Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Baseball Primer Newsblog > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Slate: Baseball’s First Black Player Lived His Life as a White Man

The William Edward White story…

Until she was contacted last month, White’s only grandchild, Lois De Angelis, said her family had been unaware of White’s role in baseball history, and of his racial background. De Angelis, who is 74 years old and lives in Grayslake, Ill., said she knew that her grandfather worked as an artist and had been published in the Saturday Evening Post or another magazine, and that he was separated from her grandmother, who worked as a secretary for Sears. Beyond that, De Angelis said she knew nothing about William Edward White.

White’s wife, Hattie, lived until 1970. De Angelis doubted that Hattie would have known White was one-quarter black, at least before they were married. “My grandmother was very prudish, very English,” she said. Neither Hattie nor De Angelis’ mother, Vera, ever mentioned why Hattie and White had separated, De Angelis said. Perhaps, she speculated, White left the household because Hattie discovered his racial history. “That’s funny when I think of my grandmother,” De Angelis said. “She would die if she knew it.”

So where does that leave William Edward White? Baseball pioneer or baseball footnote? When he trotted out to first base at Messer Street Grounds in Providence, White may have been the only person who knew that a black man was playing in the big leagues. And even that assumes White thought about the fact that he was black, or even partly black. In the racially bifurcated America of the times, “you were black or you were white,” Hobbs says. If no one else knew—if society couldn’t respond and react—it’s reasonable to question whether White should be recognized as the first African-American major-leaguer.

Or maybe that’s a distinction without a difference. American history and its precision-loving subset of baseball history are filled with the sort of ambiguity that complicates the search for convenient, ironclad “firsts.” This much is indisputable: On June 21, 1879, a man born a slave in Georgia played in a major-league baseball game. A black man named White played for the Grays. Factually and figuratively, that seems right. And it seems worth celebrating.

Repoz Posted: February 05, 2014 at 08:57 AM | 740 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

Page 2 of 8 pages  < 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 >  Last ›
   101. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 03:41 PM (#4652746)
Is there a difference between a Rodin and an Aztec bowl? If there is, what is it? Is the difference only one of degree?
   102. vivaelpujols Posted: February 06, 2014 at 04:20 PM (#4652776)
I like the song Polly by Nirvana, especially the lyrics. Does that mean I like rape and torture? Morty's got it right. There was some writer who said that the only morality an author has it to reproduce the truth of his subject. How can you possible do that if you're ignoring morally questionable people/events (or denouncing them on the spot)?
   103. vivaelpujols Posted: February 06, 2014 at 04:24 PM (#4652780)
To appreciate a work of art you do have to have some investment in its ideas, at least not consider them reprehensible.


I don't agree with this at all. Why is Taxi Driver considered one of the best movies of all time when it's main character and point of view protagonist is morally ######?
   104. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 06, 2014 at 04:32 PM (#4652782)
Dwight MacDonald really thought highly of Birth of a Nation. I referred often to his On Movies for years, but somehow lost the thing.

MacDonald's "D.W. Griffith, Or, Genius American Style" originally appeared in The Miscellany magazine in March of 1931, and it's reprinted in On Movies, on pp. 70-72 of the original 1969 hardback edition that I'm holding in front of me. He compares the genius of Griffith to that of Eisenstein, and specifically The Birth of A Nation to Ten Days That Shook The World.

But here's what MacDonald also has to say about Griffith, in the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph of his essay:

From any point of view except a cinematic one, [Griffith's] pictures are absurdities.


As the old cliche goes, it's nice to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
   105. Monty Posted: February 06, 2014 at 04:32 PM (#4652783)
I don't agree with this at all. Why is Taxi Driver considered one of the best movies of all time when it's main character and point of view protagonist is morally ######?


But the movie portrays him as morally repugnant. It doesn't take a morally repugnant character and portray him as a paragon of virtue.
   106. vivaelpujols Posted: February 06, 2014 at 04:36 PM (#4652786)
But the movie portrays him as morally repugnant. It doesn't take a morally repugnant character and portray him as a paragon of virtue.


I don't think this is so. It's a completely first person account, how can it have an opinion towards his subject? I'd argue it glamorizes him as we see him being called a hero in the end (even though that was most likely his dying dream).

It's just that we can tell implicitly that his actions are morally wrong ipso facto. I haven't see Birth of a Nation, but that could apply to that movie as well, no?
   107. BDC Posted: February 06, 2014 at 04:38 PM (#4652787)
I don't agree with this at all. Why is Taxi Driver considered one of the best movies of all time when it's main character and point of view protagonist is morally ######?

But like other works in that category (Othello and Lolita come to mind, but there are many), Taxi Driver is a study of evil, not a rhetorical argument meant to glorify an evil position and persuade you to adopt it.
   108. BDC Posted: February 06, 2014 at 04:41 PM (#4652788)
To follow up, vivaelpujols makes an interesting point in #106. I think one of the fascinating things about the "study of evil" category is that those works do get you involved with, empathizing, even somewhat rooting for the villain. You don't completely stand outside and sort out right from wrong comfortably; you become uneasily aware that there's a tendency to evil in everybody.
   109. BDC Posted: February 06, 2014 at 04:46 PM (#4652791)
I'm also not sure how really great Taxi Driver is, but that's another argument :)
   110. vivaelpujols Posted: February 06, 2014 at 04:47 PM (#4652793)
I'm also not sure how really great Taxi Driver is, but that's another argument :)


Gotta be my favorite movie of all time :) It's all the little details like pouring brandy in his cereal, asking for jujubes because they last longer, etc.
   111. Greg K Posted: February 06, 2014 at 05:04 PM (#4652801)
But like other works in that category (Othello and Lolita come to mind, but there are many), Taxi Driver is a study of evil, not a rhetorical argument meant to glorify an evil position and persuade you to adopt it.

Not to turn us to yet another separate discussion, but I've been watching Girls lately and I think that could be classified as a study of evil. Hannah is pretty clearly an amoral sociopath and generally awful human being. I have to give Lena Dunham all kinds of credit not just for great writing, but for having the balls to cast herself in such an evil role, which has all the appearances of a quasi-autobiographical character.
   112. God Posted: February 06, 2014 at 05:16 PM (#4652805)
Last night I was listening to Fresh Air and the topic of Birth of a Nation came up when they were interviewing David Cunningham, author of the book Klansville, USA. One of the things he said that I didn't know before was that the original Klan, the Reconstruction-era group started by Nathan Bedford Forrest, never burned crosses. Cross burnings were first depicted in Birth of a Nation. Then when the BOAN-inspired Klan started back up in 1915, it took its cue from the movie and started burning crosses. So D.W. Griffith is literally the man who invented cross burning.
   113. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: February 06, 2014 at 05:16 PM (#4652806)
Is there a difference between a Rodin and an Aztec bowl? If there is, what is it? Is the difference only one of degree?


