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Categories of analysis: clip 5



clip 5- The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

time: 22:16-26:22
shots: 554-606

filmic technique

  • use of the iris shot to isolate individuals within the larger historical backdrop: scene opens with the iris foregrounding Elsie and Phil Stoneman in the audience
  • widens from this attenuation of focus to reveal full spectacle
  • film editing motivated by narrative considerations: melodramatic strategy of situating characters against sweeping backdrop
  • seeing historical tableau through the foil of character types

  • syntax of film not yet settled: presence of a double fade at the end of the scene
  • the fade not standardized as a device for the transition between distinct scenes
  • in-camera fade– fading without changing between shots– now a non-standard form of film syntax

  • possibility for an editing exercise?: use of an iris-in, iris-out editing scene



racial representation

  • disappearance of class discourse in the bourgeois forum of the theater
  • this scene emphasizes the degree to which the upper class Northern whites maintained a safe social distance from the free blacks in their own society, a divide that was enforced even further by the added axis of economic class
  • element of Northern hypocrisy: conspicuous absence of blacks in a public place

  • portrayal of Lincoln and its reflection on the race question - tragedy of the shooting: Stoneman betrays what is suggested as Lincoln's program for the postbellum era, where blacks would be freed but still segregated
  • Dixon: after the assassination, Stevens engineers a racial inmixing that Lincoln would never have allowed
  • especially in Dixon, suggestion that Lincoln planned a two-step program: to emancipate and then re-patriate the slaves, maintaining the separate societies
  • Dixon: without assassination, the racial history of the States would have followed a very different trajectory



literary origins

  • certain differences from the literary representation of the scene: Margaret Cameron attends the play with Phil Stoneman, touching off their romance subplot
  • importance of marriage as a device in the sentimental narrative: introduction of supporting cast as marriageable candidates

  • Dixon provides a more detailed view of the behind-the-scenes politics and power plays in the Capitol, immediately prior to Lincoln's shooting
  • more contextualization of political machinations in the literary narrative

  • Dixon's attitude toward Lincoln and slavery, and the complex rhetoric he deploys to maintain his desired (and selective) image of the president
  • Lincoln clearly portrayed as a Southerner, as champion and defender of the white race
  • "The Southerner"- title of Dixon’s Lincoln narrative suggests his attempt to lay claim to the President’s legacy
  • laudatory view of Lincoln far from universal amongst Southerners, who often framed him as a traitor and the scourge who systematically undermined their way of life
  • Dixon has Mrs. Cameron embrace Lincoln: admiration for the great man, and carefully playing down his role as the Great Emancipator



historical representation

  • description of Ford's Theatre set as "exact in size and detail": assertion of historical authenticity and its ideological implications

  • emphasis in the introductory intertitle on the notion of historical "facsimile"
  • Griffith went to great lengths and expense to recreate Ford's Theatre as an outside set: used contemporary accounts and pictographic sources
  • also notes exact times throughout in the intertitles, as if the scene is being created in real time

  • representation of John Wilkes Booth: depicted in still frames as a madman, a lunatic who acted alone
  • "Sic semper tyrannis"- Booth hailed as a hero– or at least as an avenger– in many Southern states



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