The Birth of a Nation

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swo17
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The Birth of a Nation

#1 Post by swo17 » Wed Jul 29, 2015 10:45 am

Sep 28
BIRTH OF A NATION (Centenary Edition) (Blu-ray)
A Film by D W Griffith

2015 marks the centenary of the release of the controversial, yet extremely significant American silent epic, The Birth of a Nation, by D W Griffith. Griffith is often considered to be one of the most important figures in the history of cinema having been credited with creating and perfecting cinematic devices such as the flash-back, the iris shot, the mask and cross-cutting.

The Birth of a Nation covers a period of several years and is centered on the relationship of two families during The Civil War and Reconstruction-US era. Dividing friends and destroying families, The Civil War is minor in its disruption compared to the anarchy which follows in the black-ruled South post-war. The film was released to great commercial success, being one of the highest grossing films of the Silent era, but was widely-debated and often condemned due to its portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force. The film is attributed to launching the career of Lillian Gish, who worked closely with Griffith for many years, and who was also known as 'The First Lady of American Cinema'.

Special Features

• Two short films by D W Griffith: The Rose of Kentucky (1911) and The Coward (1911)
The Drummer of the 8th (1913) - short film starring future Oscar® winning director Frank Borzage (A Farewell to Arms)
Stolen Glory (1912) - a comedy starring Ford Sterling filmed against the backdrop of a parade of Union Civil War veterans
• 1930 re-release title sequence and short archival introduction by D W Griffith
• Photoplay orchestral recording sessions
• Out-takes and original camera tests
• D W Griffith on Lux Radio Theatre
• BFI Southbank roundtable discussion (2015)
• Fully illustrated booklet with new essays and full credits
• Other extras TBC

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Drucker
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#2 Post by Drucker » Wed Jul 29, 2015 11:18 am

Does this not include the "Photoplay" version, then?

And off-topic, but if both MOC and BFI have released BOTN, what are the chances both release Man With a Movie Camera?

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Dr Amicus
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#3 Post by Dr Amicus » Wed Jul 29, 2015 11:25 am

As this includes the "Photoplay orchestal recording sessions", I would hope it does have the Photoplay version!

And on the Man With The Movie Camera thread, I did wonder if another UK distributor had beat the BFI to the restoration - and MOC is the most likely option.

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#4 Post by Thornycroft » Wed Jul 29, 2015 12:43 pm

Photoplay's website lists their restoration as being released by the BFI on home video in 2015, so it seems safe to say this is it. In which case I will probably have to double-dip, much as I dread the idea of watching the film again.

The MoC edition did a good job of discussing the arguments around the film's thematic content and place in history; it would be nice if the BFI could place its technical innovations and narrative structure in context.

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DeprongMori
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#5 Post by DeprongMori » Wed Jul 29, 2015 2:47 pm

I haven't yet found a definitive comparison between the Library of Congress and Photoplay verions of the film, listing what what shots may or may not be present in each. I know there were a variety of cuts made to skirt the controversy about the film during its original release, and there are a number of claimed excised scenes that do not seem to be particularly well attested (such as Gus' castration during the lynching scene), plus others like "Lincoln's solution" which are more well-documented.

Has anyone seen such a comparison of prints?

Orlac
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#6 Post by Orlac » Thu Jul 30, 2015 2:45 am

Superb! Birth without Valkyries just isn't the same, so this is very welcome.

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swo17
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#7 Post by swo17 » Thu Jul 30, 2015 10:52 am

Image

Orlac
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#8 Post by Orlac » Thu Jul 30, 2015 12:27 pm

Carl Denham, you sly fox you...

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What A Disgrace
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#9 Post by What A Disgrace » Sat Aug 22, 2015 12:02 am

Fully updated specs on this release are available at Amazon now, including Thomas Ince's The Coward as a supplement.

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swo17
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#10 Post by swo17 » Thu Sep 10, 2015 2:34 pm

I just received notification from Amazon that this release has been delayed until the end of November.

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MichaelB
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#11 Post by MichaelB » Mon Nov 23, 2015 11:52 am

Full specs announced:
The Birth of a Nation
Collector’s Centenary Edition Blu-ray
A film by DW Griffith

Following its D W Griffith: Cinema’s Great Pioneer season, the BFI presents The Birth of a Nation, one of the most acclaimed yet controversial films in cinema history. This comprehensive 2-disc Collector’s Edition is released on Blu-ray on 23 November 2015, and features a stunning new restoration. The extensive selection of extra features includes original camera tests, out-takes and a number of short films from the era, as well as panel discussions and scholarly interviews which consider the film’s cultural legacy, impact and importance.

This cinematic milestone tells the epic story of two families during and after the American Civil War, recalling an era of divided loyalties, friendship and struggle for control of the Southern states. Condemned for its stereotyping of African Americans and its portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan as heroes, Griffith’s film is also revered for its grand scale and its revolutionary use of film technique. The original 1915 score was adapted and conducted by John Lanchbery.

