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Incredible and awful all at the same time

  • Aug 27, 2010
To watch this movie is to watch a contradiction.

There is no question that in terms of a movie, it is incredible, even more so when you consider that it is 95 years old. The Battle scenes are spectacular, The acting is pretty good considering the lack of sound. The occasional comedy is ok and in an age of everything digital the sight of a large scene full of real people and the desire to control it is appealing.

We clearly see this story is being told from the view of the old south that still existed in living memory at the time. Lincoln is treated with some deference (we will ask the great heart) but to say this film is practically pining for the old Confederacy is the understatement of the year.

You get some impressions of the racial attitudes in the first third of the picture when we get glimpses of the old south but it's the reconstruction scenes that are so unbelievable vile and twisted in its view that one is unsure if you are watching Triumph of the Will (Remastered) .

What is even worse in purely cinematic terms the 2nd half is an exciting movie so it reinforces a message that is so racist that it was controversial even in 1915 and led to the resurgence of the KKK and all the blood that would follow.

It can't be denied that ignoring the subject matter, what Griffith does on screen was genius. A breakthrough for its day and age, a masterpiece of cinematic achievement that is the ancestor of the great movies of today. That as a movie it can stand up to a modern film in terms of quality speaks to that.

It also can't be denied that the message it conveys is dehumanizing to an entire race of people, simply evil and wrong. While it argues the futility of war it presents a case to justify the permanent subjugation of millions based upon race. The closing image of Christ as if an endorsement of this blasphemy managed to add one more outrage to an already outrageous message. In this sense it is a greater ancestor to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 as a propaganda organ (that thankfully can't match the quality).

To truly understand an era one should read the newspapers and history books of the time, and also to watch the films. This film gives an important glimpse to its time, like the Islamic beheading videos one wants to turn away, but denial of reality will not make it go away. This film needs to be seen and forthrightly confronted for what it is.

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September 24, 2010
The sequel wasn't directed by Griffith, it was called Fall of a Nation (released in 1916) I haven't seen it, and I'm sure it pales in comparison...
September 24, 2010
It's also the first film to get the distinction of having a sequel.
September 24, 2010
Would Intolerance properly be considered a sequel? I've never seen it.
About the reviewer
Peter Ingemi ()
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   I am a blogger who hosts a Saturday evening Radio show on WCRN 830 AM out of Worcester Mass. I blog about politics, religion, baseball and doctor who at I also cover … more
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A pivotal moment in film history. AfterThe Birth of a Nation, nothing was the same: not the way audiences watched movies, not the way filmmakers created them. D.W. Griffith's jumbo-size saga of the Civil War expanded the boundaries of storytelling on the screen, conveying a richer, more complicated (and certainly longer) tale than anyone had seen in a movie before. The delicate relationships, the sad passage of time, the spectacular battle scenes all look as fresh and innovative today as they did in 1915. So do Griffith's brilliant actors, most of them--including favorite leading lady Lillian Gish--drawn from his regular stock company. What has become increasingly problematic aboutThe Birth of a Nationis Griffith's condescending attitude toward black slaves, and the ringing excitement surrounding the founding of the Ku Klux Klan. Griffith, whose political ideas were naive at best, seemed genuinely surprised by the criticism of his masterwork, and for his next project he turned to the humanist preaching of the massiveIntolerance. Despite protests,Birthsold more tickets than any other movie, a record that stood for decades, and President Woodrow Wilson famously compared it to "history written in lightning." That judgment has lasted.--Robert Horton
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Genre: Classics
DVD Release Date: January 10, 2009
Runtime: 190 minutes
First to Review
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