Top 100 songs of 2014 (tracks 100-91)






I said last year I wouldn't do a top 100 songs from 2014 because it's time-consuming. In the end I listened to a lot of new albums during the year, so I would be doing a disservice to myself and the blogging community if I didn't share what I discovered. If any great music should be released in December I can always do an overlooked post in Jan. So what did 2014 have to offer? Let's see:


100.) 
My Enemy by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Johnny Marr
(From Amazing Spiderman 2 soundtrack)


99.) 
Day Go By by Karen O
(Moon Song from Her soundtrack was beautiful. The new album by the singer consists of acoustic recordings. Day Go By is the track I have played the most)


98.)
Ring Off by Beyonce
(From the deluxe edition of her self-titled album, out Nov 24)


97.)
FALLINLOVE2NITE by Prince and Zooey Deschanel
(Very catchy tune, why is it missing from his two new albums?)


96.)
(Wowed me on first listen. Still good after a few plays. The video is a bit Hunger Games-esque)


95.)
Spiritual Leather by Sean Rowe
(While I don’t rate Madman as his best album, his deep baritone vocal has presence and is instantly recognizable. A beautifully written song.  The “Desiree” video is a fun departure from his usual melancholy style. “Shine My Dog” is another strong track. The lead single “Madman” is just ok, and not my favorite.
Lyrics: “Toes that dent the sand, melancholy feelings, I am still your man, feeling is believing, wars come into my dreams, they needle me awake. The road is long and wider than forever, I hope we’re that strong spiritual leather. Time, she was never such a friend she never cried for me. Time, she was never a friend, she never waits for me. What is the answer to every question, what is the reason for every direction, if we burn the answer for our protection, would that be ok? The sun is filled with lies promises and laughter, now I can’t be that wise, but I have seen the after. Slow, slow, that mamma down, I gotta get back home, slow, slow that mamma down, I gotta get back home”)


94.)
Gunshot by Lykke Li
A melancholy breakup album, so a bit of a downer, though it does have moments of beauty. The vocal has been reverbed so much though, that it at times undermines the emotional impact she is going for. I love the chorus in Gunshot)



93.)
Tomorrow by The Roots
(Not a fan of the album except this track)


92.)
American Dream Plan B by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
(Love the guitar)



91.)
Wanderer Wandering by Slow Club
(A dreamy track, which builds up to a beautiful ending)



Listened to any of these albums? Which are your favorites of the year? As always, comments are welcome. Tracks 90-81 coming soon!


Top 10 songs by Radiohead






I've recently been listening to the 8 studio albums by Radiohead. I only knew the band's hits before then. Radiohead are a little too miserable to become an old-time favorite group of mine(to quote the deformed man from Under the Skin at 2.20), but I do like their music in moderation. I've listed my personal favorites below:

1 Creep (from 1993's Pablo Honey)
2 Reckoner (from 2007's In Rainbows) (also: Choke soundtrack)
No Surprises (from 1997's OK Computer)
Everything in Its Right Place (from 2000's Kid A) (also: Vanilla Sky soundtrack)
5 Karma Police (from 1997's OK Computer)
6 Paranoid Android (from 1997's OK Computer)
7 Street Spirit (from 1995's The Bends)
Pyramid Song (from 2001's Amnesiac)
High and Dry (from 1995's The Bends)
10 Just (from 1995's The Bends)

Just missed out:
My Iron Lung (from 1995's The Bends)
Planet Telex (from 1995's The Bends)
The Bends (from 1995's The Bends)
Fake Plastic Trees (acoustic version) (from Clueless soundtrack)
Talk Show Host (from Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack)
Let Down (from 1997's OK Computer)
The Tourist (from 1997's OK Computer)
How to Disappear Completely (from 2000's Kid A)
Knives Out (from 2001's Amnesiac)
You & Whose Army? (from 2001's Amnesiac)
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (from 2007's In Rainbows)
Lotus Flower (from 2011's The King of Limbs)
Morning Mr Magpie (from 2011's The King of Limbs: Live from the Basement)


Are you a fan of Radiohead? Feel free to share your own favorite songs or albums in the comments, or tell me what I overlooked

