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)