Controversial, racist, and groundbreaking, D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) utilized a variety of cinematic innovations and techniques that helped developed cinema as an art form. Among these innovations and techniques are the use of film and editing to create narrative, subtitles, night photography, tinting, panning, close-ups, parallel editing, and a variety of others. Griffith also uses different camera angles, such as high-angle shots and panoramic long shots. The film also represents epic, a narrative of history that is furthered by intertitles and editing. The film begins with a prologue that acts as harbinger for the upcoming Civil War and the racial tensions and civil unrest in the post-Civil War South, ôThe bringing of the African to America planted the first seed of disunionö (Griffith 1915).
The film covers a lengthy period in American history, including the period prior to the Civil War, the Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the rebuilding of the South after the War. Controversial in its depiction of graphic violence, warfare, and relations between blacks and whites, film critic Roger Ebert relates that upon seeing the film President Woodrow Wilson remarked, ôIt is like writing history with Lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly trueö (Ebert 3/2003, 1). If the film seems written with lightning, that force comes from GriffithÆs film techniques and editing that helped developed film as an art.
The film utilizes a variety of cinematic techniques that were either firsts or used in a unique way. Intertitles and subtitles are used to help propel narrative, but so is the editing. Subtitles often graphically verbalize the images we see, or comment on the action in an ironic manner. At one point a subtitle, ôHostilitiesö, is placed in front of a kitten and puppies playing (Griffith 1915). ShermanÆs graphically brilliant march through Geor