Reviews of new releases: Interstellar, Nightcrawler, and two docs






Nightcrawler (2014)
Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic as the ambitious sociopath Louis Bloom. His obsessed one-tracked mind is creepy. To me, the last 15 minutes of the film are the most thrilling.
About the need to be first, which is everywhere nowadays; The first to report the news, the first to tweet the news. As another reviewer wrote, whenever I see news footage of crimes/accidents now, I'll probably think of Lou Bloom.
What’s even more disturbing is these nightcrawler guys exist. The social commentary is actually similar to Gone Girl. The amorality of newsgathering and making money from people’s tragedy is an issue we are facing right now with the likes of TMZ.
Other themes are exploiting interns in unpaid positions, working bad hours in terrible conditions, and satire on our current culture of over documentation, where everything is immediately available for public consumption, even if it shouldn’t be. About the drive for more viewers rather than what is moral.
Lou Bloom is a monster we made. We can barely avoid the news and watching/reading about death and destruction. If we boycotted it maybe it would decline, though I think it’s unlikely for news to change. Most of the sensationalism we really don't need, but news has to be extreme these days to break through the clutter unfortunately.
The director is quoted as saying another aim of the film was to show how the media preys on people’s fears. The report is usually strung together with some other incident “to give you a sense that there’s some nefarious pattern”. He said that such reports support the queues of Americans wanting to buy guns because they’re “terrified of some nebulous threat out there”.
Nightcrawler has been compared to many other movies such as Network, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Ace in The Hole, La Dolce Vita, and it also reminded me of the disturbing scene listening to the radio in Wild At Heart (1990), which sums up why I dislike the news media today (of course exaggerated in Lynch's film). Unlike Interstellar, Nightcrawler didn’t wear its influences on its sleeve in such an obvious way.
As Jake Gyllenhaal talked about in rotten tomatoes interview, there is so much of Lou in us. We all have ambition and want something we don’t have. It’s a bit of a warning but also hilarious. If you are disturbed by Lou, you could look at yourself and ask, what part of yourself are you disturbed by. Not a question a lot of people like to ask themselves.
Rating 8.5/10





Interstellar (2014)
Entertaining while it lasts, but I felt afterwards I was thinking about plot holes and influences, rather than what the film had to say thematically. In fact I don’t think the film had much of anything to say, which is a shame, except the obvious warning on climate change. Luckily the sets and locations look great and the acting is solid, so even though I find Interstellar strangely empty, it was never boring, and a great spectacle on the big screen. Director Chris Nolan is quoted as saying the film is really about being a father. I agree with another reviewer: “Visionary movies require a bigger vision”. Perhaps the film requires a second chance. My gut reaction tells me it’s not particularly original. A blockbuster that works as a thrill ride, yet leans far too heavily on other sci-fi movie influences.
Interstellar is probably among my least favorite from Nolan's filmography. I'm still giving it a generous score of seven because I think all of his films are at least admirable from a technical standpoint.
Rating 7/10





The Look of Silence (2014) (documentary)
A powerful and disturbing documentary which is a sequel to last year’s Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing. It isn’t as groundbreaking, but is equally as chilling. With the same director on board, this time Oppenheimer focuses on a smaller group of people, especially the victims. Thematically about the co-existence of perpetrator and victim in the present day, atrocity without justice, survivors confronting their relatives' murderers, and breaking the silence which people have been suffering under for years.
A victim (Adi who is an eye doctor) does his job in the local community, while striking up conversations about the atrocities that caused the death of his brother Ramli. You really feel his pain. Sight is a metaphor, the perpetrators are asked to look at the ugly truth.
Side by side with these violent descriptions, the documentary juxtapositions peaceful and heartfelt family moments. This is quite jarring, and showcases how barbaric yet loving humans can be. The 100 year old senile father perhaps is the luckiest one, as he can’t remember his son or the horrors that took place.
The mass murderers who are interviewed talk openly about the killings, but are uncomfortable discussing politics and who is responsible. They disturbingly talk about drinking the blood of the victims which they see as a method of avoiding insanity. I sense the family who lost their boy are not seeking revenge, but an apology, and a desire to co-exist.
Interestingly the US is accused of encouraging Indonesians to punish the communists.
In some ways, the genocide of the so-called communists is even worse than the persecution of the Jews during WW2, because the Indonesian perpetrators have not been held accountable for their brutality, as there is a perception among them that their actions are benefitting the state by defeating the enemy. Some of them are remarkably still in government, and it is hard to believe how anyone could vote for them. A documentary that has stayed with me days after I had seen it.
Rating 8/10





