thoughts about this or other early works.
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