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)