Birth Of A Nation part 2

New Podcast on Silent Cinema

So here’s the completion of my conversation with Eric Cook on Birth Of A Nation, in which we go through the plot of the movie: I try to explain the astonishing success of D.W. Griffith through the strange connection between the emotional power of cinema & the politics of pacifism & racism in the Progressive era. Griffith’s combination of nostalgia for honor & idealistic pacifism looking to the future is not so unusual, some versions of it are around now, although idealistic claims now prefer a rhetoric of cruelty & absolute hatred of the past—think about our wokie Progressives—except for their own mythical land of honor…

Griffith’s white supremacy ideas are a puzzle because they don’t fit at all with his admiration for Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, about whom he made a movie that was all praise—this admiration was, of course, very American. He ended up blaming the Civil War on abolitionists & blamed the KKK on Reconstruction Republicans, while treating Lincoln himself as America’s martyr, Jesus-like. That makes almost no sense, of course, but it’s an attempt to put America back together again after the war; Griffith’s racism might in part have come from the need to blame someone for the horror of the war—it’s remarkable to blame the victim, the slaves, but it happens all the time. After all, Lincoln wouldn’t have fought the Civil War had there been no slaves.