1989 (2014) (documentary)
New documentary about the events leading up to the fall of the Berlin wall. Released to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the historic event. The doc is praiseworthy for its groundbreaking reconstructed footage of late 80s politics. The doc humanizes both the politicians and the family we follow, they are fleshed out quite well, so you care about them. Unfortunately we don’t really get into the mindset of why they want to escape from DDR, which could have been explored.
From what I’ve heard the material is reliable and has been fact checked by historians.
The story of Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh and his place in history deserves attention, and is told in a mainstream, easy-to-understand way. Perhaps the storytelling is almost too simplistic, the film lacks the depth and rewatchability factor of Anders Østergaard’s previous doc Tintin and I (2003). For me, 1989 is a one time watch.
On the plus side, it’s quite suspenseful considering we all know how it ends. You could argue what is conveyed could be summed up in a few sentences, but on the other hand the feature length format means it’s easier to empathize and get drawn into what was at stake. However if you want more detail and angles on the 1989 events, you have to look elsewhere.
Broadcasting the doc in cinemas simultaneously across Europe was a fitting idea given the events depict important European history, and you could text message questions for the live debate afterwards. The most interesting topic discussed during the live transmission was the Ukraine crisis, which by some is perceived as a possible new cold war. The expert questioned opinioned that European countries are currently too dependent on Russia, Germany gets 35% of their gas from Russia, and other countries even more, and to avoid dependence on Russia, renewable energy is a way forward. He also remarked pessimistically that Russia regret relinquishing power over the iron curtain countries and maybe Ukraine is an attempt to win back what had been lost by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989. However there were optimistic observations as well, as they had invited former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh and world famous economic Jeremy Rifkin to speak.
Rating 7/10




Agree or disagree? Seen any new releases recently? As always, comments are welcome



Top 10 songs by Prince







1)
Purple Rain (From 1984’s Purple Rain soundtrack)
(A masterpiece. I love the album a lot more than the accompanying movie. I can’t get enough of the album, and it's fast becoming among my favorites of the 80s. Works as both a love song and a religious allegory, “Purple Rain” takes us full circle, ending the record in the church from the album opener “Let’s Go Crazy”.
Fans have been trying to work out the meaning of "purple rain" for decades now. Some believe it’s about the end of the world, a theme Prince was interested in mid-80s. This quote from His Royal Badness suggests the apocalypse wasn’t far from his mind:
“When there’s blood in the sky - red and blue = purple.. purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god" guide you through the purple rain”
According to band mate Lisa Coleman, the song symbolizes “a new beginning. Purple, the sky at dawn; rain, the cleansing factor")


2)
The Beautiful Ones by Prince (From 1984’s Purple Rain soundtrack)
(Beautiful production. Continues to give me chills. A haunting tale of emotional longing and unrequited love. My favorite part is the lyric “Do you want him, or do you want me?” )


3)
Take Me With U (From 1984’s Purple Rain soundtrack)
(I probably shouldn't rank this ahead of his signature songs, but I just love it to bits. This tune just puts me in a good mood every time. Unfortunautely I couldn't find a video of the full song. Features during the motorcycle ride in the movie, and I can’t think of a more fitting scene. The best Prince song to listen to on the road)


4)
Little Red Corvette (From 1982’s 1999)
(The song was his biggest hit at the time. Arguably one of the best pop songs of the 80s. Prince got the idea for the song when he dozed off in Lisa Coleman's pink Edsel after an exhausting all-night recording session. The lyrics came to him in bits and pieces during this and other catnaps. There’s a timeless quality to the lyrics “But it was Saturday night, I guess that makes it all right”)


5)
1999 (From 1982’s 1999)
(What an epic intro. An apocalyptic yet upbeat party anthem. Prince created "1999" around the central riff of the 1966 song, "Monday, Monday" by The Mamas & the Papas. 17 years later, on New Year’s Eve, the song received a comeback, for obvious reasons)


6)
Let’s Go Crazy (From 1984’s Purple Rain soundtrack)
(I moved this up from 15th in the top 50. An iconic opening to the Purple Rain album. Video I found unfortunately doesn’t include the longer spoken word intro from the album. In an interview with Chris Rock Prince revealed that the song is about god and satan, and you couldn’t say those words on the radio, so he used the phrase “elevator” instead. According to Prince the track is about staying happy and focused, and then you can beat the elevator)


