Feb. 8, 2015 marked 100 years since the release of one of the most controversial movies of all time, “The Birth of a Nation.” I’ve read about this movie a number of times over the years, but I’d never seen it, which is why I put it on my “bucket list” a few years ago. I really just wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and I finally finished watching it from start to finish on Wednesday.
Released in theatres on Feb. 8, 1915, “The Birth of a Nation” is about two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Stonemans are from the North, and the Camerons are from South Carolina. Directed by D.W. Griffith, the movie’s based on a 1905 novel called “The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan” by Thomas F. Dixon Jr. (Beginning to see why this film is somewhat controversial?)
This movie is considered significant, not because of its content, but because of the innovative techniques Griffith used in this epic film. The result is a power example of storytelling. Also, for you trivia buffs, “The Birth of a Nation” was the first motion picture ever screened at the White House.
One aspect of this movie that I was especially interested in has to do with the fact that the main character, Col. Ben Cameron, aka “The Little Colonel,” was played by Alabama native Henry B. Walthall. Walthall, who was recently featured in an article in the latest issue of Alabama Heritage magazine, was born in Shelby County, Ala. on March 16, 1878. His acting career spanned three decades and while he appeared in scores of movies, he’s best known for his role in “The Birth of a Nation.”
If you’ve never watched this movie, be warned – for a couple of reasons. This movie has often been criticized for its portrayal of blacks, so bear in mind that it’s a movie and the people are acting out a script. Also, keep in mind that this movie is now over 100 years old and comes from a time when people’s attitudes weren’t nearly as politically correct as they are today.
Also, be warned, this movie is long, over three hours long. Many modern viewers will probably have a hard time sitting through a silent film that long. I know I did. There were at least several times when I asked myself “When will this thing be over with?”
Did I enjoy this movie? The answer is yes and no. I enjoyed watching it because it’s considered an important landmark in film history. However, I doubt that I’ll ever watch it again. It’s just hard to sit through a three-hour silent film.
In the end, how many of you have watched “The Birth of a Nation”? How many of you have read Dixon’s original novel? What did you think about them? What other classic movies would recommend checking out? Let us know in the comments section below.