The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation
R: David Wark Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, Miriam Cooper. P: David W. Griffith Corp. / Epoch Producing Corporation. USA 1914/15

“Während des Ersten Weltkriegs erhielt David W. Griffith als erster die Erlaubnis, die Front zu besuchen, um einen Propagandafilm für die Alliierten zu drehen. Griffith, Sohn eines Bürgerkriegsveteranen und ehemaliger Theatermann, hatte im Sommer 1914 die großen Schlachtszenen von The Birth of a Nation gedreht, zur selben Zeit, als in Europa der wirkliche Krieg ausbrach. In Griffith’ Film wird das Schlachtfeld in einer Totalen von einem Hügel aus vorgestellt. Die Kamera nimmt dieselbe Position ein wie in Krieg und Frieden, King Vidors und Mario Soldatis Film von 1955, Pierre Besuchow, wenn er die Kämpfe bei Borodino in allen Einzelheiten in direkter Sicht betrachtet. Allerdings ging Griffith bei seinen Kriegsaufnahmen weniger wie ein Schlachtenmaler und mehr wie ein Bühneninspizient vor, der jede Bewegung bis in die letzte Einzelheit hinein festlegt.”
Paul Virilio: Krieg und Kino. Logistik der Wahrnehmung. München/Wien 1986, S. 20

“Its pioneering technical work, often the work of Griffith’s under-rated cameraman Billy Bitzer, includes many techniques that are now standard features of films, but first used in this film. Griffith brought all of his experience and techniques to this film from his earliest short films at Biograph, including the following:
– the use of ornate title cards
– special use of subtitles graphically verbalizing imagery
– its own original musical score written for an orchestra
– the introduction of night photography (using magnesium flares)
– the use of outdoor natural landscapes as backgrounds
– the definitive usage of the still-shot
– elaborate costuming to achieve historical authenticity and accuracy
– many scenes innovatively filmed from many different and multiple angles
– the technique of the camera “iris” effect
– the use of parallel action and editing in a sequence
– extensive use of color tinting for dramatic or psychological effect in sequences
– moving, traveling or “panning” camera tracking shots
– the effective use of total-screen close-ups to reveal intimate expressions
– beautifully crafted, intimate family exchanges
– the use of vignettes seen in “balloons” or “iris-shots” in one portion of a darkened screen
– the use of fade-outs and cameo-profiles (a medium closeup in front of a blurry background)
– the use of lap dissolves to blend or switch from one image to another
– high-angle shots and the abundant use of panoramic long shots
– the dramatization of history in a moving story
– impressive, splendidly-staged battle scenes with hundreds of extras
– extensive cross-cutting between two scenes to generate excitement and suspense
– expert story-telling, with the cumulative building of the film to a dramatic climax.”
Tim Dirks

Further Reading:
Gordon Thomas: A Film Divided Against Itself: D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915)


William Fox Presents

A Fool There Was
R: Frank Powell. D: Theda Bara, Edward José, Mabel Frenyear, Runa Hodges, May Allison, Clifford Bruce, Victor Benoit, Frank Powell, Minna Gale. P: William Fox Vaudeville Company. USA 1915

“In the film that established her career as a vampish sex symbol (her film debut), Theda Bara is a dark and mysterious figure unlike any other character the popular screen had yet seen in 1915. While earlier films had addressed the subject, A Fool There Was brought the concept of the female vampire into the popular cinematic limelight with both dread and lust. In the film, Bara exemplified everything that frightened and threatened the upstanding citizens of the upper and middle classes of the civilized societies of the world. Not unlike the ‘vice scare’ films of the early 1930s, there is something of a warning to women everywhere in the film: to be diligent to divert their men from the lures of these dark and evil women. A Fool There Was then was part social commentary and part sexual titillation. And while the sex is nonexistent the film, the implication of forbidden and deadly sex permeates the storyline. Each female viewer recognized the risks of possibility and despised the vamp (the assumed antithesis of each female viewer), and each male viewer recognized the attraction of lust and secretly fantasized (the assumed paradigm of each male viewer). Like martyrs, women of dignity endured the shame of loss to the vampire. Like helpless moths, men of weak will are drawn to the vamp’s deadly flame. The vamp first lures with sex appeal, then destroys without remorse by control of the will. Lure and dominance, dominance then destruction.”
Carl Bennett
Silent Era


Theda Bara in A Fool There Was

>>> Theda Bara

Chaos à la Méliès

Salon de coiffure
R: Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1908

Robert Macaire et Bertrand, les rois des cambrioleurs
R: Georges Méliès. P: Georges Méliès. Fr 1906

