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Mother Cameron comes to the military hospital to find her one surviving son.

As Mother Cameron enters in the background we see another mother whose son has just died. THE BIRTH OF A NATION is woven through with background vignettes like this most of which pass by us unawares but all of which contribute to the feeling we are watching life on the screen. What is most amazing is that THE BIRTH for the most part was shot in one take. Griffith did not have the money to cover mistakes. He had to get it right the first time. He did.

Silent films are notorious for their presumed over acting. Actually, the problem stems from the music that too often accompanies these films. They should have scores created by film composers. Instead They are done by amateurs with all the ham that amateurs too often bring. We will never see a more understated nor a more powerful depiction of returning home. First we see the little sister’s joy at seeing her brother. Then we feel the memory of the two brothers who did not come home. Then we just the arm of the mother. Griffith was an early exponent of less is more.

Knowing that his recreations of historical incidents will be criticized Griffith gives us throughout the film his sources. He lets us know we are witnessing history.

In this scene Lillian Gish enters playing a banjo. Whenever I see a scene like this featuring an instrument I know the audience expects to HEAR that instrument. When they don’t they are taken out of the moment. Tellingly, we do not hear a banjo here.

Twilight Time’s restoration is first rate. The score is almost first rate. The Burning of Atlanta was originally scored to Peer Gynt’s IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING by Grieg .

What I have researched tells me Griffith cut the sequence to that music (as Stanley Kubrick was later to do with 2001). The score also lacks the tension that a genuine film composer gives to their music but that comes more from the way it was performed. The performance of the music here is too close to Sunday in church. It needs to be Saturday night in the brothel.

In 1980 I brought motion picture sound pioneer Bernard B. Brown to Toronto. Over a career that began at 16 when he played first violin in the orchestra which accompanied THE BIRTH (under its original title THE CLANSMAN) through 365 performances at Clune’s Auditorium in Los Angeles and ended with him teaching Film and Film Sound at UCLA Mr. Brown received 11 Academy Award nominations and two Oscars ( ).

I wanted to create a score for THE BIRTH that would have the audience on its feet cheering as audiences had in 1915. I was able to do this. When I presented THE BIRTH in a 600 seat auditorium as part of The Toronto Film Society Silent Series in 1980 the audience went wild. The Director of the TFS Silent Series stormed up to me saying, “That was brilliant!” Those folk are a pretty tough nut to crack.

I have the BFI version from which this is taken. Strangely, it looks better here.

Thankfully, we are spared the most noxious of the bonus materials from the BFI disc in which a host of academics play Pontius Pilate in the worst way while never once saying anything relevant about this landmark motion picture and its creator/director. The two bonus sections here (The Birth Of A Nation: The Legacy & The Clansman From Stage To Screen) both fall short of the mark in their conventionality.

God forbid they get William M. Drew who can actually talk about D. W. Griffith with an understanding that comes from more than seeking to please conventional “wisdom.”

Nonetheless, the important thing is the film and Twilight Time has done us a genuine service with this release. We get to see the film looking as it should look and we almost get to hear it as it should sound (try adding Alex North’s music to the various segments from 2001: , , ). For that matter listen to Stanley Kubrick on D. W. Griffith: ).

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

The small minds scurry about dissing Griffith. The ideas are beyond them.

The Birth Of A Nation (1915) gives us an honest and accurate portrayal of the American Civil War and the Aftermath of Reconstruction from the point of view of the white American South. That is its enduring legacy. That point of view is as valid as it would be coming from a member of the Black South, the White North or the Black North. The Russians understood (as, it seems, no one on this side of the pond has) that the issues in THE BIRTH are the old issues of class (upstairs/downstairs).

D. W. Griffith made films that played in 5,000 seat theaters at $2 a seat ($3 for the shorter Broken Blossoms). In today’s dollar that is $50 a seat.

D. W. Griffith made films that were seen in 5,000 seat theaters at what today would be $50 a seat. Today film makers can’t make films that will fill 500 seat theaters.

Today’s film makers make films that can’t fill 500 seat theaters.

It’s time to stop reviling this man and to start learning from him. If the motion picture industry is to have a future it must do this.

I almost did not buy this (because I have the BFI version). I’m glad I did. The pity is that the release is limited to 3,000 copies.

When I began my film programs in the late 1960s in Toronto I turned my back on government funding. I wanted to have to reach people to make my program succeed just as Harry Cohn, Jack Warner, Louis B. Mayer and the rest had to reach people to build Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, and MGM. Like these men I started with no money. The Toronto Star’s Rob Salem wrote, “Reg Hartt has had an amazing impact given the size of the venue and the esoteric nature of the programming. He’s had an incredible impact on the city. No one else is doing it. No one else has ever done it.”

In the same paper Shirley Hughes of The Toronto Silent Film Society said, “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.”

Michael Valpy in THE GLOBE AND MAIL wrote, “Reg Hart is what living in a metropolis is all about. He personifies the city as a meeting place of ideas, as a feast of experience and discussion and debate, as a triumph over the banal and soporific of the original and provoking.”

We are living in a time when the banal and the soporific abound.

Julia Scutaru, a retired journalist, Bucharest, Romania, 2000 wrote, “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 under-financed, overworked and snubbed. I think we should pay tribute to him.”

DOUGLAS ELIUK, education officer NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA, formerly Canada’s Cultural Attache to America, wrote, “(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.”

Pedro Almodovar said that when he was a young man he got lucky as the Fascist government in Spain shut down all the film schools. Instead of going to school he made movies. David Mamet, in TRUE AND FALSE, writes, “Invent nothing. Deny nothing. Stand up. Speak up. Stay out of school.”

Ellis Marsalis said to his sons Branford, Delfeayo and Wynton, “Most teachers say you should go to school to get your degree to have something to fall back on. Aside from being a huge lie, that also creates a very high level of mediocrity, because nobody who really believes that is going to take the leap of faith required to be a serious artist. Stay out of school.”

“Film students should stay as far away from film schools and film teachers as possible. The only school for the cinema is the cinema.”-Bernardo Bertolucci.

I’m with them. Griffith remains the master. Get your copy of this limited edition Blu-ray now while they are available. Ignore the speakers on the bonus disc. Let the film teach you.

–Reg Hartt 11/19/2018.


Jane Jacobs, the author of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES, first came to my programs the year she arrived in Toronto with her family, 1968. That same year students in Paris rioted over the ousting of Henri Langlois from the Paris Cinematheque. Reading about it I decided to give Toronto a program like the one Langlois gave Paris. 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,





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