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Categories of analysis: clip 8



clip 8- Lynch’s Proposal

time: 5:00-8:56 (chapter 33)
shots: 1346-1390

filmic technique

  • lack of naturalism in acting style: D. W. Griffith and Lillian Gish
  • directorial style emphasized the role of the female as helpless victim, prone to hysterical episodes and lapsing into unconsciousness
  • the use of histrionics to convey emotion writ large in the silent film; conventions of gestural acting

  • Griffith: the use of white robed figures as visual spectacle
  • attracted to the impact of riding, white-swathed figures: framing the massed force to incite and direct audience sympathies
  • careful orchestration of the tempo and pacing: the Klan members accumulate and accelerate as the scene progresses
  • building momentum toward the emotional climax, also building toward an inexorable ideological conclusion
  • shot of the Klan arriving on horseback (still)



racial representation

  • the character of Silas Lynch: the mulatto as simultaneously tragic, insidious figure
  • Silas Lynch leering in the doorway: the mulatto figure constantly scheming to move above his station sexually, re-enacting the ‘unnatural’ union that led to his birth
  • a figure in limbo between worlds, the mulatto represents the film’s message about the incommensurateness of the races, unable to coexist in the same social sphere

  • for Dixon and Griffith, the mulatto used a stock representation for all the evils of miscegenation
  • Lynch’s sexual aspirations are blurred with his lust for social pre-eminence, and even with anti-democratic impulses: "I will build a Black Empire and you will rule with me by my side"
  • intertitle: "Drunk with wine and power, Silas Lynch prepares for a forced marriage"
  • the products of miscegenation suffer from mistaken hopes and pride, and these thwarted aspirations end by posing dangers to the natural order of society

  • rather than the exercise of democratic means, the mulatto rises to power on a cult of emotionalism, inflaming the passions of his racial minions
  • "The town overrun with crazed Negroes"



literary origins


  • the final realization experienced by Stoneman: a reversal central to the ideological work of the film
  • with Lynch’s proposal to Elsie, Stonemen revealed as a hypocrite: supports intermarriage for political ends, but not when it impinges on his own family
  • use of a still of Stoneman indignant at Lynch’s proposal
  • suggestion that Stoneman undergoes an almost epiphanic moment, followed by an acknowledgement that his policies of equality are complicit in spurring racial riot
  • his contrition is key to the re-alignment of the divided houses, and the divided nations of white North and white South, at the climax of the film
  • removal of the final obstacle to the restoration of ‘natural’ lines of allegiance



historical representation

  • historical exposition of the Ku Klux Klan: their program, symbolism, activities
  • origins of their iconography in Scottish heraldry: the flaming cross as a mixture of pagan and early Christian ritualism, double Celtic crosses on breast of cloaks
  • the markedly Christian mythos of the movement: overtones of a holy war, ‘soldiers of God’ fighting on the side of right

  • images in the film which perpetuate the origins, pseudo-mystical nature of the Ku Klux Klan
  • still of a Klansman drinking a gallon of water: using trickery to spook superstitious victims
  • scene where Cameron conceives of the idea for the costumery: children under a sheet scaring away black children
  • ritualism of the Klan conceived to intimidate, awe their enemies

  • the historical role of Dixon’s book in galvanizing the KKK as movement, creating a coherent image and platform in the American imagination
  • prior to "Birth of a Nation," KKK no more than a loose collection of local vigilantes, little formal organization
  • portrayed what were in fact disunified strands as a strong and heroic majority
  • the romantic images of the film– with Klansmen riding in formation– played a pivotal role in impelling and directing the second incarnation of the Klan in the 1920’s
  • footnote that Dixon denounced the revived Klan as an organization that had outlived its historical moment



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