Well, I didn't start this discussion on "Birth of a Nation". I have been
simply trying to conduct a dialogue with other serious people in this corner
of the Net. I certainly wish we could leave this topic behind. I assure you
it is not at the top of my priorities.
<<But does the general acceptance,
of, say, Basic Instinct, mean that we can, in future, laud it formally,
without examining the cultural attitudes and fears it represents?>>
Surely you're not serious. Where have I even approached <<lauding 'Birth'
formally without examining the cultural attitudes and fears it represents>>?
My whole point has been that it must be seen in its context. Accepting it or
rejecting it uncritically and for political motives does not serve any but
the most partisan political purpose.
<<Have you seen Cabiria,
which I believe I mentioned yesterday? A far more dynamic and complex
film, both narratively and formally.>>
Yes, I have been seeing "Cabiria" and "Salammbo" and "Quo Vadis" and all of
the "Maciste" films for over 30 years. You may consider that they are
dynamic. To me, they are static, lacking in the most advanced film techniques
of the early teens and far behind the contemporary work of Griffith and other
contemporaries in structure, cinematography, psychology and all the other
elements which, for me, define the art of film. But, of course, that is my
What is not my opinion is the near-universal regard in which "Birth" is held
by the widest spectrum of theorists and historians despite attempts at modern
revisionism. Sure, it has been over-praised; sure, it is not the lonely
masterpiece some claim; sure, its racial views are objectionable today. But
to disregard it as you imply is, as I have said before, insupportable.
"Cabiria" and the other Italian spectacles are feature-length and are
impressive in some ways, but an acceptable substitute for studying Griffith
and "Birth"? It is simply insupportable. Where is there any critical basis
for this view?
Gene Stavis - School of Visual Arts, NYC