Ambivalence and even intense dislike are understandable reactions to *Birth of
a Nation* -- for all the reasons that John Groch (and others) have mentioned.
My question is only tangentially related to this thread, but it's inspired by
John's self-description . . . how do you negotiate the gap between being
"someone with limited interest in the formal aspects of film" and being a
"cultural historian" of film? I ask because, more and more often these days,
I see that distinction being drawn, and it's not one I fully understand. It
seems to me that, by definition, a cultural film historian's interest would
be inextricably bound up in formal elements which themselves speak to issues
of cultural representation and history.
In part, cultural studies and cultural history are responses to the overly
narrow textual/formal analyses of film which dominated the academic scene in
the 70s and in the early-to-mid 80s, I understand, but I get nervous when I
sense that the formal aspects of film are being invoked as a kind of detachable
(or disposable) consideration . . . they seem to me to be implicit and central
to any theoretical or critical perspective.
(In their own way, perhaps my thoughts here are also indirectly related to
current posts regarding the form v. content debate around Leni Riefenstahl.)
Department of Film and Television
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> Here's a question for Griffith defenders and detractors alike. As a
> junior faculty member, I have had to teach our survey course in World Film
> History and no doubt will have to again sometime; as someone with limited
> interest in the formal aspects of film, I find teaching a text as racist
> as _Birth of a Nation_, its formidable formal achievements
> notwithstanding, unconscionable; as someone trained in cultural history, I
> am deeply suspicious of the claims to its *uniqueness* as a formal
> achievement, which is usually the apology offered for teaching it in spite
> of its vile content; and, again as a cultural historian, I recoil
> reflexively from the great-man vision of history implicit in the
> valorization of Griffith. The problem is that Griffith's period is not my
> area of expertise, so I ask you: what other films could give students a
> sense of the development of classical narrative in the mid-teens without
> subjecting them to Klan propoganda? Is there anything by Ince that might
> do the job? (In fact, is there anything by Ince on video?) My syllabus
> and I thank you in advance.
> John R. Groch <[log in to unmask]> | "Work! FINISH! THEN sleep."
> English Department/Film Studies Program | -- The Monster,
> Univ. of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 | "Bride of Frankenstein"