As the ‘Father of Film’ D W Griffith pioneered many aspects of film language which audiences now take for granted, from the use of close-ups for dramatic effect to parallel cutting (alternating between two or more scenes that often happen simultaneously, but in different locations).

The centenary of The Birth of a Nation was marked by a major international conference at University College London (UCL), and the BFI Southbank’s The Birth of a Nation at 100 event gathered together a number of highly-regarded keynote speakers from the UCL conference to present a contemporary assessment of this highly controversial film, a hundred years on.

Special features
• 1930 sound reissue prologue (1930, 6 mins)
• 1930 sound reissue intermission and introduction to Act 2 (1930, 2 mins)
• D W Griffith in conversation with Walter Huston
• Outtakes and original camera tests
Melvyn Stokes on The Clansman, D W Griffith and Birth of a Nation (2015, 20 mins): newly filmed interview with the film scholar and Birth of a Nation authority
The Greatest Mother of Them All: Kate Bruce (1920, 1 min): short newsreel on the Griffith actress
The Coward (Reginald Barker, Thomas H Ince, 1911, 69 mins): a faint-hearted soldier in the American Civil War regains his courage
The Rose of Kentucky (D W Griffith, 1911, 17 mins): rural romance set in Griffith’s home state
Stolen Glory (Mack Sennett, 1912, 14 mins): comedy set during a parade of Union Civil War veterans
The Drummer of the 8th (Thomas H Ince, 1913, 29 mins): poignant Civil War drama presented in two cuts
The Rebel Yell (1932, 9 mins) archival film in which reunited Confederate veterans recite the famous battle cry of the South
• Stills and Collections Gallery (2015, 13 mins)
The Birth of a Nation at 100 (2015, 32 mins): roundtable discussion filmed at the BFI Southbank
The Birth of a Nation score recording sessions
• D W Griffith on Lux Radio Theatre with Cecil B DeMille (1936, 6 mins): the two legends reminisce
• Illustrated booklet with essays by Ashley Clark, Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury, and full credits

Product details
RRP: £29.99 / Cat. no. BFIB1207 / Cert 15
USA / 1915 / silent, with music and English intertitles / 191 mins / BD50 x 2 / 1080p / 24fps / Original aspect ratio 1.33:1 / LPCM 2.0 audio (48k/24-bit), 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (48k)

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Drucker
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#12 Post by Drucker » Mon Nov 23, 2015 12:11 pm

Well my copy already shipped, but just to be clear: the version presented here is a different "cut" then the MOC? Is either one really "official"?

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#13 Post by MichaelB » Mon Nov 23, 2015 12:16 pm

It's the Kevin Brownlow/Photoplay restoration. Whether it's more "official" than the MoC source is a matter for scholarly debate.

Orlac
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#14 Post by Orlac » Tue Nov 24, 2015 2:36 pm

Is The Coward 1911 or 1915? The disc seems to have got confused between a 1911 Griffith short and a 1915 Ince feature.

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Roscoe
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#15 Post by Roscoe » Tue Nov 24, 2015 3:05 pm

Is this the same package that Flicker Alley seemed to be referring to earlier this year in their calendar:

"Lillian Gish and Henry B. Walthall in The Birth of a Nation (1915), directed by D.W. Griffith, presented by Flicker Alley and the BFI, in association with Photoplay Productions. (Coming soon to Blu-ray)"

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#16 Post by WorstFella » Tue Nov 24, 2015 4:28 pm

Roscoe wrote:Is this the same package that Flicker Alley seemed to be referring to earlier this year in their calendar:

"Lillian Gish and Henry B. Walthall in The Birth of a Nation (1915), directed by D.W. Griffith, presented by Flicker Alley and the BFI, in association with Photoplay Productions. (Coming soon to Blu-ray)"
Same restoration, not the same package. BFI will be releasing the same Photoplay restoration on blu-ray as Flicker Alley, but they won't necessarily have the same extras (that I know of).

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#17 Post by MichaelB » Tue Nov 24, 2015 5:08 pm

Orlac wrote:Is The Coward 1911 or 1915? The disc seems to have got confused between a 1911 Griffith short and a 1915 Ince feature.
It's definitely the Ince feature, running 68:39 (and, on the basis of a quick spin, looking and sounding terrific - like the main feature, it's also a tinted restoration by Photoplay).

The booklet note by Patrick Stanbury gives 1911 as the year of production, but says that it wasn't premiered until 1915. I wonder if there was a filmographic mix-up when putting the booklet together along the lines you suggest?

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#18 Post by Orlac » Wed Nov 25, 2015 6:19 am

I think 1915 sounds correct.

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#19 Post by Jonathan S » Wed Nov 25, 2015 7:03 am

Ince's feature The Coward was previously included on David Shepard's DVD Civil War Films of the Silent Era (2000), running 77 minutes, and the release date given as 1915. The new 69-minute transfer (unless missing footage) presumably follows the current trend of faster frame-rates. I expect it has also been newly scored - the previous one was a rather bland and tinny synthesizer job.

