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Categories of analysis: clip 1

clip 1- Slave Quarters

time: 12:08 - 15:29
shots: 82-106

filmic technique

  • use of close-ups and iris shots: idealizing the genteel way of life on the Southern plantation
  • chivalric idealization of white Womanhood: the cameo portrait
  • portraying drama played out upon the human face; the happiness of the participants in the scene evokes the supposed balance of the society

  • composition of the tableau: establishment of foreground and background
  • using the microcosm of love to represent the desired state of the societal macrocosm
  • eliding sentimentalism and societal values

  • set up shot for the dancing slaves: slight, awkward cuts between view of dancers and view of white observers
  • meant to convey a distance, detachment between viewer and viewed: segregation within the frame

-an idea mentioned by Jill: the transition from a cinema of attractions (Tom Gunning) to narrativity, and a discussion of the spatial relations in the slave-dancing shot; Griffith as a transitional figure; lack of racial segregation within the frame leads to awkwardness, as opposed to the segregated view of the House of Representatives; no optical point of view and ambiguous transparency of storytelling mechanisms

racial representation

  • tradition of the minstrel show: use of real black actors, as opposed to the blackface actors in the main roles
  • distinction made between black minstrelsy– subhuman stereotypes played for laughs– and characters such as Silas Lynch and Gus– figures whose disparaging intent require 'dramatic' portrayal
  • Griffith and realism: in a film praised for authenticity, his historical targets are present only as ersatz figures, white impostors
  • Eric Lott: potential commentator on the tradition of mistrel shows

  • comparison of Dixon's characterization of racial types with the portrayal of race here
  • overtones of Social Darwinism: portrayed with hunched, animalistic forms and uncontrolled emotionalism
  • discussion about contemporary interests in pseudo-scientific discourses such as phrenology and eugenics: using science in the service of racial hatred

literary origins

  • comparison between Dixon and Griffith's portrayal of Southern society
  • absence of cruelty, oppression in the life of slaves: slave-trading identified as the real evil, not the practices of the plantations
  • blacks accused of laying "seeds of disunion," but shown here as playing a harmonic role in the Southern idyll

  • scene relates to tropes, strategies of the melodrama: grafting sentimental romance onto a sweeping historical stage
  • reducing complex societal issues into formulaic emotional postures
  • turn-of-century popular narrative strictly defined as a love story
  • Dixon's denigration of the school of literary Naturalism as putrid, betrayal of the Romantic literary legacy

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  • establishes theme of the pastoral, South in pre-lapsarian bliss

  • presence of conventional tropes of pastoralism: Edenic natural surroundings (pastures, cotton blossoms); impossibly
idealized womanhood; courtly love of the inaccessible female
  • establishment of Christian motif that culminates in the ride of the 'Christian soldiers' at the end, installing the New Jerusalem

  • lack of a direct literary source for this scene in Dixon: distilling various elements of Southern plantation life into carefully
realized portrait

historical representation

  • setting up the prosperous antebellum to contrast the dispossession of the South in the postbellum

  • question of the accuracy of this portrait of plantation economy as well-managed, prosperous, and efficient
  • issue for commentary: economics of the South
  • no representation of poor white classes; fully stratified into prosperous whites and enslaved blacks
  • economics as precipitating factor in the Civil War: conflict between the North and South over taxation

  • question of Northern complicity in Southern economics: Massachusetts’s textile mills reliant on slave-worked cotton
  • conveyed in the obliviousness of Phil Stoneman, an Abolitionist's son, to the slavery

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