7)
If I Was Your Girlfriend (From 1987’s Sign O’ The Times)
(An unforgettable song. Prince developed a feminine alter ego known as Camille while working on Sign O’ The Times album. He used the persona on the single “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” and achieved the effect by slowing down the tape as he sang in his normal register, and then speeding the tape up in playback. He reportedly recorded an entire album as Camille, but eventually scrapped it along with plans to film a movie about the character)


8)
Dirty Mind (From 1980’s Dirty Mind)
(At this stage in his career he wanted his music to be “pure sexuality”. No wonder the musicians and crowd are dancing and having a good time in the video. Such a great beat)


9)
Raspberry Beret (From 1985’s Around the World in a Day)
Director Steve McQueen listed the song as a favorite of his on BBC’s radio show Desert Island Discs, and you can understand why. It’s incredibly catchy)


10)
When Doves Cry (From 1984’s Purple Rain soundtrack)
(A signature song from his career, and deserves to be in the top 10. The lyrics center on a young man’s fear that he’s becoming like his emotionally unavailable parents. The year’s top-selling single)



This post concludes my top 50 Prince songs! Agree or disagree? Which are your favorites from these Prince albums? As always, comments are welcome

Viewing recap October





Gone Girl (2014)
This movie may launch actress Rosamund Pike to A-list status. A thriller with unexpected twists. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy(Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. I enjoyed the thrill ride, though the main characters are actually unlikeable and cruel, so it’s ultimately tough for me to care about them. But maybe it's good for us to sometimes identify with what is not entirely palatable, because that's what makes us human, which Pike talked about in an interview.
Thanks to David Fincher, I was kept on the edge of my seat, wanting to see how the unpredictable story would play out. Thought-provoking, not just about marriage, also about media manipulation, how we can be judged without all the facts known, many buy into the news without being critical.
Having not read the novel, Gone Girl is a film I feel I need to watch again in order to understand how it ended up like it did, keeping an eye out for the details. Apparently every scene is important in the movie, so you have to keep your eyes peeled!
Spoilers ahead: Perhaps the genius of the storytelling is I don’t know who to root for, Nick or Amy, so it becomes something more complex than simply taking sides. Instead I get a fascinating character study of a marriage that I can’t look away from. There’s also the matter that neither Amy or Nick could we say are telling the whole truth with any measure of certainty, which invites the audience to speculate. Amy is very calculating and an unreliable narrator, so we don’t ever really know the real Amy. The ending is quite mature, whereas in the past Fincher has been too eager to hand us all the answers on a plate. I would say it's an empowering film for women who feel they have been wrongfully treated in life. Although confusingly Amy is a terrible role model. If anything, the film shows how difficult and hurtful it is for women with unfaithful husbands. Certainly a film you will want to discuss afterwards, the message is not obvious. Perhaps at its core the story is about the unknowability of your romantic partner, our personal need to suppress tendencies, expectations in a relationship, a couple growing apart, and the audience having empathy towards unlikeable people. Interestingly, Amy is not just the woman Nick wanted; she's the woman he constructed with his actions. As a reviewer perceptively wrote at Rotten Tomatoes: “with marriage you think you are getting what you desire when in reality you are getting what you deserve”. Sasha Stone wrote in her article at Awards Daily: "The point of Amy Dunne is that she criticizes the cool girl. She isn’t one. She could be at the snap of her fingers. She could be anything she wanted to be up to a point. But the Amy Dunne we know, the one Nick falls for, wouldn’t deign to be the kind of cool girl she’s talking about. She’s disgusted by these women, which is why she isolates herself from them. They appear throughout the film, either as Nick’s young squeeze or as girls we see in passing cars or girls who hit on Nick.  They are contrasted, however, by grounded, smart women like Go and Detective Boney.  (…) The truth about women as ticket buyers is that they “have to like” the female character. That is the big question, always. Do they like her. When Fatal Attraction was audience tested they didn’t like that Glenn Close committed suicide. They wanted to see her pay. So they had Anne Archer, the one they liked, shoot her. In Fincher’s film, the audience simply isn’t given that reprieve. Things aren’t allowed to go back to ‘normal’. We have to confront and live with this particular truth. They don’t turn on Amy the way they did in Fatal Attraction. They don’t sweep Amy up with a broom and dustpan and throw her in the garbage."
Rating 8.5/10




