A Few Words About A few words about...™ The Birth of a Nation -- in Blu-ray

Tom Logan

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In THE BIRTH OF A NATION Griffith invented nothing, denied nothing, stood up, spoke up and created the motion picture that stand alone in the history of motion pictures. It remains the greatest film ever made and it is one of the very few honest ones.
wut
 

Lromero1396

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Reg Hartt said:
The people who scored The Kino Blu-ray of THE BIRTH lacked the balls to do the job right. Shame on them.
I'd seriously like to hear Reg's score. If it provoked that great of a reaction from a modern audience, it must be at the very least worth a listen. Too bad Kino and MOC didn't give us a choice of a few different scores to hear.
 

titch

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Mr Harris should try to get hold of the BFI's spectacular Collector's Centenary Edition, a region B-locked release that came out November 2015. It is easily available from Amazon UK. In this newly restored version, 95% of it is made from an original 35 mm step-printed nitrate print of the 1921 reissue from the Museum of Modern Art, with key damaged or missing sections copied by a duplicate fine grain held by the British Film Institute. Damaged sections were further improved from The Library of Congress' extensive nitrate holdings for Birth. The quality of this transfer far surpasses the previous US Kino and UK Masters Of Cinema blu ray editions. In addition, there is a newly orchestrated score to fit the transfer. While retaining the majority of Joseph Carl Breil's plan, there are some substitutions (eg. Francesca da Rimini by Tchaikovsky instead of Grieg's In The Hall Of The Mountain King for the bombardment of Atlanta). It sounds superb either in LPCM 2.0 audio (48k/24-bit) or 5.1 DTS Master Audio (48k). What Patrick Stanbury, Rob Byrne, David Gill and Kevin Brownlow have achieved is monumental. I haven't seen any silent film close to this quality - it is really stunning projected onto a 150 inch screen. There is a second blu-ray disc with extensive special features, including a discussion which the BFI held for the Centenary showing. Birth Of A Nation is too controversial, incendiary and despised in the USA for any centenary anniversary last year but the film, as Kevin Brownlow elegantly writes in a chapter the extensive liner notes ("We Can Never Censor The Past"), it is the first masterwork of American cinema. It is quite extraordinary seeing it again in this edition.
 

Reg Hartt

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The first public performance of the work was for an audience of 500 high school students. They watched the film with an intensity that astonished their teachers. When the Klan rode to the rescue at the climax the audience (composed entirely of young Canadians) let out a mighty roar of excitement.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION presents the story of the American Civil War and the Aftermath of Reconstruction from the point of view of the white American South. That point of view is as valid as would be the same story told from the point of view of a member of the Black American South, and/or a member of the Black and/or White American North.

I felt that the film properly scored would be as powerful today as it had been in 1915 when first seen. I was able, through Bernard B. Brown, to access that moment in a way that no one else who has scored the film has been able to. I was also able to learn from Mr. Brown's experience as head of Sound first at Warner Brothers and then at Universal as to how best to present the film with a sound track intended to do what a sound track for a motion picture is meant to do which, simply put, is to take the audience on the roller coaster ride they paid for.

Shirley Hughes, who runs THE TORONTO SILENT FILM SOCIETY, speaks about my approach to scoring silent films here:
"A: My knowledge of silent films, German and French cinema, came an awful lot from Reg Hartt’s Cineforum. At first he showed films at Innis College, then he had a place on Mercer St. for a while. Reg showed some really incredible silent films, from Phantom of the Opera to D.W. Griffith’s films. His strength was putting incredibly good soundtracks on the films. He has a really good ear for movie music and back in the good old days when it was all analog, he would splice them together himself."
http://www.thestar.com/life/food_wi...es_director_toronto_silent_film_festival.html
Douglas Eliuk served for many years as an education officer National Film Board of Canada; Canadian Cultural Attache to America: "I have left so many cinemas looking like I've been smelling onions for two hours that it is a pleasure and a catharsis to alert you to a redeeming film experience I enjoyed recently. It was not exactly an epiphany, but when something brilliant comes along, it deserves comment beyond self congratulations on managing to stay awake.

"What I'm referring to is a recent screening of Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS I attended at Reg Hartt's Cineforum. I've seen the film with every sort of accompaniment except organ grinder and a monkey. When organ and even the now rare orchestral accompaniments have been attached to one of the "silent" classics, it is still hard to avoid the giggle factor what with all the usual silent movie grand overwrought gestural school of acting methods. However, Reg Hartt has completely transcended the predictable approach and has presented a classic film with a brilliant multi-layered sound track that forgives the histrionic giggle factor. Hartt allows us to see a great film with a fresh perspective.

"I am not Mr. Hartt's P. R. council but as someone who has been in the film industry for decades and who celebrates cinematic excellence,I hope you will take the opportunity to experience this superb revitalization of METROPOLIS with its innovative music track."

The perspective Griffith took in making the film is today described as that of the William A. Dunning school. In the last view years that perspective has been exchanged for the view expressed by Eric Foner in RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA'S UNFINISHED REVOLUTION.

What that audience of 500 young Canadians did was what an audience at the movies is supposed to do whether the motion picture they are watching is THE BIRTH OF A NATION or the latest installment of STAR WARS. They got caught up in the movie.

