(Review originally written at 21 January 2007)

Being far from the most politically correct or historical important movie about the civil war, it still remains the best made and told movies, especially considering that this movie was made in 1915.

The movie its story is very well told and beautiful brought to the screen. The style of film-making was truly revolutionary for its time, the reason why the movie, from a movie-technical point of view, is considered to be one of the most important and influential movies of the early 20th century.

The movie can be divided into two separate parts. The first halve of the movie is about the start and end of the civil war and ends with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (that's not a spoiler is it? ha-ha!). The second halve of the movie focuses on the aftermath of the civil war, a subject that never ever really gets handled much in any other movie. The first halve is more serious dramatic and historical like, while the second is more over-the-top dramatic and the story becomes more fictional and also because of that more entertaining.

Actually surprising to see how well the first halve of the movie was made. The movie had a couple of good looking mass scenes and spectacular looking battle sequences. Of course the movie as a whole is also beautiful looking with good sets and costumes.

But the best thing about the movie remains its storytelling. The characters and drama get very well developed and the build of the overall storyline makes sure that the movie takes some epic-proportions at times. The directing from D.W. Griffith is extremely good.

The second halve of the movie is controversial to say the least. It among other things, shows how and why the first ever Ku Klux Klan was brought to existence. Of course lots is exaggerated and everything in the story is extremely figurative black and white. You also have to keep in mind though, that the first Ku Klux Klan was different than the second and later forms of it. But still that's not an excuse for this movie to glorify the KKK and give them in this movie almost mythical like proportions. As a matter of fact the movie, among other reasons, caused the rise of the second KKK, in 1915. I don't really understand why the filmmakers picked this approach and storyline. Not sure what they wanted to achieve with it. Still I'm able to look at this movie as a piece of well made early film-making. Guess that in a way the movie is a bit the same as "Triumph des Willens", it's something beautiful, made for something horrible but you should still be able to appreciate how technically well and beautifully the movie is made, if you can remain objective and non-biased about the controversial subjects handled in it. The movie is too beautiful and well made to hate it.

Perhaps the movie would had even been better and definitely had a better reputation of the movie ended after its first halve.

And you can say and think about the ending what you want but it's both tense and spectacular. It also follows two separate story lines and cuts back and forth between them, which works all the more better and effective for the movie its tension. I think that this storytelling approach was also unique for its time but I have to admit that I'm not sure about that.

The movie features perhaps a bit too many characters and plot lines, which does make the movie at times confusing to watch but then again, aren't most silent movie at least a bit confusing and unclear to follow at times? It's also the reason why the movie is extremely long (for its time) but that of course is also depending on which version of the movie you're watching (For information, I've watched the longest version).

Of course the acting is terribly over-the-top by todays standards. Every emotion gets extremely exaggerated, mostly by the female cast, played by early big movie-stars Lillian Gish and Mae Marsh. Actors that I still liked in this movie were Ralph Lewis and George Siegmann. The movie features many at the time unknown young actors or other movie makers, who later grew out to be stars. Most notably to me were Walter Long, who would later appear in a couple of Laurel & Hardy movies and Raoul Walsh as John Wilkes Booth, who would later direct some classic- and Errol Flynn movies, mostly in the '40's.

A must-see for every objective movie-lover.


About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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