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Categories of analysis: clip 9



clip 9- The Besieged Cabin

time: 19:45-23:02
shots: 1526-1579

filmic technique

  • strategic use of space: sense of movement/action within scene achieved by techniques of contiguous space, cross-cutting
  • concentric arrangement of three sets of players, and complex interplay between them
  • three synchronous, alternating lines: the embattled Union veterans and family members trapped in the cabin; the encroaching black soldiers, closing in on their target; and the massing Klan, growing in numbers and riding to the rescue after the battle in town

  • Griffith’s use of an enclosed space to convey the claustrophobic and desperate last line of defense
  • use of the edge of the frame: peripherally-located– but
significant– elements taking place in margins
  • builds several points of action, interest into single camera view: sense that action continues uninterrupted outside of the bounded scene audience can perceive



racial representation

  • notion of the Aryan race, and the installation of a New Jerusalem, that undergirds final scenes: admixture of several different ideological strains
  • Nordic physiognomy, myths of racial purity, Christian belief of ‘chosen people’
  • convergence of these lines of suggestion in the pale-skinned Nordic Christ overlooking final scenes

  • the division between the North and South whites is revealed to have been caused by the "seeds of disunion" planted by blacks
  • final battle redraws the battlelines strictly on the basis of skin color, erasing geographical enmities and reuniting North and South on an axis of whiteness
  • battle replays the Civil War in miniature, suggesting that these racial polarities should have governed the war from its outset
  • white Union soldiers fighting against black Union troops: dissolution of Northern unity
  • "The Birth of a Nation": a nation reborn as a myth of white supremacy



literary origins


  • "The former enemies of North and South are united again in their Aryan birthright": culmination of the film’s twinned racial and historical vision
  • scene achieves a final reparation of the ‘unnatural’ schism caused the strife of the Civil War
  • Stoneman recants his erroneous political program; the Union soldiers fight to save the Southern family; Ben Cameron and Phil Stoneman are depicted as alike in valor, defending similarly idealized versions of womanhood

  • literary convention of marriage: used as a trope to reinforce the construction of sectional, racial alliances
  • popular novel: marriage as the stock and trade of historical romance, which resolves sweeping ideological tensions in the joining of male and female societal representatives
  • the marriage of Ben Cameron and Elsie Stoneman, and the love between Phil Stoneman and Margaret Cameron, achieves bonds of nationhood in bonds of matrimony

  • "a fate worse than death": the male defenders are poised to cudgel their women to death rather than have them violated by the black soldiers
  • stark realization of sexual fear underpinning the genre



historical representation

  • historical geneology of the Aryan myth, integration into American fascism
  • Aryan as a mobile category: exclusive of all non-white groups, and even drawing opposition between Christian sects
  • shifting historical definition of whiteness and the Other: once excluded Irish and Southern Europeans, and only became inclusive of them when non-European racial types began to arrive in number

  • meaning of the title "The Birth of a Nation" and its bearing on the politics of the depicted period
  • the suggested date of the film’s conclusion, 1876, represented an historical watershed for the United States: Centennial, reversion of many Reconstruction policies
  • discontinuation of many integrationist measures undertaken by ‘radical’ Reconstruction after the war; reassertion of Southern– and often segregationist– control

  • chronologically, the rapprochement that the film depicts was actually a time of Northern withdrawal from Southern affairs
  • the ‘nation’ being born was based on the notion that the North should pursue a laissez-faire attitude toward their Southern cousins, and bear in mind their community of interest founded on racial heritage



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