I am much more likely to teach Rodin in a course on the 19th century than Aztec pottery in a non-Western course, simply because Rodin has had a greater influence on later artists and has a larger significance to the course of artistic development overall. But I don't discuss aesthetics much if at all in my art history courses, and that is true for most art historians I know. The word 'beauty' doesn't even come in to it -- that's a concern of the 19th century, not the 20th or 21st.
   114. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 06, 2014 at 05:32 PM (#4652822)
To follow up, vivaelpujols makes an interesting point in #106. I think one of the fascinating things about the "study of evil" category is that those works do get you involved with, empathizing, even somewhat rooting for the villain. You don't completely stand outside and sort out right from wrong comfortably; you become uneasily aware that there's a tendency to evil in everybody.

Yes, and that's why in part I made my point about the underlying truth of the film earlier. Ebert discusses a similar point in his review, that art should serve "beauty and truth". A work of art can be about a vile subject matter and still be transcendent or universal. A lot of great artwork is a study of the human condition, both at its best and at its worst. But there's something different about employing dishonesty in service of a vile message. If such deception is not a disqualifier from greatness, it's at least a valid criticism that should be addressed.

Like I said, I haven't seen BOaN so I don't know how much of the above it is guilty of. I guess I come back to the question I posed earlier -- what makes BOaN so great? Ebert praises its "great visual beauty and narrative power" but never calls it a great film. That seems to be the position of most of its critics here as well. I will have to read that Agee essay when I have time.
   115. BDC Posted: February 06, 2014 at 05:45 PM (#4652835)
I guess I come back to the question I posed earlier -- what makes BOaN so great?

Part of it is the technical achievement: the tracking shots of cavalry charges and that kind of thing, which you first have to imagine and then to execute, all this just a few years after the medium had been invented. Part is the idea of an epic narrative feature film, which is conceptually on a par with the recent development of the epic narrative TV series. Part is the complex editing for dramatic and suspenseful effect, keeping several subplots in the air as they build toward an intersection (again remember how early this was, and how the dominant two-hour entertainments of the day were opera and straight plays). Part is Lillian Gish. The work on Birth of a Nation is amazing, and not just from a "historical" point of view, especially when you remember how many actors and animals and crew had to be orchestrated to bring it off.

But as I said above, I never want to see it again. There is no "enjoyment" to be had in it; it's absolutely vile.
   116. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 06, 2014 at 06:00 PM (#4652851)
To follow up, vivaelpujols makes an interesting point in #106. I think one of the fascinating things about the "study of evil" category is that those works do get you involved with, empathizing, even somewhat rooting for the villain. You don't completely stand outside and sort out right from wrong comfortably; you become uneasily aware that there's a tendency to evil in everybody.

I doubt if even 2% of moviegoers weren't rooting for Jimmy Cagney in all those gangster movies of the 30's. In fact this was so obvious at the time that it eventually led to the much stricter enforcement of the Hays Code, with a Catholic ideologue named Joe Breen in charge of the censoring. A 1933 book that favored such a crackdown, Our Movie Made Children, went through at least six printings, an early counterpart to Frederic Wertham's 1954 screed against comic books, The Seduction of the Innocent.
   117. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: February 06, 2014 at 06:11 PM (#4652861)
Then when the BOAN-inspired Klan started back up in 1915, it took its cue from the movie and started burning crosses. So D.W. Griffith is literally the man who invented cross burning.


Not quite. Birth of a Nation was based on the pro-KKK book The Clansman (1905). In it, Thomas Dixon took a page from Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake and described a burning cross as part of the Scots-Irish southern tradition: "In olden times when the Chieftain of our people summoned the clan on an errand of life and death, the Fiery Cross, extinguished in sacrificial blood, was sent by swift courier from village to village."

So Dixon invented the idea of cross-burning as a southern 'tradition', and Griffith merely popularized it.
   118. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 06:29 PM (#4652868)
To appreciate a work of art you do have to have some investment in its ideas, at least not consider them reprehensible.

Long ago Richard Dawkins commented that that your religion, at least initially, is entirely the product of the place and time where you were born. I was "born a Catholic"; someone in India a Buddhist, and if our positions were reverse, so would have been our birth religion.

Same thing here with race. It then behooves us to see ourselves in that other. If you can't do that, if you won't even try, it's hopeless, and you are hopeless as a serious consumer and critic--of whatever it is. It's not enough to always and merely stand above and aside in judgment. You could have been that Confederate. I'm afraid I could have been a Nazi, and I'm not at all certain that had I been ordered to turn on the gas, I would have refused. We like to ignore that in pretending it's all black and white. Well, all of us, to some degree or other, are both black and white.
   119. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 06:40 PM (#4652876)
From any point of view except a cinematic one, [Griffith's] pictures are absurdities.

If you avail yourself of my link to James Agee's essay, you'll see he adheres to the same view as MacDonald. However, both acknowledge that this does not negate Griffith's (or BoaN's) greatness, which was the original point that led to this discussion. Qualifies it, yes; negates it, no. That's the walking and chewing gum.

   120. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 06:42 PM (#4652879)
But like other works in that category (Othello and Lolita come to mind, but there are many), Taxi Driver is a study of evil, not a rhetorical argument meant to glorify an evil position and persuade you to adopt it.

Lolita subjected Nabokov to the same criticism. To really know something about evil so as to convey it, you have to at least be willing to vicariously inhabit that evil. Standing on the outside, judging--that's for polemicist. Artists become what they write about or film. Those who refuse to do this, even passively as reader or view, can never get beyond their one-dimensional take, and thus will never appreciate the daring, and courage, this takes. They'll say you, too, are a child rapist, a racist, a Nazi, etc., or at least a Fifth Columnist or a Fellow Traveler. And they will want to string you up, even if only rhetorically.
   121. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 06:53 PM (#4652884)
I am much more likely to teach Rodin in a course on the 19th century than Aztec pottery in a non-Western course, simply because Rodin has had a greater influence on later artists and has a larger significance to the course of artistic development overall. But I don't discuss aesthetics much if at all in my art history courses, and that is true for most art historians I know. The word 'beauty' doesn't even come in to it -- that's a concern of the 19th century, not the 20th or 21st.

But you don't address my questions. They weren't meant to be rhetorical gotchas.
   122. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 06:55 PM (#4652886)
Ebert praises its "great visual beauty and narrative power" but never calls it a great film.

