Happy Birthday Classic Movie Legend, D.W Griffith, born January 22, 1875!
No doubt, D.W Griffith is one of the most controversial figures in the world of Classic Hollywood. He has already gone down in film history as one of the silver screen’s earliest and most prolific innovators. Although falsely credited with inventing the close-up and other technical achievements, his use of said techniques in terms of progressing the film narrative was a breath of fresh air to the burgeoning world of film. Through use of parallel editing (the cutting back and forth of two or more scenes that often happen simultaneously and in different locations) he transformed the very essences of filmic story telling. Yes, without a doubt, Griffith’s use of advanced camera and narrative techniques paved the way for the feature-length film, still the dominant film form in the world today. If only that’s where his legacy ended.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post (about Butterfly McQueen), the world of Classic Hollywood was not without its flaws, and racism is definitely a dark page in the lexicon of classic film. One of its worst perpetrators is a little film Griffith directed called The Birth of a Nation. Yes, while the three-plus hour Civil War epic was an innovation in narrative filmmaking, it also stands as being one of the most vile, racist films to ever come out of classic Hollywood. Rife with black face, Confederacy sympathies, and historically inaccurate representations, the film has become more famous, or in this case infamous, for its racists politics rather than its technical innovations. For this reason, despite directing over 400 films, Birth of a Nation stands as Griffith’s defining piece of work. Although Intolerance may have made more money and Broken Blossoms may have had better politics, the narrative of D.W Griffith will always be dominated by Birth of Nation and the controversy that surrounds it.
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub