Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Birth of a Nation

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, May 24, 1999

Special features

Making Of7

One of the first feature-length films ever, notable for its historical value. Highly racist, even for its time.

RecommendationSpecial Interests Only
DirectorD. W. Griffith
WritersThomas F. Dixon, Jr., D. W. Griffith, Frank E. Woods
Movie Rating3
Transfer Quality5
Overall Rating6
  • Academy Ratio

Reading reviews of “Birth of a Nation” is like watching a sixties science fiction movie where the hero tries to confuse a computer by giving it some silly conundrum that can’t be solved. On the one hand, it brilliantly created modern movie-making techniques, almost single-handedly starting the movie era of epics and true stories. On the other, it also is credited with almost single-handedly reviving the Ku-Klux-Klan and was so racist that even in 1915 it was considered too racist, resulting in political figures such as Woodrow Wilson backpedaling their initial support for the movie.

For both reasons, it is a historical event. You can see the confusion even in modern reviews. On an Amazon.com review, one reviewer said that “supporting the Klan against carpetbaggers is like supporting Al-Quaeda against the Soviets.” I couldn’t tell from the review whether the reviewer realized that we did support Al-Quaeda, or at least its predecessor, Osama bin Laden’s insurgency force which later morphed into Al-Quaeda, against the Soviets. This movie just generates that sort of contradiction, because it is a contradiction.

It is extremely important to keep in mind that, even in 1915, this movie was picketed for its racism. It is also, however, a milestone in filmmaking. D. W. Griffith was the most advanced director of his time, making the film its own genre instead of simply a recorded form of the play. He used the camera to do things that only the camera can do: close-ups, special scene shifts, panoramic scenes. If you are at all interested in the history of cinema, you should view this film. Students of political sociology will also find it educational.

On the other hand, this is not a movie for a DVD party or a date. Taken out of its historical context it is relentlessly offensive, and it was even relentlessly offensive even in its own time. It is a historically important movie that makes me glad that the Internet is starting out as a porn haven instead of starting out with things like this.

Recommendation: Special Interests Only

DirectorD. W. Griffith
WritersThomas F. Dixon, Jr., D. W. Griffith, Frank E. Woods
Spoken languageSilent
Special FeatureMaking Of
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If you enjoyed Birth of a Nation…

For more about influential, you might also be interested in Carnival of Souls and The Seven Samurai.