Yes, he does. Specifically. Not that Ebert is my idea of a great critical mind, but he does.
   123. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 06:58 PM (#4652888)
Part of it is the technical achievement: the tracking shots of cavalry charges and that kind of thing, which you first have to imagine and then to execute, all this just a few years after the medium had been invented. Part is the idea of an epic narrative feature film, which is conceptually on a par with the recent development of the epic narrative TV series. Part is the complex editing for dramatic and suspenseful effect, keeping several subplots in the air as they build toward an intersection (again remember how early this was, and how the dominant two-hour entertainments of the day were opera and straight plays). Part is Lillian Gish. The work on Birth of a Nation is amazing, and not just from a "historical" point of view, especially when you remember how many actors and animals and crew had to be orchestrated to bring it off.

True, all true, but all of that means nothing if it were not at the service of a great sweeping story, passionately and thrillingly told. No one is forever remember for technique and technicalities--it has to go toward a substance. See James Joyce's Ulysses. Everything that can be said about it's construction and linguistics takes finally a back seat to the fact acknowledged by most all scholars and critics, which is that he creates the fullest, most humane, protagonist in modern lit, if not in all of lit.

   124. JRVJ Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:07 PM (#4652894)
122, I even quoted his Great Movies review on the last page.
   125. simon bedford Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:09 PM (#4652897)
except birth of a nation isnt a great film, its pokey, its aged horribly , its racism renders it an uncomfortable experience for almost anyone with a modicum of morality or sense to try and sit through, more an endurace excercise than a "good film".
   126. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:11 PM (#4652899)
122, I even quoted his Great Movies review on the last page.

Yes, which led me to Agee. I had not read Ebert's piece in a long time. Sorry, I didn't properly credit you.
   127. JRVJ Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:16 PM (#4652904)
I haven't seen BOAN, so I make the appropriate proviso.

However, I will say that some of the reasons why BOAN is touted as a great film are probably not all that impressive to me, because I'm not particularly impressed by films which introduced a new technique which then becomes widely used. An example of this is Rashomon: it introduced a very interesting story telling technique which has then become fairly widely used - but dammit if I didn't find it boring.

Hell, the Matrix was a stunningly creative film when it first came out. But I'm sure that the kiddies in 2040 will not care one whit about all that it introduced or popularized, since those techniques will be par for the course by then (Russell Mulcahy is a good example of a director who was cutting edge in the things he did style wise, both in his videos and in the original Highlander movie - but those things are so common now, that they are not impressive at all).
   128. God Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:19 PM (#4652908)
It's not that BOAN created a few film techniques -- it created film technique, period. The basic grammar of narrative film which we are so accustomed to -- and which you probably take so much for granted that you don't even notice it -- is what Birth of a Nation invented. Comparing it to Rashomon or The Matrix in that regard is sort of like comparing Babe Ruth to Fernando Tatis because they are both record-setting home run hitters.
   129. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:23 PM (#4652909)
Both Taxi Diver and Lolita are testaments to the power of first-person POV to distort and undermine the perception of the viewer/reader. It never ceases to amaze me when I'm involved in an online discussion of The Catcher in the Rye how people take Holden Caulfield so seriously and personally. This is a kid on the brink of an emotional breakdown, and posters rant about how they would like to slap him. Now, that's powerful story-telling. There's some truth being warded off, desperately.
   130. BDC Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:25 PM (#4652910)
I dunno, Morty. One central idea in Birth of a Nation (both ideological and dramatic) is that African-American elected officials are brutish and corrupt, so white men need to grab guns and save their women from the threats posed by government by black people. You know the incredible damage done in this country, hardly yet put to rest, by the view of history that Birth of a Nation signed onto. I'll acknowledge how effective it was in doing so, and the power of its dramatic techniques, but I will in fact draw the line at admiring it.

By contrast, Taxi Driver does not promotes homicidal mania unless the viewer (John Hinckley?) is nuts to begin with. Lolita does not glamorize pedophilia (very far from it); Othello does not try to get you to drive your boss to murder his trophy wife. Those works do try to understand bad people. BoaN thinks its bad people are very good, very heroic, people. I'll be enough of a moralist to disapprove of it :) It doesn't really matter whether I would have been a Confederate. Some of my ancestors were Confederates. What matters is what I think right now of the film's historiography of the Confederate period – and there are still die-hards who have a lot invested in BoaN's account of Reconstruction.
   131. Monty Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:28 PM (#4652912)
the fact acknowledged by most all scholars and critics, which is that he creates the fullest, most humane, protagonist in modern lit, if not in all of lit.


You are very given to speaking in near-absolutes, which makes me want to argue with you. Even with the qualifiers you put in, this is just not true. LOTS of scholars and critics do not agree with that statement. And anyway, the argument that would ensue is irrelevant; it's not really interesting to argue about critical consensus instead of the merits of the actual work, you know?

What I'm saying is that I encourage you to state your own opinions (which you're not shy about doing) rather than cloaking them in an alleged complete critical consensus, whether it's about Birth of a Nation or Ulysses.

(However, I do admire the rhetorical flourish involved in casting it as a fact that critics acknowledge, rather than a position that they hold. "Fullest, most humane protagonist" cannot be an objective fact)
   132. Monty Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:30 PM (#4652913)
Both Taxi Diver and Lolita are testaments to the power of first-person POV to distort and undermine the perception of the viewer/reader. It never ceases to amaze me when I'm involved in an online discussion of The Catcher in the Rye how people take Holden Caulfield so seriously and personally. This is a kid on the brink of an emotional breakdown, and posters rant about how they would like to slap him. Now, that's powerful story-telling.


Agreed. I disliked Holden so much that I have to acknowledge him as a very well-drawn character, although I did not enjoy reading the book.

There's some truth being warded off, desperately.


What on earth are you talking about?
   133. JRVJ Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:31 PM (#4652914)
128, I didn't actually compare BOAN to Rashomon or The Matrix. I used Rashomon and the Matrix to illustrate specific points.

Not the same thing.
   134. God Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:40 PM (#4652919)
133- Yeah, I know. I just think it's important to realize that the innovations of BOAN are several orders of magnitude greater than films like Rashomon or The Matrix, or any other film, for that matter.
   135. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:48 PM (#4652921)
What on earth are you talking about?

Look to your inner phony--or to the fear you will seem to be one and anger at being found out.
   136. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 06, 2014 at 07:57 PM (#4652924)
It never ceases to amaze me when I'm involved in an online discussion of The Catcher in the Rye how people take Holden Caulfield so seriously and personally. This is a kid on the brink of an emotional breakdown, and posters rant about how they would like to slap him. Now, that's powerful story-telling.


I wanted to slap the author
   137. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 06, 2014 at 08:03 PM (#4652930)

Yes, he does. Specifically. Not that Ebert is my idea of a great critical mind, but he does.

Haha. Ok, that's fair. I forgot that the series is called "Great Movies". That said, in the review itself, he wrestles with the same questions and criticisms we do here. I think you put it well in 119 that the criticisms qualify BOaN's greatness rather than negate it. I can see reasonable people coming down on either side of that discussion (not having seen it, I don't know where I would come down.)

