D.W. Griffith's the Birth of a Nation: A History of the Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time

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Overview

In this deeply researched and fascinating study, Melvyn Stokes illuminates the origins, production, reception, and continuing history of D. W. Griffith's controversial film The Birth of a Nation. The 1915 film introduced many new conventions that would soon come to define American cinema, while it also drew large numbers of middle-class patrons to moviegoing for the first time. Though the film was a landmark aesthetic work, it was also a spectacle of unfettered racism, with a storyline that would inspire both bigotry and distrust. This indispensable account sheds light on both its groundbreaking formal qualities and its long shadow, twin sides to one of the twentieth century's most powerful works of art.

About the Author:
Melvyn Stokes is Senior Lecturer in American History at University College London

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Written with precision, Stokes illuminates both the film's racism and the aesthetic brilliance of Griffith's filmmaking. By placing the film into an historic, political, and cultural framework, this tome shoud attarct film scholars, historians, and cinema enthusiasts."--The Courier

"Stokes succeeds wonderfully in providing readers with an engaging, insightful and comprehensive account of how D.W. Griffith created his epic film, which astonished and outraged moviegoers in 1915 and has done so ever since. While Stokes examines the film closely, the breadth of his account extends to the social and cultural currents that Griffith rode in making it, and analysis of how the film's meanings have changed over time. This is the go-to volume on a film whose cinematic and ideological legacy informs and haunts American film to this day."--Matthew Bernstein, Emory University

"The Birth of a Nation is well noted for its contribution to the early aesthetics and narrative form of U.S. commercial cinema. Simultaneously, however, the film is considerably more notorious for its iconic and vile racism, and the many conflicts it stirred. Now, in a clearly argued, thoroughly researched book, Melvyn Stokes has managed to capture the people, politics and controversies surrounding the film's production and exhibition. Stokes portrays the film's writer, director and stars, as well as its eminent critics and protestors, with engaging biographic detail. And more, the author deftly inscribes Birth's twisted path through public discourse. Finally, we have a first rate book that places "the most controversial motion picture ever made" in an in-depth, historic, political and cultural context, to be enjoyed by film scholar, historian and cinema aficionado alike."--Ed Guerrero, New York University

"Stokes succeeds wonderfully in providing readers with an engaging, insightful and comprehensive account of how D.W. Griffith created his epic film, which astonished and outraged moviegoers in 1915 and has done so ever since. While Stokes examines the film closely, the breadth of his account extends to the social and cultural currents that Griffith rode in making it, and analysis of how the film's meanings have changed over time. This is the go-to volume on a film whose cinematic and ideological legacy informs and haunts American film to this day."--Matthew Bernstein, Emory University

"The Birth of a Nation is well noted for its contribution to the early aesthetics and narrative form of U.S. commercial cinema. Simultaneously, however, the film is considerably more notorious for its iconic and vile racism, and the many conflicts it stirred. Now, in a clearly argued, thoroughly researched book, Melvyn Stokes has managed to capture the people, politics and controversies surrounding the film's production and exhibition. Stokes portrays the film's writer, director and stars, as well as its eminent critics and protestors, with engaging biographic detail. And more, the author deftly inscribes Birth's twisted path through public discourse. Finally, we have a first rate book that places "the most controversial motion picture ever made" in an in-depth, historic, political and cultural context, to be enjoyed by film scholar, historian and cinema aficionado alike."--Ed Guerrero, New York University

"Melvyn Stokes's book, coming on the eve of the film's centennial, is likely to be its definitive chronicle in the twenty-first century....no one volume brings together the variety and depth of research he does here. This is a valuable book for those who want a highly readable, up-to-date account covering the dismal as well as the encouraging aspects of the American social and cultural experience in World War II." -- American Historical Review

"Stokes offers scholars a valuable survey of the diverse body of literature on The Birth of a Nation even as his own analysis inspires new directions for inquiry." -- Journal of Southern History

"Melvyn Stokes excellent new study of D.W. Griffith's abidingly controversial 1915 film Birth of a Nation situates insightful readings of the film in a brilliantly conceived and densely researched historical context."--The Southern Quarterly

"The depth and reach of Stokes's research reveals some true historical gems, disturbing and clear windows onto the history of racism, representation, popular culture, and social change in the twentieth-century United States." --Journal of Social History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195336788
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/15/2008
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Melvyn Stokes teaches American history and American film history at University College London. He has also been a visiting fellow at Princeton, a visiting Fulbright Professor at Mount Holyoke College and a visiting professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris. He has edited or co-edited nine books, including four for the British Film Institute.

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Table of Contents


Introduction     3
Premiere in Los Angeles     15
Thomas Dixon Jr.     27
David Wark Griffith     55
Making The Birth of a Nation     81
Transforming the American Movie Audience     111
Fighting a Vicious Film     129
Griffith's View of History     171
After Birth     227
Conclusion     277
Notes     287
Bibliography     373
Index     395
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