127 / BD 52 The Birth of a Nation

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swo17
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127 / BD 52 The Birth of a Nation

#1 Post by swo17 » Tue Mar 27, 2012 10:38 am

The Birth of a Nation

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One of the most artistically significant and controversial motion pictures ever made, D. W. Griffith's silent epic The Birth of a Nation was a massive commercial success at the time of its release, owing to its dynamic storytelling and its breakthrough developments in cinema language that have become common traits of practically every film that has since followed. However, the picture's legacy is one that continues to elicit outrage over its vulgar depictions of African-Americans and its deceptive historiography of the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Birth of a Nation begins depicting the amiable relationship between two families, Northern and Southern, and the way in which the impending Civil War intensifies the conflict of their worldviews. Following the end of the war and the assassination of President Lincoln, a lawless chaos courses throughout the Reconstruction South, and the Ku Klux Klan is formed to take on a rising black militia and impose a vengeful vigilante justice across their land and "birthright".

It's a film that's deeply divisive even to the senses of a single viewer: images of painterly beauty in composition and tonal quality often exhibit a contemptuous, inflammatory coarseness with regard to subject matter; just as frequently, long tracts evince an innocent, terrifically lyrical grandeur. Griffith would attempt to make amends for the moral schism of this schizophrenic epic in his next film, Intolerance, but The Birth of a Nation cannot - and should not - remain unseen, or undiscussed: it is a great, and terrible, masterpiece. The Masters of Cinema Series releases Griffith's three-hour epic, including a series of the director's Civil War shorts, for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• New 1080p presentation of the film from archival 35mm elements, in its original aspect ratio
• Music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra in 2.0 stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
• Short archival introductions to the film by D. W. Griffith and Walter Huston
• 1930 re-release title sequence
• Seven Civil War shorts directed by Griffith: In the Border States (1910); The House with Closed Shutters (1910); The Fugitive (1910); His Trust (1910); His Trust Fulfilled (1910); Swords and Hearts (1911); and The Battle (1911).
• 1993 documentary on the making of the film
• 44-PAGE BOOKLET containing vintage writing by D. W. Griffith, Thomas Dixon, Francis Hackett, Seymour Stern, and Michael Powell, plus rare archival materials.

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Forrest Taft
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#2 Post by Forrest Taft » Tue Mar 27, 2012 11:11 am

I almost ordered the Kino release yesterday. Glad I didn't :)

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#3 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:24 pm

Well, I certainly have mixed feelings about this! Looking forward to seeing the slate of extras, though.

Calvin
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#4 Post by Calvin » Tue Mar 27, 2012 1:48 pm

I would have liked a double bill release of Birth of a Nation and Intolerance to balance things out morally but, as it looks like the latter hasn't received a restoration by MoMA (only Birth, Way Down East, Orphans of the Storm and Hearts of the World), I'll consider this if the extras are good enough. It'll be hard to beat the Kino!

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#5 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Mar 27, 2012 2:04 pm

Honestly I think a solid commentary could be incredibly enticing in this case, both because I think what made this movie remarkable in filmic terms isn't necessarily obvious without one, and because it could go a long way towards giving the movie much needed historical context. Obviously a documentary or a visual essay could do that as well, but I think a commentary would be especially suitable here.

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What A Disgrace
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#6 Post by What A Disgrace » Tue Mar 27, 2012 2:14 pm

A visual essay, or even a text essay in the booklet, would also do wisely to put the film in its cinema-historic context. For a film that is so well known as one of the milestones of world cinema, its one whose technical value is easily both under *and* over stated because, let's face it, so little of world cinema predating it registers on people's radars.

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swo17
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#7 Post by swo17 » Tue Mar 27, 2012 2:18 pm

I think it's a fairly safe bet that MoC will not be releasing this film without at least like a couple sentences of context.

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knives
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#8 Post by knives » Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:06 pm

Maybe even the return of the book booklet. It is certainly a release that warrants it and I believe they don't have to go through the BBFC for the booklets which should circumvent the cost issue.

Calvin
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#9 Post by Calvin » Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:31 pm

It might be worth including one of the 'responses' to the film, off the top of my head I can think of Micheaux's Within Our Gates. I can't think of many other possible extras that haven't been released already (such as the Father of Film doc), though I'm sure there's heaps of Griffith shorts that could be included.