“Robert Macaire (Chevalier Macaire) was a noted criminal and assassin who appears in French plays. His name is renowned in French culture as that of the archetypal villain. Macaire was convicted of a murder in trial by combat with a witness in the shape of the dog of the murdered man. According to, the murdered man was Aubry de Montdidier of France, slain in the forest of Bondy. The trial reputedly occurred on October 8, 1361. Aubry de Montdidier was a fictional French knight of Charles V. The only witness of the murder was Montdidier’s dog, which acted so violently against Macaire in court that King Charles ordered a duel between the dog and Macaire. As the dog won, Macaire confessed and was hanged. His is the name of the title character in the 1842 book ‘Physiologie du Robert-Macaire’ written by Pierre Joseph Rousseau (James Rousseau) and illustrated by Henri Daumier. From this topicality, a character of this name appeared in the nineteenth-century melodrama play ‘L’Auberge des Adrets’, or ‘The Adrets’ Inn’. An internationally successful comic opera, ‘Erminie’, was based on the play, premiering in London in 1885. Films were later made with the character Macaire, including Robert Macaire et Bertrand (1907) and The Adventures of Robert Macaire (1925). Lemaître‘s performance in ‘L’Auberge des Adrets’ (courtesy of actor Pierre Brasseur) was featured in the French film Les Enfants du Paradis (1945).”

Le diable noir
R: Georges Méliès. D: Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1905

L’auberge du Bon Repos
R: Georges Méliès. D: Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1903

W.C.Fields’ Debut

Pool Sharks
R: Edwin Middleton. D: W.C. Fields, Marian West, Larry Westford. P: Gaumont. USA 1915

“Ein amerikanischer Traum, eine amerikanische Legende – und doch der Widerspruch von allem, was sich Amerika unter ‘Amerika’ vorstellen möchte, was ihm unter ‘Amerika’ vorgestellt wird. Gewiß, in der Fields-Legende erfüllen sich amerikanische Leitvorstellungen und Hoffnungen – aber jedesmal so absurd, verzerrt und pathologisch, daß es keine brachialere Kritik an ‘Amerika’ geben könnte. Vielleicht ist das der tiefere Grund, warum der Filmkomiker Fields anders als der Jedermann Chaplin oder Langdon, Lloyd, Keaton oder Lewis so lange brauchte, auf dem europäischen Kontinent anzukommen. Erst in einer Gesellschaft, die ‘amerikanisch’ geworden ist, hat das Fields-Syndrom Chancen, ein Publikum zu finden, das an derselben Krankheit leidet.”
Peter W.Jansen: Legende vom Menschenfeind. In: DIE ZEIT, Nr. 5/72, 4. Februar 1972

Griffith and the Indians

The Redman’s View
R: David Wark Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Owen Moore, James Kirkwood, Henry Lehrman, Charles West. P: American Biograph. USA 1909

The Mended Lute (Fragment)
R: David Wark Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Florence Lawrence, Frank Powell, Owen Moore, James Kirkwood, Mack Sennett, Henry B. Walthall. P: American Biograph. USA 1910

The Indian Brothers
R: David Wark Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Frank Opperman, Wilfred Lucas, Guy Hedlund, Blanche Sweet. P: American Biograph. USA 1911

“The invention of American cinema at the end of the nineteenth century coincided with what, in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner famously called the ‘closing of the frontier’, a thesis that again implied the Last of the Mohicans Syndrome: the belief that Native Americans were inevitably vanishing, like leaves blown by the autumn wind, before the power of white America’s manifest destiny. A pervading myth about the final days of the Indian spread throughout U.S. culture in these decades, prompting, for example, the photographic work of Edward Curtis, who thought of himself as documenting (in artificially staged scenes) the last images of a vanishing race. The review of Griffith’s The Redman’s View in the New York Dramatic Mirror stated that ‘this remarkable film is clearly intended to be symbolical of the fate of the helpless Indian race as it has been forced to recede before the advancing whites, and as such it is full of poetic sentiment and artistic beauty.’ This evaluation clearly documents how aestheticization functioned as part of the legitimation narrative of white nationalism in the United States: the feeling cinema produced vis-à-vis the Indian’s disappearance was ‘poetic sentiment and artistic beauty’, not, say, moral outrage or political anger. The plot could readily depict the Native American as a victim of white greed and violence as long as the manner of representation adhered to the aesthetics of poeticized sentiment, thus transforming the represented action into something felt to be ordered, harmonious, fixed, and even perversely delightful.”
Gregory S. Jay: “White Man’s Book No Good”: D. W. Griffith and the American Indian. In: Cinema Journal 39, Number 4, Summer 2000, pp. 3-26 (p. 7)