Monday, February 09, 2015

Today -100: February 9, 1915: A difficult Birth

Philip Snowden, a British Labour MP and future chancellor of the Exchequer, who only just got back to Britain after being caught in Australia when the war broke out and coming back by way of the United States, writes that he discovered in the US that pro-Allied Americans are not particularly pro-British, but believe in the democratic principles Britain is supposedly fighting for. But if the US ever attempts to enter the war, he says, it will have a serious problem with its German immigrant population. And the Irish in the US aren’t particularly fond of the English either, you’ll be surprised to hear.

Germany explains that its declaration of a watery war zone around Britain doesn’t mean it will sink every neutral ship, just those carrying contraband. Of course the definition of “contraband” is elastic, and the British have already stretched it quite a bit in their blockade of Germany.

A Turkish newspaper says a jihad has been declared in Afghanistan, so that’ll end well.

Sen. Robert La Follette proposes a resolution directing President Wilson to attempt to convene a peace conference to end the European war.

The US State Dept is refusing to answer any questions about the Lusitania’s use of the American flag.

“The Clansman,” still not named “The Birth of a Nation,” opens in LA, despite the efforts of the City Council which, after hearing protests from the NAACP  that “The Negro is made to look hideous”– just proving the line in the movie, “Dem free-niggers f’um de N’of am sho’ crazy” –  asked the censors not to allow it and then ordered the police chief not to allow it. The first matinee was cancelled, but D.W. Griffith got an injunction and the show went on, pending a further hearing. The LAT reviewer thinks it’s the best motion picture ever made but that 3 hours is too long for any movie.

Well, I watched the movie – the things I do for this blog – but found I don’t have much to say about it. As a movie, it was innovative then, making many realize for the first time that film was capable of being its own art form, not a bastardized version of theater or photography but capable of representing the world in a way entirely its own. The furious ride of the avenging Klansmen startled audiences; some screamed as the horses seemed to be coming right at them – that’s how new the conventions and capabilities of cinema were to people. Now, of course, we have Jar Jar Binks, so we’re pretty jaded to that shit.

As a piece of propaganda for white supremacy, it doesn’t seem as particularly effective. It no doubt reinforced the stereotypes of racists, but it’s hard to see it making many converts. For example, the scene in which Ben Cameron, a former Confederate soldier, refuses to shake the hand of a mulatto only works if you’re already inclined to view a dark-skinned gentleman extending a hand as an act of uppity presumption and a violation of the natural order of things. Otherwise, Cameron just looks dickish, standing there with folded arms.

I had a similar reaction to the famous scene in which Gus (Walter Long) chases Flora (Mae Marsh), who throws herself off a cliff to preserve her purity, as was the custom. I know what the scene is supposed to be conveying, but to me it looks like Flora became needlessly hysterical when a black man spoke to her on the street (well, a white man in black face, I guess that would be kind of creepy). Here’s a 9-minute clip of that scene (the most frequently censored scene of the movie).

A better-quality version can be viewed here.

And just for the hell of it, here’s Walter Long in the ’30s without the black face.

Don't see comments? Click on the post title to view or post comments.

No comments:

Post a Comment