I also agree with much of what you wrote in 118. I'd like to think that I would always have been on the right side of history, but I understand myself and human weakness well enough to realize that it might not have turned out that way. I think such realization helps us understand and emphathize with those who were on the wrong side, but it doesn't mean that we can't criticize their views or actions. (I would also argue that artists, especially prominent ones, are more analogous to the people who give orders rather than the ones who follow them.)
   138. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 08:07 PM (#4652933)
I wanted to slap the author

And that's very much to he point of the discussion. So, why would you want to slap the author? Is that a characteristic of a good reader?
   139. Monty Posted: February 06, 2014 at 08:13 PM (#4652936)
Look to your inner phony--or to the fear you will seem to be one and anger at being found out.


I wonder if you're even able to conduct a conversation without inventing motives for the people you're talking to. I disliked Holden for the same reason I would dislike an actual sensitive teenager who complained to me about his life for several hours straight.
   140. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 08:17 PM (#4652941)
This makes you a pretty worthless reader. Sorry. And I wasn't accusing you of being a phony. I was mooting a possible about people who overreact in that exact way. Man, it's a book. No one is stealing your beer or making a pass at your wife.
   141. Monty Posted: February 06, 2014 at 08:28 PM (#4652946)
This makes you a pretty worthless reader. Sorry.


I had an emotional reaction to a character, so I'm worthless? You have very peculiar standards.

I was mooting a possible about people who overreact in that exact way.


You weren't "mooting a possible." You were making a specific allegation about everyone who disagrees with you, which, when I encouraged you to expand upon, you specifically extended to me. If I operated like you, I would suggest that the idea of people honestly disagreeing with you alarms you so much that you have to invent an entirely imaginary inner life for people so you can justify to yourself why you're right and they're worthless.
   142. JRVJ Posted: February 06, 2014 at 08:54 PM (#4652960)
134, I am perfectly satisfied with admitting that BOAN brought in many, many more innovations into Cinema than Rashomon and The Matrix.

However, those very innovations ocurred so long ago and have been so incorporated into the general language of film, TV and (arguably), comics, that I am not particularly impressed by them in their original format. But YMMV.
   143. 'zop sympathizes with the wrong ####### people Posted: February 06, 2014 at 08:57 PM (#4652963)
This makes you a pretty worthless reader. Sorry. And I wasn't accusing you of being a phony. I was mooting a possible about people who overreact in that exact way. Man, it's a book. No one is stealing your beer or making a pass at your wife.


I was once reading a book, and found the protagonist so obnoxious that I eventually put the book down; it just wasn't that fun to spend a day or two of my life inhabiting this person. And I always felt bad about it, and wondered if it was an artisitic choice that the author had made.

But then I heard the author interviewed on NPR, and he was just as supremely obnoxious as the character, and in the same way. So I turned the radio off and decided that his books were not for me.
   144. God Posted: February 06, 2014 at 09:02 PM (#4652965)
But enough about Chuck Palahniuk.
   145. Monty Posted: February 06, 2014 at 09:04 PM (#4652966)
But enough about Chuck Palahniuk.


Boy, no kidding.
   146. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 06, 2014 at 09:16 PM (#4652972)
From any point of view except a cinematic one, [Griffith's] pictures are absurdities.


If you avail yourself of my link to James Agee's essay, you'll see he adheres to the same view as MacDonald. However, both acknowledge that this does not negate Griffith's (or BoaN's) greatness, which was the original point that led to this discussion. Qualifies it, yes; negates it, no. That's the walking and chewing gum.

Morty, all you're doing at this point is arguing for the sake of arguing. I agree with MacDonald's quoted sentiment completely. That doesn't "negate" Birth of a Nation's greatness, but I never said that it did to begin with. All I've said is......well, just read the MacDonald quote again, and tell me where you're disagreeing with MacDonald, or with me or anyone else here.

From any point of view except a cinematic one, [Griffith's] pictures are absurdities.


As in: Cinematic greatness. Period. MacDonald's not going beyond that. Are you?
   147. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 06, 2014 at 09:31 PM (#4652974)
It's not that BOAN created a few film techniques -- it created film technique, period. The basic grammar of narrative film which we are so accustomed to -- and which you probably take so much for granted that you don't even notice it -- is what Birth of a Nation invented. Comparing it to Rashomon or The Matrix in that regard is sort of like comparing Babe Ruth to Fernando Tatis because they are both record-setting home run hitters.

That's a good comparison, but was Cy Young a "greater" pitcher than Pedro Martinez because he won 292 more games? Were the 1906 Cubs the "greatest" team of all time because they own history's highest winning percentage? There's more to "greatness" than getting there first while the competing talent pool was just beginning to come into play---not that Griffith wasn't a great director, but you can only invent the wheel once.
   148. GregD Posted: February 06, 2014 at 10:33 PM (#4652987)
I agree with the sentiment above that it is boring to point out the way films reflect habits and customs that now make us uncomfortable.

BoaN isn't that though. It is of its time in the way that Ben Tillman was of his time, a performance so shocking that all the other racists were taken aback in its glorification of violence. And the connection of that glorification not to racism but to contemporary lynchings is something also to contextualize.

Is propaganda a category of its own? If it is I don't see how you wouldn't put this as one of the great exemplars. The relentless twisting of character and story to advance a tedious point, the abandonment of any logic of plot to provoke the one and only reaction it aims to produce.

Whatever it's many merits it has to be said it is one of the least interesting movies ever made in terms of character development. Because they aren't characters at all. There is no plumbing of the soul, no agonizing about humanity, just celebration of killing brutes.

It would be a lousy movie if it were entirely about white people. The problem with the racism isn't just that it celebrated racism. It was that it stunted his imagination
   149. AuntBea Posted: February 06, 2014 at 11:31 PM (#4653009)
And that's very much to he point of the discussion. So, why would you want to slap the author? Is that a characteristic of a good reader?


I don't recall wanting to slap anybody. I just wanted to stop reading it, and so I did. I also could only read a few pages of Franny and Zooey, for similar reasons.
   150. Morty Causa Posted: February 06, 2014 at 11:40 PM (#4653012)
Was I asking you?

But in general, people on this board seem to have the hardest time answering the simplest, most direct, questions. But I'll try one more time:

Why did you stop reading those books? What were those similar reasons?
   151. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 06, 2014 at 11:44 PM (#4653014)
Is propaganda a category of its own? If it is I don't see how you wouldn't put this as one of the great exemplars. The relentless twisting of character and story to advance a tedious point, the abandonment of any logic of plot to provoke the one and only reaction it aims to produce.

Dwight MacDonald was right on the mark when he compared The Birth of a Nation to Ten Days That Shook The World and other Eisenstein films. Their propagandistic aspect was absolutely crucial to making these movies stand out, as without their violent and cathartic messages they'd now be seen nowhere near on the level that they're seen today.

