When it was released in 1915, “Birth of a Nation” was a groundbreaking film that introduced new forms and cinematic techniques. Yet the film is more often referred to as “the most controversial film ever made in the United States.” The film was based on the novel The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan by Thomas Dixon, Jr., published in 1905. The Birth of a Nation employs equal parts fiction and history as it follows two families for several years through the American Civil War and Reconstruction. The study of the film is a must for those wishing to examine American social history, the Lost Cause, and attitudes toward African Americans prevalent throughout the United States in the early part of the twentieth century.
The principal aim of this digital collection is the presentation of The Birth of a Nation in the most authentic and complete form possible. This descriptive edition has chosen as its point of orientation the film in its first exhibited form, as shown at Clune’s Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, on February 8, 1915. The collection does not provide the film in its totality, but provides a shot-by-shot analysis, with annotations, that establishes as accurate an appreciation as possible of the film in its earliest exhibited state. The guide that accompanies the collection is critical to understanding the information provided with each scene.