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#20 Post by MichaelB » Wed Nov 25, 2015 7:53 am

Drucker wrote:Well my copy already shipped, but just to be clear: the version presented here is a different "cut" then the MOC? Is either one really "official"?
Just to answer this in more detail, there's a four-page piece in the booklet that explains the provenance of the BFI's version.

It's based on the 1993 Photoplay restoration, but was considerably enhanced with 4K scans of material from the extensive nitrate holdings of the Library of Congress, including the original negative. During restoration, Patrick Stanbury also noted marked differences in the quality of certain prints - some had clearly been step-printed one frame at a time, giving an admirably sharp, detailed picture, while others were made on continuous printers and are noticeably softer as a result. Throughout, wherever possible, the original neg or the highest-quality positive material was used as a source - and all this work was carried out in late 2014, so it's right up to date in terms of current technology.

I haven't done a side-by-side comparison with the MoC disc, but given the above I'd expect the BFI's version to be very noticeably superior.

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#21 Post by Orlac » Wed Nov 25, 2015 1:49 pm

The music is a huge improvement, for sure.

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swo17
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#22 Post by swo17 » Sat Dec 05, 2015 6:45 pm

MichaelB wrote:I haven't done a side-by-side comparison with the MoC disc, but given the above I'd expect the BFI's version to be very noticeably superior.
I sampled a 15 minute battle sequence on both discs, and this is an accurate statement. For better or worse, the film now looks and sounds more vibrant and alive than I ever imagined it could.

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Drucker
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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#23 Post by Drucker » Wed Dec 30, 2015 3:57 pm

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are a few moments here and there (especially at the end of the first reel, and at the beginning of the battle sequence that closes the film) where you can quickly see the film moving from source-to-source-to-source. As distracting at these moments are, they are few and far between, and 98% of the film is rich and beautifully presented.

I feel absolutely spoiled that I've gotten into film at a time when releases like this are not uncommon. I first learned of Birth Of a Nation in a post-war US history class, and was naturally repulsed by it (and was told of the disputed-in-this release line by Woodrow Wilson, "Like watching history written with lightning"). So the fact that nine years later I not only get to enjoy the film in probably it's best home video presentation, but get to read two great essays and enjoy plenty of historical context is a treat. Melvyn Stokes contributions in his personal interview and the roundtable discussion are informative, and among the best scholarly extras I've ever seen. The roundtable discussion as a whole is mostly great, with a few of the presenters clearly more lively and informative than others.

In a way like many modern epics, Birth of a Nation and Intolerance really do breeze by, and sitting through them is not the chore that an ADD-having person like myself finds other similarly long movies to be. But while I found Intolerance to be mesmerizing and grand, Birth Of a Nation disappointed me a bit. Now granted, I've officially made it through the whole film only once, and there were beautiful moments. The use of nature, especially in some of the scenes in the second part, with the KKK forming and hiding in the woods, was superb. The ending was naturally captivating and exciting to sit through.

Perhaps it is the most obvious statement I can make, but it really, really is a hard film to get through from a political standpoint. I want to emphasize that I usually try to just focus on films in situations like this, and not dwell too much on historic accuracy or offensive stereotypes. I acknowledge they are there, and try to enjoy the rest of the film. But in BOTN, it's so hard because the repulsive politics are the point of the film, not merely a one-off character who acts in a stereotypical fashion. The origin of the KKK as one of the characters seeing white children, with a white sheet, scaring black children? This was incredibly hard to take seriously. And as the supplements make clear, while many have tried to apologize (falsely) on behalf of Griffith throughout the years, he clearly believes in the content of his film. By citing Woodrow Wilson early on, and in the 1930 re-release supplement his book is brought up again, he is using the account of one of our most racist presidents to form part of the historic backbone of his film. It's nearly impossible to watch the film with a hint of knowledge of American history and conclude that Griffith's nightmarish tale of the post-Civil War south is really its reality when the races are reversed. One of the most horrible things he can clearly imagine is white people bullied into not voting by black people.

I don't want to try to brag about how enlightened I am and call Griffith a dolt. The film was entertaining, and there is no denying its revolutionary impact on the medium. But how on earth Griffith could present a card at the outset of the picture that this is trying to depict past events, and not indict that era's people, is beyond me. The film is comically racist, and it would be only slightly less tragic if the stereotypes and depictions of blacks and fears of whites weren't clearly so still present today.

The BFI's package is unbelievably great and one of the high points of their superb 2015 releases. I look forward to revisiting the film, as difficult as that will certainly be.

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#24 Post by Orlac » Thu Dec 31, 2015 8:50 am

Griffith put the card in AFTER the complaints. It does annoy me when people pretend TBOAN is a victim of modern PC - it went looking for trouble from the start.

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Re: The Birth of a Nation

#25 Post by MichaelB » Thu Dec 31, 2015 9:03 am

Orlac wrote:Griffith put the card in AFTER the complaints. It does annoy me when people pretend TBOAN is a victim of modern PC - it went looking for trouble from the start.
And found it - the protests started right from the very first screenings a full century ago. You can excuse things like The Jazz Singer, but not this - ignore the racism, and you ignore the film's very essence.

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