Whatever it's many merits it has to be said it is one of the least interesting movies ever made in terms of character development. Because they aren't characters at all. There is no plumbing of the soul, no agonizing about humanity, just celebration of killing brutes.

Which is why in spite of its pioneering cinematography and dazzling spectacle, it's nowhere near the top of a list of "great" movies when you take it beyond that limited consideration. In many respects its character development barely goes beyond your standard Saturday serial melodramas, with a parade of sweet and innocent girls tied down on the railroad tracks by a cackling mustachioed villain, only to be rescued at the end. Taking the broader view, a truly great film like Von Stroheim's Greed makes The Birth of a Nation seem like a crude cartoon by comparison.

TSPDT's consensus ranking of The 1,000 Greatest Films places The Birth of a Nation at #213. That seems just about right.

The problem with the racism isn't just that it celebrated racism. It was that it stunted his imagination.

Racism usually has that effect. Why should Griffith have been exempt?
   152. Greg K Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:00 AM (#4653016)
TSPDT's consensus ranking of The 1,000 Greatest Films places The Birth of a Nation at #213. That seems just about right.

Fun list! Among the more recent selections I'm surprised by the number of foreign ones I've seen (and thoroughly enjoyed).
A Separation (2011, Iran), The White Ribbon (2009, Germany), The Lives of Others (2006, Germany) and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, (2007, Romania)

I never thought of myself as a foreign film enthusiast, but I guess somewhere along the way I've caught a handful. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in particular is one that always stuck with me, due to the overwhelming bleakness of communist Romania it portrays, the almost banal, matter of course villain, and the fully realized heroine. But probably what drew me in the most (and I'm probably betraying my lack of knowledge of cinema here) were the technical aspects. The long, drawn out scenes without any cuts, and seeming hours of silence between lines. I'm sure it didn't invent that style of film, but it's integrated into the feel and texture of the story better than any I can think of.

   153. Monty Posted: February 07, 2014 at 03:28 AM (#4653040)
Also, let's face it: Birth of a Nation is REALLY long. That's not really the movie's fault (people in 1915 didn't know what length of movie would end up being common a hundred years later), but the 190-minute version is, for me, something of a slog.
   154. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 08:30 AM (#4653054)
But in general, people on this board seem to have the hardest time answering the simplest, most direct, questions. But I'll try one more time:


The humor, the irony. Now I can die a happy Mouse.
   155. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 07, 2014 at 09:33 AM (#4653074)
#108: I think one of the fascinating things about the "study of evil" category is that those works do get you involved with, empathizing, even somewhat rooting for the villain. You don't completely stand outside and sort out right from wrong comfortably; you become uneasily aware that there's a tendency to evil in everybody.

[54-year-old SPOILER alert:] The most chilling scene in "Psycho" isn't the one in the shower and it isn't the one on the staircase, and it isn't the one in the cellar, and it isn't the one with the fly. It's the moment the car's descent below the swampline pauses, and pauses, and the audience thinks, "Oh no!"

----
D.W. Griffith's technique was a 10, and his ability to deliver a nuanced story or create a human character was a 1. Maybe a 2 in "Broken Blossoms." That discrepancy made him the Michael Bay of his day, though obviously a billion times more significant historically.

If that comparison seems like facile provocation, you need to get beyond your desire to negate what I'm saying and ask, "What will people 500 years from now think about my post?"

#123: No one is forever remembered for technique and technicalities--it has to go toward a substance.

Seriously, Morty, Griffith is absolutely that guy. He was beloved by his peers yet shunted to the sidelines just a few years after "Birth of a Nation." That's because once the industry had caught up to his skill level, Griffith's stiff, stale melodramas no longer created novelty or astonishment.
   156. Lassus Posted: February 07, 2014 at 09:48 AM (#4653081)
I'll just chime in here to say that I thought "Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters" was one of the funniest, smartest, and most heartbreaking things I had ever read. I haven't read it in 25 years, but I'm perfectly satisfied with that memory and continued judgment.
   157. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:13 AM (#4653094)
Salinger always brings to mind Bob Dylan. Like Dylan, he didn't like to repeat himself. Nine Stories corresponds to Highway 61 Revisited: each cut is excellent and distinctive, musically and vocally. Raise High is marvelous, as is its published companion piece, Seymour An Introduction, in an almost totally different way.
   158. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:16 AM (#4653099)
[54-year-old SPOILER alert:] The most chilling scene in "Psycho" isn't the one in the shower and it isn't the one on the staircase, and it isn't the one in the cellar, and it isn't the one with the fly. It's the moment the car's descent below the swampline pauses, and pauses, and the audience thinks, "Oh no!"

At that moment, you become Norman's accomplice at heart. While having empathized with Marion Crane.
   159. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:29 AM (#4653108)
D.W. Griffith's technique was a 10, and his ability to deliver a nuanced story or create a human character was a 1. Maybe a 2 in "Broken Blossoms." That discrepancy made him the Michael Bay of his day, though obviously a billion times more significant historically.

I disagree, of course. First, it's an epic. Few film epics are about psychological nuance. They're about archetypes. Movies, in general, are not about deep and complex psychological development of character. Second, many, if not most silent film makers didn't survive into the talkie era. The great Buster Keaton didn't. Silent movie-making requires not only different technique and structures, but it requires the audience appreciate a different story-telling. With sound, more changed than just vocals.

De Mille, an exact contemporary of Griffith, survived and thrived, but, he, too, still had that silent movie mentality. He perhaps had the foresight to always be a force as a producer. Those that Griffith influenced ranged from John Ford to Alfred Hitchcock (and that is a running a gamut). Watch The Searchers with the sound off. In a subtle but distinctive way, it's a radically different experience. Praise for Griffith as a great film maker comes from everywhere.
   160. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:41 AM (#4653113)
158:

It's only with the ending batshit crazy scene that Norman forfeits that empathy.
   161. simon bedford Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:46 AM (#4653118)
de mille survived because he gave the people what they wanted, women in bathtubs! and boris karloff as an indian chief
   162. Lassus Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:48 AM (#4653121)
To be clear, I don't really worship at the altar of Salinger, but I do think that particular novella is inner circle.
   163. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:50 AM (#4653123)
Perhaps even better for the purposes articulated in post 159 would be Ford's Fort Apache. It's quite reminiscent of The Birth of a Nation. The Searchers might be more of a melding of BoaN and Broken Blossoms.
   164. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 10:52 AM (#4653124)
161:

Or, as it was too early historically for cheerleaders on trampolines, girls in "full" costume on trapeze.
   165. simon bedford Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:00 AM (#4653130)
de milles "success" is probably as confounding as adam sandlers, but appeerantly he gave some people what they wanted at some point, but alot of his films sure look like hookum today.
   166. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:03 AM (#4653131)
D.W. Griffith's technique was a 10, and his ability to deliver a nuanced story or create a human character was a 1. Maybe a 2 in "Broken Blossoms." That discrepancy made him the Michael Bay of his day, though obviously a billion times more significant historically.

