Rebirth Of A Nation

Rebirth Of A Nation


Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

DJ Spooky, also known as multi-media artist Paul Miller, presents a deconstruction of DW Griffith’s controversial but groundbreaking silent epic Birth Of A Nation. The original is a cinematic masterpiece but notoriously hard to praise given its undeniably racist content.

Griffith’s film follows the Cameron family in Piedmont, South Carolina, and shows how their lives are affected by the Civil War and its aftermath. The director depicts newly freed black people as uncontrollable, lawless savages who persecute whites. He champions the birth of the Ku Klux Klan as protectors of the peace, heroes.

Copy picture

Spooky explores Griffith’s racist agenda and how he manipulated images to create his version of the truth - his racist propoganda. He argues that these techniques paved the way for the way events are portrayed today - how easily viewers’ opinions can be shaped by what they see on screen.

Spooky uses the whitewashing of Iraq and Hurricane Katrina to make his point - the news was manipulated to suit a political agenda.

Rebirth is touted as a “DJ remix” of Birth - the director applies DJ techniques to cinema to rework and deconstruct the original text. Well, if they can constantly rework classic songs and re-release them then I guess it was only a matter of time before one tried it with a movie.

Score is, obviously, the main tool and used to great effect. Silent movies’ music was designed to heighten our understanding of the action on screen and Spooky uses his own composition - an industrial, ethereal soundscape of drums, cymbals and violin rather than the urban hip hop expected. Personally, I hated the modern Phillip Glass-like score and was tempted to hit the mute button. All that plinking, plonking and whining was grating.

Spooky slashes Birth’s original 190 minute runtime exposes the racism by highlighting details and gestures, often zooming in or characters, framing them or blurring backgrounds. The director’s own initials. There is also a commentary although it is often unnecessary - Griffith’s prejudice is so explicit you don’t need it pointed out.

While Spooky does a good job of exposing the racism, the film does this without his help. If you’ve never seen Birth you may find this worthwhile but otherwise Spooky doesn’t tell you anything new. I’m not convinced he cements his argument that Birth set the tone for propaganda.

And while he exposes its racism, he blatently ignores the countless pioneering techniques employed by Griffith. The editing is miles ahead of its time with groundbreaking new shots such as close-ups.

A better documentary would be the struggle to appreciate such a rich visual masterpiece given such a disgusting, supremacist text.

Reviewed on: 30 Jun 2009
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A deconstruction of DW Griffith’s controversial film.

Director: DJ Spooky

Writer: Matthew Carpenter, Anthony James, DJ Spooky

Starring: Richard Davis

Year: 2007

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US


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