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domino harvey
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#10 Post by domino harvey » Tue Mar 27, 2012 5:25 pm

I hope for an even-handed approach-- apologia and hagiography balanced where appropriate. I certainly don't want to see a bunch of reductive "Griffith is a racist" garbage, at the very least

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Gregory
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#11 Post by Gregory » Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:14 pm

domino harvey wrote:I hope for an even-handed approach-- apologia and hagiography balanced where appropriate.
What? A balance between defending/explaining the film and venerating/idolizing it?
I certainly don't want to see a bunch of reductive "Griffith is a racist" garbage, at the very least
Fortunately one needn't be at all reductive to critically explore the racism of the film, the context of its version of historical events, the political uses the film served, and Griffith's decision to adapt a virulently racist work and serve as an unapologetic propagandist for causes that had trully horrific consequences. And I really wouldn't expect MoC to include any reductive garbage in their booklets anyway.

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domino harvey
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#12 Post by domino harvey » Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:20 pm

I meant apologizing for the film, as though it were a mistake that needed such action. I expect both tacks to be represented in some form, I'm just calling for a balance and nothing too fawning or damning. I don't think this is all that outrageous a hope!

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Gregory
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#13 Post by Gregory » Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:21 pm

Agreed... any essays or supplements should deal with its achievements as a film as well as all the reasons it's been condemned. On the latter, the challenge is to say something that isn't just beating a dead horse to those already somewhat familiar with the film and its history.

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jamie_atp
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#14 Post by jamie_atp » Tue Mar 27, 2012 7:15 pm

A Kalat commentary would be great.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#15 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Mar 27, 2012 8:07 pm

Unfortunately I think Kalat has retired from the commentary business. I would actually love to hear a commentary from a black film scholar, maybe someone like Donald Bogle- simply pointing out that the film is racist wouldn't have much point, but Bogle's analysis of where it was situated in terms of the history of blackface and of the black presence in film in Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks was one of the strongest parts of the book, and I would love to hear a filmlength elaboration on the subject. Though, as I said, I would also be very happy to hear an analysis of the specific techniques the film pioneered in that format- as long as it's not one that casually brushes aside what the movie was doing in terms of race. A commentary (or any other type of feature, really) that dealt with its place in history in both senses would be incredibly valuable.

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tavernier
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#16 Post by tavernier » Tue Mar 27, 2012 8:30 pm

I'm sure Armond's available

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HerrSchreck
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#17 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Mar 28, 2012 12:27 am

Schmat, what makes you say that Kalat has retired from doing commentaries?

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david hare
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#18 Post by david hare » Wed Mar 28, 2012 12:30 am

Even I wouldn't wish the chore of a commentary track for Birth on Kalat.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#19 Post by matrixschmatrix » Wed Mar 28, 2012 12:44 am

HerrSchreck wrote:Schmat, what makes you say that Kalat has retired from doing commentaries?
He's changed careers, he's a corporate consultant now- he said in the comments here that he would have to be 'more selective' about future commentary gigs, doing them only when they fit into his schedule, but obviously he wasn't expecting much. I'm fairly sure I saw him mention that Godzilla was his retirement piece somewhere or other, but I can't track it down.

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HerrSchreck
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#20 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:08 am

Ah, that. I thought something bad happened (beyond losing future AllDay output).

David K is good people, I'm sure he's doing great on his 9-5.

And agreed, commenting on the BIRTH would be a thankless minefield.

Calvin
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#21 Post by Calvin » Wed Mar 28, 2012 3:00 am

I'm assuming that it will be the MoMA restoration that Kino used but could it be the Photoplay version? I'd love to see that one. For the past few years, the Photoplay website has said that it's going to be released by the BFI but nothing has materialised.

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MichaelB
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#22 Post by MichaelB » Wed Mar 28, 2012 3:08 am

Is there even an HD master of the Photoplay version?

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Peacock
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#23 Post by Peacock » Wed Mar 28, 2012 7:50 am

A film curator I talked to in 2010 said that there was a new restoration of The Birth of A Nation coming in 2011 or 2012. He told me it featured some scenes that were cut out of the film due to censorship. They allegedly found the original ending where the African Americans were shipped back to Africa for example.
A friend of mine told me the above online a few days ago. I haven't been able to find any sources for this with google though. Is this the Photoplay restoration? You'd think there would be more talk about it if they'd discovered the ending and stuff from the original release?

Calvin
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#24 Post by Calvin » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:11 am

The Photoplay version has extra footage (though I don't remember the ending you mentioned), better framing and a much superior arrangement of the score by John Lanchbury.

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whaleallright
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Re: Forthcoming: The Birth of a Nation

#25 Post by whaleallright » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:59 pm

It might be worth including one of the 'responses' to the film
Reprinting the NAACP's "Fighting a Vicious Film" pamphlet, as well as Griffith's own published response, would be a good thing.

Melvyn Stokes has written an entire (and very good) book on the controversies surrounding Birth of a Nation.

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