That's an interesting comparison, although maybe Spielberg of his day is a little more accurate. Griffith was obviously far more talented, but they're both masters of many of the technical aspects of filmmaking and deserve tons of credit for creating many film techniques (again, Griffith far more). But as noted earlier, being a pioneer only gets you so far in the realm of great art. Even when removed from its political and cultural context, is BOAN going to be celebrated as a great work of art a couple hundred years from now? I doubt it.

   167. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:07 AM (#4653134)
Second, many, if not most silent film makers didn't survive into the talkie era. The great Buster Keaton didn't.

The great Buster Keaton was a raging alcoholic whose private life was in shambles when he signed an exclusive contract with the big studio that was least likely to make effective use of him (and didn't). The way his work has endured and been embraced by modern audiences with an interest in silent film-- unlike most of Griffith's-- suggests that a luckier Keaton would have done fine. Both of them made films with bucolic settings and beard-stroking heavies and extended chases and leading ladies who were ciphers and required rescuing. Ninety years later, why does one body of work have a modern quality, and the other is mostly a far more skillful "Perils of Pauline"?

D.W. Griffith was already on the way out before talkies arrived. It wasn't because he'd become anything less than a masterful director and editor. It's because his stories were always 19th century cornball. In 1915, that wasn't a commercial detriment; by 1925, it was. It isn't that cheesy melodrama had disappeared from the screen in the 1920s and 1930s (or today), but Hollywood had found new ways to gussy the formula up. Griffith never did. You're not going to sell too many tickets on "revolutionized film editing ten years ago."
   168. simon bedford Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:15 AM (#4653141)
buster keaton was always celebrated up here in canada , he made a short about traveling across canada on a pump trolley, that was shown in schools across the country "the railrodder" i think it was called.
i remeber seeing keaton at least one awful beach bingo movie, not sure i can recall which one, i think it was how to stuff a wild bikini, but i could be wrong
   169. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:16 AM (#4653142)
De Mille, like Griffith, excelled at narrative. He knew how to tell a story, how to keep it moving (as Howard Hawks would say, that's why they're called movies). The Ten Commandments (Charlton Heston version) is still very watchable to this hidebound atheist. As are most of his best movies, like Cleopatra, The Plainsman, The Greatest Show on Earth, Samson and Deliah, as well as a number of his silent movies.
   170. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:28 AM (#4653151)
167:

It was also because Griffith was always over budget and took a long time to film his movies (not as ridiculous long as Stronheim, but...), and that he hadn't insinuated himself in the executive corridors of Hollywood power, like, others (say, De MIlle) had.

Moreover, it isn't only Keaton. A whole bunch of artists didn't make the transition to sound. Most all artists of the teens and '20s we might see, if it means that much to you, as cornball. There's a reason there was a Victorian quality to many early movies: they were made by Victorians. That in and itself doesn't mean that the movies don't have value, substantive value. You can expect something from movies, constrained by their time and technology, that will just lead to disappointment. Or you can at least try to enter a different mindset. It's an experience. You might even find joy in it, and relief from not always seeing everything as a pretext to running a moral inventory on your ancestors, and instead obtain the satisfaction that comes with assessing something on its own terms. Doing the other is almost unclean.

You're not going to sell too many tickets on "revolutionized film editing ten years ago."

Some people still like to read and listen to blank verse, even if it, too, is passe. Still read Tom Jones or Moby Dick.

Nor was Keaton the only alcoholic in Hollywood. Indeed, so was Griffith, I believe.

EDITed for clarification.
   171. simon bedford Posted: February 07, 2014 at 11:35 AM (#4653156)
i tend to forget that de mille produced the ten commandments, its certainly not my favorite of the biblical stories, but its remained popular so i cant really debate its merits beyond my own view that Heston was not remotely believable as Moses ( but i did find him convincing in both ben hur and planet of the apes) , film like "unconquered," display everything that was wrong with De mille, his style got repetive very early on, you could almost time when the bathtub scene was coming,and the vast majority of his films were cornball to the extreme, a few of his costume epics were ok to watch due to the "cast of thousands" but i dont think he was a particularly good story teller.
   172. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:19 PM (#4653181)
Most all artists of the teens and '20s we might see, if it means that much to you, as cornball. There's a reason there was a Victorian quality to many early movies: they were made by Victorians. That in and itself doesn't mean that the movies don't have value, substantive value. You can expect something from movies, constrained by their time and technology, that will just lead to disappointment. Or you can at least try to enter a different mindset. It's an experience. You might even find joy in it, and relief from not always seeing everything as a pretext to running a moral inventory on your ancestors, and instead obtain the satisfaction that comes with assessing something on its own terms.

Mmm, interesting. How many songs by Bert Williams do you own? I've got over eighty. Thanks for the advice, though. I'll think about giving it a whirl as soon as I'm done deciding who wins: Bruce Willis or Douglas Fairbanks. (Foregone conclusion; Fairbanks' explosions were for shit.)

No need to jump across the ice floes to rescue me, Morty. I've seen more D.W. Griffith movies than you've had hot meals. (Assuming you've had fewer than 15 hot meals.) If you're really interested in the historic value of these artists and their works, you should also be interested in the history of who lost value, and when, and why. Trying to wave it all away as know-nothing hipster oppression is an argument you seem to be rehashing from somewhere and someone else.

Or maybe nothing is empirically corny; it's just the changing zeitgeist. Someday perhaps, your grandchild may tell mine that any criticism of "Pretty Woman"s rich human drama is a pretext to running a moral inventory of the benighted souls of the 1990s. "Avatar" isn't cardboard claptrap; it's just that you weren't there.
   173. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:25 PM (#4653185)
"Avatar" isn't cardboard claptrap; it's just that you weren't there.


Really really pretty cardboard claptrap, that was silly and dumb, but it did move well.
   174. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:34 PM (#4653192)
A whole bunch of artists didn't make the transition to sound

There was a kind of creative "bottleneck" in films of the 1930s and '40s occasioned by the need to move spectacles onto sound stages. Certainly a particular style of film lapsed. De Mille, as noted, made the transition, but a film like the Claudette Colbert Cleopatra from 1934, though spectacular, is totally set-bound compared to the 1923 Ten Commandments. Heck, the 1956 Ten Commandments is comparatively set-bound. The spectacle of a film like Stagecoach (1939) comes from the big location action sequences being shot silently and postdubbed. Ford's sound director Walter Reynolds:

In those days, we didn't take any protection sound on scenes like the chase. All that was filmed silently. I had to supply all the sound effects. I had to scrounge for whatever effects I could find - there were no libraries where you could get anything you wanted, like there are today. For the chase, I went over to Columbia and paid a dollar a foot for what I needed. I didn't buy sound for the entire sequence; for 500 feet, it would have cost me $500. Too much. So I bought two 10-foot lengths of horses galloping. Then I looped them and I ran them over and over, one after the other. Ford loved to underplay scenes. For the Indian charge, I had put in a bunch of war whoops. "Take 'em out," he ordered. I did, and it was much better that way.