The sound tracks created for all present video presentations of THE BIRTH fail to achieve that purpose.

Right after they cheered those kids gasped in horror. They realized they had just done something they thought was horrible. They did what I hoped they would do. In that moment they became aware of the seductive power of theater.

It is all well and good to fault my work without having ever experienced it. That speaks to the low caliber of the thinking of those who do that. Here's something from people who have experienced my work:

JULIA SCUTARU, retired journalist, Bucharest, Romania, 2000: "In Toronto, I discovered by chance, Cineforum. Pure chance but a fortunate one. In that small room exhaling culture, passion and dedication, I watched the movie TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, an important historical, political and social document., and real artistic achievement….As a journalist (in Romania) I worked in the cultural field, including film reviews. Therefore I came to the Cineforum not just as a movie lover, but as a knowledgeable professional…We live in an era authoritatively dominated by brainwashing and political correctness…I admired Reg Hartt's courage and passion put in searching out and defending the human truth, the artistic truth, the historical truth; the Truth and unveiling it…Discovering Reg Hartt and his Cineforum was one of the most important events of my visit in Toronto."

DAVID BEARD, owner CINEBOOKS, quoted in THE TORONTO STAR, Nov. l, l979
"This man has devoted his whole life to bringing the film classics to the public. He treats animation-cartoons, if you will-as art. He is underfinanced, overworked and snubbed. I think we should pay tribute to him.

GREG WILLIAMS, MA (Ph, D. Candidate), President, University College Film Society, and Chairman of the Subcommittee for film, U. C. Symposium: I wish we had more time to chat together last night about our respective (and mutual) interests in film.
'Cineforum' has attained the status of an institution; it represents an achievement of which you should rightly feel proud.

"I can only hope the 'University College Film Society' will someday approximate its success and that I will, personally, match your inspired delivery as a master of ceremonies.

"As a newcomer to the business of arranging film programs, so far I am your equal perhaps only in enthusiasm. Thus I find your presentations to be not only exceptional in their content but also edifying in their execution. As an academic (in the field of English) I am also impressed by the high scholarly standard that pervades your informed and witty introductions,

"I frequently wonder if you have ever considered writing a history…some very good books have been written…but no text has dealt with it in a definitive way. A marshalling of your knowledge would, I am certain, produce a very fine volume indeed."

DOUGLAS ELIUK, education officer NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA, formerly Canada's Cultural Attache to America, "(REG) Hartt is acknowledged as a phenomenon in the film community. He is someone who does not rely on government grants, subsidies or institutional protection to generate his film activities. He depends entirely on his intelligence, talent and resourcefulness. His events are produced with care and good sense, in a clean and friendly atmosphere and with an almost avuncular consideration for his fans, As a film officer for the National Film Board of Canada for 30 years, I have seldom seen anyone who added so much substance and passion to the cultural fabric of our society as he has done with his lectures and presentations."
 
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PaulDA

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The perspective Griffith took in making the film is today described as that of the William A. Dunning school. In the last view years that perspective has been exchanged for the view expressed by Eric Foner in RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA'S UNFINISHED REVOLUTION.
And quite rightly so. Dunning’s work represented a methodological advance over earlier texts on Reconstruction, but it is woefully outdated in a number of ways. Both Foner, and Kenneth Stampp before him, transformed our understanding of Reconstruction and gave us a much more nuanced, complex and powerful assessment of the period and its consequences. We cannot fault Griffith for relying on what was, at the time, the leading scholarship on the subject. We can, and must, however, point out the fact that a good portion of the Dunning school’s work is obsolete, particularly on the issue of civil rights and black agency.

What that audience of 500 young Canadians did was what an audience at the movies is supposed to do whether the motion picture they are watching is THE BIRTH OF A NATION or the latest installment of STAR WARS. They got caught up in the movie.
Right after they cheered those kids gasped in horror. They realized they had just done something they thought was horrible. They did what I hoped they would do. In that moment they became aware of the seductive power of theater.
It would have been helpful to the discussion in the original days of the thread to point out the “kids gasped in horror”, as your initial post suggested they cheered the outcome with no indication of any contextual understanding of what they saw and did.

I am not familiar with your score and would not presume to comment on its quality. I concur, strongly, in fact, with your observation about “the seductive power of theater”. But it is precisely that “seductive power” that makes The Birth of a Nation, in the absence of contextual guidance from someone familiar with the actual history of the period, a problematic film from an interpretative standpoint.

Griffith should not be reduced to this one film. Moreover, it is a professional duty for historians to not engage in simple presentism when assessing behaviours, attitudes, ideologies, etc. of the past. At the same time, it does no disservice to history to point out that Griffith’s views, based on now outdated scholarship, as well as shaped by his cultural and social circumstances, are at odds with our current, more complete, understanding of the topic of Reconstruction. One can still admire the technical achievement of the film while appropriately critiquing its message.
 

bigshot

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I think just about anyone who watches the film will know that it is wrong historically and socially. That's pretty self evident. I suppose there are crackpots that might latch onto it to validate their own wrong ideas, but they would think like that with or without the movie. It's not like BoaN convinces anyone of anything anymore.
 

atcolomb

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Back in February PBS broadcast a very good documentary "Birth of a Movement" about a Boston newspaper editor who waged a battle against the showing of the film.
 
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Brent Reid

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