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Categories of analysis: clip 4

clip 4 The Wounding of Ben Cameron

time: 53:35-57:34
shots: 389-437

filmic technique

  • discussion of Griffith's strategies for staging battles: formal– and formative– innovations
  • Griffith's conferral with Confederate veterans, generals issued statements attesting to the film's authenticity
  • "battles looked so real"- the verisimilitude of the battles used as a claim to the truth of the film's entire historical portrait

  • displays of Griffith's virtuosity as director: back-tracking cameras, pyrotechnics
  • used several men knowledgeable about intended maneuvers to lead the other untrained extras
  • used smoking flares to cover up barren portions of the battlefield, as signals to time motions across the field
  • intersplicing wide-angle, panoramic shots of the battlefield; closer shots of the hand-to-hand combat on the lines; and a focus on the faces and actions of the heroic leaders
  • telescoping our perspectives and affiliations

  • ideological reverberations of film technique: intercutting between the battle scenes and the portrait of the family praying at home
  • alternating between sweeping historical events and the drama of the individual family: endowing the Southern cause with pietistic rightness, Christian martyrdom
  • comparison of the family tableau to conventions of portraiture at the time

  • close-up shot of tangled corpses (still): almost abstract/expressionist in the non-representational composition
  • shot through red filtration: evocative of references to "red lane of death"

racial representation

  • racially-motivated portrayals of military conduct: comparison between the heroic, dignified combat here and the guerilla, irregular pack of black Union soldiers in the attack on Piedmont
  • black soldiers conspicuous in their absence: suggestion that blacks are not developed enough to partake in the gentlemanly conduct of war
  • also inflected with class overtones– the lower-class, unaristocratic "scalawags" absent from the knight errantry

  • battlefield portrayed as a landscape of white chivalry: both Northerners and Southerners adhere closely to the same code of valor

  • camaraderie with the enemy: foregrounding of scene where Ben Cameron pauses to give water to a fallen Union soldier
  • Phil Stoneman ensures that his heroic adversary is not harmed in his final charge
  • Susan Jeffords: stories of bonding across the battlelines
  • the regard which North and South have for each other foreshadows the conclusions of the film: that the black population was the only force responsible for laying the "seeds of disunion" between the two populations

literary origins

  • differences between the book(s) and the film in the representation of the relationship between Ben Cameron and Phil Stoneman
  • books: they only meet on the battlefield, each equally impressed with the bravery of the other

  • the sequence plays upon popular Civil War battle stories, published in post-war periodicals
  • recurrent trope of the serendipitous reunion: peacetime comrades experience chance encounters with one another on the battlefield, on opposite sides of the line drawn by war

  • falsity of the "rebel guerilla" charge against Ben Cameron that later condemns him to death
  • portrayed here as a Southern martyr, bearing the standard undefended

historical representation

  • the Battle of Petersburg: the South's last stand, as the war drew to a close
  • lasted for 6 months: digging of trenches and establishment of lines, Union siege

  • Griffith began the filming by attempting to re-create the Battle of Petersburg from engravings and stills
  • use of Matthew Brady photos and other pictographic sources: "Harper's Pictoral Representation," "Soldier of the Civil War" (Paul F. Mottele and C. Campbell Copeland)
  • however, as work progressed, moved toward the depiction of a more generic battle
  • strategy behind this decrease in specificity: to represent the conduct of the war as a whole in a single battle, suggesting that these heroic deeds of a shorthanded Southern army comprised the rule in battles throughout

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