So in one sense, Ford didn't immediately or entirely make the transition to sound. But he was affected by it: he had made quite a few silent Westerns, but then went the first decade or more of talkies without making a single Western. Stagecoach was a hybrid of sorts.
   175. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:41 PM (#4653200)
Ford is most famous for westerns, but he really didn't make that many of them overall, and almost all of them were post-WWII and in the very latter part of his career.
   176. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:54 PM (#4653215)
172:

Thanks for the I'm Alright, Jack summation for the defense. Is that a "guilty with an explanation"? Bert Willaims, eh? That doesn't indicate that you can do anything but run the gamut from A to B. Show me you can appreciate that which runs counter to reflexive contemporary values. We already know we can all be righteous--ho hum--when we're not there.
   177. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:55 PM (#4653216)
There was a kind of creative "bottleneck" in films of the 1930s and '40s occasioned by the need to move spectacles onto sound stages.

There's a shipwreck scene in DeMille's Male and Female (talk about a movie that differs from contemporary values) from 1919 that looks like it was made by taking a boat and ramming it into an island. See something like that and you realize how much was lost in the transition to sound, and how long it took to get it back.
   178. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 07, 2014 at 12:56 PM (#4653217)
A whole bunch of artists didn't make the transition to sound

A lot of that had to do with their voices, as parodied by Jean Hagen in Singin' In The Rain. In other cases it a refusal to adapt to sound out of some sort of principle (Chaplin), or simply because their a particular actor's of acting didn't adapt well to less histrionic forms of expression.

But a few silent actors and actresses made the transition quite well: Crawford, Garbo, Cooper, Dietrich, Stanwyck, Louis Calhern, Ricardo Cortez, and Richard Dix among others. Not all of them are as well known today, but that's for other reasons. The saddest case may be Lon Chaney, who died after starring in an equally great remake of one of his best silent crime dramas, The Unholy Three. His voice was perfectly suited to the sort of roles that Boris Karloff mastered, but we never got a chance to see what he might have done after that one promising effort.
   179. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:06 PM (#4653228)
Ford is most famous for westerns, but he really didn't make that many of them overall, and almost all of them were post-WWII and in the very latter part of his career

Talkies, true; but again, Ford had made many silent Westerns. The lack of 1930s feature Westerns was a product of technology as much as fashion.
   180. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:12 PM (#4653236)
a few silent actors and actresses made the transition quite well

And I'll mention Lillian Gish again. Not to sound films so much (though she eventually had quite a resumé there, and in TV, as a character actress) but to the stage, which was in some ways the inverse of silent films in terms of spectacle and sound. She was legendary in The Trip to Bountiful in the 1950s, for instance, though in Googling it just now I see it ran on Broadway for all of 39 performances. Stage work really is ephemeral.
   181. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:25 PM (#4653245)
#176:
Thanks for the I'm Alright, Jack summation for the defense. Is that a "guilty with an explanation"?

Nope, it was to let you know that your one-size-fits-all comeback needs refitting. I’m guessing your favorite Cecil B. DeMille silent is “The Straw...” er, “The Squaw Man”?
   182. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:39 PM (#4653255)
My emphasis from the beginning of these exchanges is that there is no one-size-fits-all. That's the point. Yet, the usual suspects here, it seems, just let that swoosh over their heads in their haste to restabilize the ant mound. If you can't even get that right, we're doomed to pass each other in the night.
   183. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:45 PM (#4653258)
the usual suspects

Another great study of evil, that movie :)
   184. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:46 PM (#4653262)
I've never understood the love for the Searchers. I thought it was blah.
   185. Lassus Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:47 PM (#4653263)
"Avatar" isn't cardboard claptrap; it's just that you weren't there.
Really really pretty cardboard claptrap, that was silly and dumb, but it did move well.


Inner-circle production and visuals. Sub-Francoeur-level story.
   186. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 01:51 PM (#4653266)
I've never understood the love for the Searchers. I thought it was blah.

Get Out.
   187. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:03 PM (#4653274)
My emphasis from the beginning of these exchanges is that there is no one-size-fits-all. That's the point. Yet, the usual suspects here, it seems, just let that swoosh over their heads in their haste to restabilize the ant mound. If you can't even get that right, we're doomed to pass each other in the night.

And most of the rest of us have been saying that there's no one-size-fits-all criterion for greatness. You made a big point of saying that Dwight MacDonald thought highly of The Birth of a Nation, but you never replied to MacDonald's comment that "From any point of view except a cinematic one, [Griffith's] pictures are absurdities.", after I specifically asked you whether you agreed with that distinctly not-one-size-fits-all judgment.

I agree with MacDonald's comment 100%. Do you? Or is cinematic brilliance your sole "one-size-fits-all" criterion for evaluating D. W. Griffith?
   188. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:14 PM (#4653282)
No, I don't agree with it 100%. I agree with it substantially. For one thing, cinematically is what it's all about when you are talking about a movie director.

I posted the James Agee link. Read. I can see why MacDonald and Agee would say what they say, and qualify it the way they do, and I do agree with them to some extent. But there is more. And I have written right her extensively on what that is. Yet, you and others just want to keep those horse blinders on, and insist on only considering the movie narrowly. Point to me where your evaluation of the movie transcends in any way your state of the art '60s view of race. My point is looking at it as you do is not dispositive as to art, any more than denying Dante's Divine Comedy because of his doctrinaire Catholicism would be. Do you understand that?
   189. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:16 PM (#4653284)
Yet, you and others just want to keep those horse blinders on.


Disagreeing with you is not horse blinders, it is an opinion that is not yours.
   190. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:26 PM (#4653292)
No, I don't agree with it 100%. I agree with it substantially. For one thing, cinematically is what it's all about when you are talking about a movie director.

To me that's a rather narrow way of looking at movies, even if it's not an uncommon POV in some critical circles. But I'm glad to see that now you're at least qualifying your previous identification with MacDonald's take on Griffith.

Yet, you and others just want to keep those horse blinders on, and insist on only considering the movie narrowly. Point to me where your evaluation of the movie transcends in any way your state of the art '60s view of race. My point is looking at it as you do is not dispositive as to art, any more than denying Dante's Divine Comedy because of his doctrinaire Catholicism would be. Do you understand that?

