The Birth of a Nation is an epic conceived entirely by DW Griffith and while making this film he used no notes or script. The film is rightly considered a landmark film with the epic battle scene filmed in only one day and for a film of 1915 the battle scene was wonderfully modern at the time.
Unfortunately the film contains scenes which are simply not acceptable in todays social society and anyone watching the film today will be understandably shocked by the racial intolerance it shows, with KKK men shown to be heroes. Black actors parts in the film are portrayed by white men with black shoe polish on the faces. There are some scenes such as the said actors having their mouths stuffed with bananas and the film goes on managing to fit in Griffith's racist views at many points; incidentally the L.A premiere featured klansmen in full robes to publicize the film.
No matter the content the film's takings were one of the highest ever for a silent film with world-wide success. Some figures at the time quoted the takings at $50 million but these seem far too high with takes of $5-10 million seeming far more accurate
The film for the first half of it plays well and there is nothing too disturbing, it is after the half way stage where the racist views come to the fore-front of the film.
The film is originally a tale of two families during the American Civil War, with events such as Lincoln's assassination and the rise of the Klan also featuring. The film is Griffith's interpretation of the rise of the U.S.A, and although not accurate and despite the content, this film must be watched, with a strong stomach, by anyone with an avid interest in film-making or film history.
This is a film which gave other directors the opportunity to enhance their films and it pushed the boundaries of film making more than any film before it. Only a few films can be credited with this, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey another example. This film left a legacy good and bad and must be watched to be truly understood.