The Birth of a Nation (1915)
From the pompous arrogance of director D.W. Griffith and the incredibly racist novel by Thomas Dixon, The Birth of a Nation recounts (fictionally, I might add) the rise of the Ku Klux Kan. Originally over three hours long, I assume the silent spectacle was shaved down due to complaints of cruel and unusual punishment. I would rather watch paint dry. It doesn’t take as long, it’s not racist, and there’s even a chance it could have color.
This is from IMDb. “The Civil War divides friends and destroys families, but that’s nothing compared to the anarchy in the black-ruled South after the war.” That’s the premise of this horribly deplorable message conveyed throughout the film, that the KKK were heroes and their rise came to save the nation. Besides being obviously wrong and racist, it wasn’t shown clearly enough to get anyone to believe it. If your film aims for some sort of social change or even cultural commentary (Buried, for example), its effectiveness lies in the subtle way the message is shown. Blatant propaganda gets you nowhere.
The ugliest birth I’ve ever witnessed
Besides theatricality, which was the norm for early silent films, the acting is nothing to complain about. Characters are introduced more effectively than other silent films I have seen, but character development lacks. Touching scenes, including the “I have never met you but I have carried you with me” scene, are actually well executed and adorable. The war scenes are brilliantly staged and look extraordinarily realistic for 1915. The graphic, intense scene of President Lincoln’s assassination was also well done, and Griffith showed guts when he made that scene.
This is where the 1.5 rating is reflected…music. Sure, music may only make up a small part of most movie reviews, but in a silent film the music must be effective in order for the film to succeed. Using mostly patriotic songs, taps, and various other weak, forgettable tunes, The Birth of a Nation fails to hold captive each viewer.
I’d call it the worst movie viewing experience I have ever had, without a doubt in my mind. It was sleep-inducing, incredibly boring, and excruciatingly torturous…but it’s up to you, watch it at your own risk.