Morty, I've repeatedly said that The Birth of a Nation was an example of cinematographic greatness, and by that definition it was a great movie. What more am I supposed to say? That it had great character development? That Griffith was a greater director than Kurosawa?
   191. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:33 PM (#4653297)
I am very impressed with The Searchers, but it's a very uneven picture. You can say that about a lot of impressive films, of course. It's a collaborative medium and the product is tugged this way and that by its various producers. You rarely get a film where you say "man, somebody got the right effect in every frame of that one." John Ford, for all his creds at an auteur, made a lot of fascinating uneven big pictures.

In fact the big Westerns are all kind of messy. The perfect smart Western for my money is The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, William Wellman) but that one has the problem that (IIRC) it was shot entirely on the sound stage. It doesn't hurt it as drama or philosophy, but it views like a filmed play.
   192. Bitter Mouse Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:35 PM (#4653300)
I've repeatedly said that The Birth of a Nation was an example of cinematographic greatness


Perhaps true, but it sounds loathsome and that the world would have been a better place without it. I don't think a piece of art can be called great if the world would have been better had it never been created. Great Art should not make the world around it worse for it having been created.
   193. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:35 PM (#4653301)
190:

Another one who cannot answer a clear and simple direct question.

To me that's a rather narrow way of looking at movies, even if it's not an uncommon POV in some critical circles. But I'm glad to see that now you're at least qualifying your previous identification with MacDonald's take on Griffith.

Which you took to be...?

Did you read the Agee?

Do you understand that Griffith and his views are not beyond the human pale? That they embody something both cognizable and defensible (even if you risk your life and reputation if you try to explain that) ?
   194. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:38 PM (#4653303)
denying Dante's Divine Comedy because of his doctrinaire Catholicism

But the thing is, Dante was a pretty original thinker in context or out: hardly "doctrinaire." It's been argued that he pretty much developed the theology and spirituality of Purgatory without many models to go by. I mean, he had few self-doubts, but he wasn't selling somebody else's dogma (as with Griffith and segregationist ideology). As I tell my students, if Dante had been a Puritan or a prig, nobody would read him anymore. Some of the best characters in his Hell either don't accept their fate, or don't seem to Dante to deserve it, or (like Farinata or Ulysses) truly couldn't give a damn.
   195. JRVJ Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:40 PM (#4653304)
I don't know that I would put the Searchers in the top 10 of movies of all-time, but I was very positively impressed when I watched it (and would have LOVED to have watched it in Cinemascope or an equivalent). I suspect that the impact of that movie is greaty lessened by watching it on reduced screens.
   196. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:41 PM (#4653305)
191:

Not to put you on the spot, but what exactly do you have in mind? I'm interested because I, too, don't think, it is a perfect movie. I, too, think some parts are weaker than others, and there are some lapses in continuity that have to do with the difficulties of production, I presume, but it got the big, emotional-impacting things, powerfully right on. It's a powerful and grand cohesive story, magnificently shot.
   197. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:43 PM (#4653307)
194:

If you don't like Dante, we can find plenty of substitutes.
   198. Morty Causa Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:46 PM (#4653309)
I don't know that I would put the Searchers in the top 10 of movies of all-time, but I was very positively impressed when I watched it (and would have LOVED to have watched it in Cinemascope or an equivalent). I suspect that the impact of that movie is greaty lessened by watching it on reduced screens.

Yes. All great epics have filler you wish had been excluded, whether that's The Iliad, Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, or Seven Samurai.
   199. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:48 PM (#4653311)
What I find uneven in The Searchers is the acting apart from Wayne (who is tremendous), and the comic-relief stuff, and basically much of what goes on in the film back in "civilization." But the main thread of Wayne's character coming home, setting out to find Natalie Wood's character, and returning is magnificent, I completely agree. I wish he wasn't doing it in the company of somebody more interesting than Jeffrey Hunter. Most of Wayne's years as a huge star were spent with producers pairing him with a callow sidekick, and some of those young men were better actors than others :)
   200. BDC Posted: February 07, 2014 at 02:50 PM (#4653313)
And note too that I say that although Wayne's character is a vicious, and hardly redeemed, racist. But he does change in the course of the film, even if not in wholly politically correct directions. Of course, if he had morphed into a sensitive multiculturalist, the picture would be unwatchable.
Page 2 of 8 pages  < 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 >  Last ›

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
tshipman
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogOT - November 2014 College Football thread
(638 - 9:12pm, Nov 28)
Last: Gold Star - just Gold Star

NewsblogOTP Politics November 2014: Mets Deny Bias in Ticket Official’s Firing
(5121 - 9:08pm, Nov 28)
Last: Morty Causa

NewsblogBaseball's most underrated Hall of Fame candidates. | SportsonEarth.com : Anthony Castrovince Article
(30 - 9:06pm, Nov 28)
Last: Tom Ryan

NewsblogOT: Monthly NBA Thread - November 2014
(1145 - 8:48pm, Nov 28)
Last: If on a winter's night a baserunner

NewsblogBoston Red Sox prove (once again) that competitive balance in baseball will never exist | cleveland.com
(49 - 8:33pm, Nov 28)
Last: McCoy

NewsblogOT: NBC.news: Valve isn’t making one gaming console, but multiple ‘Steam machines’
(1192 - 8:17pm, Nov 28)
Last: Maxwn

NewsblogSource: Tomas agrees to six-year deal with D-backs | MLB.com
(29 - 7:17pm, Nov 28)
Last: Joe Kehoskie

NewsblogBaseball’s Teen-Age Twitter Reporters - The New Yorker
(11 - 7:14pm, Nov 28)
Last: Joe Kehoskie

NewsblogSandy Alderson says Mets can move quickly if a shortstop becomes available - NY Daily News
(46 - 7:10pm, Nov 28)
Last: JJ1986

Newsblog[Cricketer NOT baseball player] Phil Hughes dies after “pitch” to the head
(18 - 5:31pm, Nov 28)
Last: Phil Coorey is a T-Shirt Salesman

NewsblogPrimer Dugout (and link of the day) 11-28-2014
(9 - 5:16pm, Nov 28)
Last: Batman

NewsblogJon Lester has plenty of options in addition to Red Sox - Sports - The Boston Globe
(13 - 4:54pm, Nov 28)
Last: SoSHially Unacceptable

NewsblogMarlins seek lefty balance in lineup, on mound | MLB.com
(3 - 4:39pm, Nov 28)
Last: Jim (jimmuscomp)

NewsblogNotable Players Available In The Rule 5 Draft - BaseballAmerica.com
(11 - 2:54pm, Nov 28)
Last: KJOK

Hall of MeritBrian Giles
(57 - 2:42pm, Nov 28)
Last: Bleed the Freak

Page rendered in 0.8141 seconds
52 querie(s) executed