Two Days, One Night (2014)
A quite gripping story by the Dardenne’s, however I found the constant begging a bit repetitive. What makes the central dilemma interesting is you can empathize with both sides. Marion Cotillard’s performance is great though why she was depressed and eating pills is oddly not included, and might have given the film a less repetitive flow to focus on that. I wanted to understand her, was she capable of taking on the job? Perhaps the reasons for her depression are open to interpretation? Marion Cotillard is better than the film she is in. A tough film to rate.
Rating 7/10






Calvary (2014)
Directed by John Michael McDonagh who made The Guard(which I also liked)
Besides the humor(which really is needed in a story as black as this), there are also truths about our society. For example sad that a priest can’t talk to a child without the parent being suspicious of foul play, and also sad that the victims feel pain for life. The fact catholic priests have to put up with a lot of ugliness by listening to all the sins of others is a burden that can be tough to bear. I've read that some hated this film, and it certainly is bleak. Gleeson again delivers fine work in what could be a career best performance as the priest. If you can stomach the ugliness, the film definitely has some things to say.
The well-written dialogue held my interest, and the gallows humor was different to a lot of new films out there. References the novel Jernigan by David Gates which may or may not have been an inspiration for writing the script.
Rating 8/10







Snowpiercer (2013) 
Based on a French post-apocalyptic graphic novel from 1982, Snowpiercer paints an intriguing dystopian picture of the future. Takes place in a confined space on a moving train, yet somehow still manages to surprise visually. The set design is very impressive, and the filmmakers do a great job of maintaining suspense about the secrets of the train. The weakest aspect is the characterization, as we hardly know any background information about the main characters.
I really believed they were travelling on the train due to the SFX. There's a class system on board, and we witness a rebellion. In Snowpiercer, movement equals life, and I supose you can say that's a fact, no matter who you are.
Favorite quotes:
“-Curtis, everyone has their preordained position, that’s except you. –That’s what people in the best place say to people in the worst place.”
“You’ve seen what people do without leadership, they devour one another”
Rating 8/10





Labor Day (2013)
To hell with the bad reviews, I enjoyed it, and it even brought a tear to my eye. Granted the relationship is not that plausible, but I still got swept away due to a fine performance by Kate Winslet.
The story seeps of nostalgia, which I liked. Plenty of culture references, Empire Strikes Back poster, Jim Taylor, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate sleeve, Spielberg’s ET etc.
The critics had a field day and crucified the movie, and while it is no masterpiece, the characters are definitely likeable.
Favorite quote: “I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart, but rather losing love itself”
Rating 7/10





20.000 Days on Earth (2014)
Worth seeing on the big screen. Depicts a fictitious 24 hours in the life of Australian musician and writer Nick Cave. It’s interesting to listen to what the man behind the music has to say. The structure of the documentary is quite varied. There’s partly him recording music, partly concert footage, and partly listen to him being questioned by a therapist. Also conversations with various famous or less known people during Cave's journey. The therapist scenes are the most revealing, while the recording sessions drag on a bit too long and at times felt like filler.
He discusses the importance of memory and how that’s the thing he is most worried about losing, as he cherishes his childhood and adulthood memories.  It’s like Cave wants to pass on wisdom about being an artist and songwriting, and talks about what he strives for, and the joy of escaping from himself into different personas, both in writing and on stage.
He talks of the rainy days in the UK, and how he turns that into an advantage, as it's easier to write about bad weather than good weather. He later reveals a picture from his memorabilia depicting cats with a red background, which he calls "fire of the mind agitates the atmosphere".
It was off-putting that he would screen Scarface (1983) to his young boys, but maybe this parallels to Cave’s father reading Lolita to Nick when he was a child. Giving the children an experience they shouldn’t really be having yet.
The intro scene, while quite daring and original, I didn’t like, and blasts you with hundreds of images. Thankfully the editing settles down after that.
I wish Cave had talked more about specific albums, he only really talks about his music sparingly, and in very general terms. For example regretting that the songs go on too long on some of his previous albums. In fact many of the conversations are not about his music, which means it’s about Cave’s life in general. Perhaps the film would have benefited from music critics commenting on Nick, rather than just him talking with friends, but I guess they took a different approach to the standard album-by-album Under Review documentaries.
Rating 7.5/10





My Night at Maud’s (1969)
French new wave drama directed by Eric Rohmer. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and was nominated for the Palme d'Or. The main character Jean (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is tempted by the women he meets. There’s an inner conflict between his affairs and Christianity.
I love dialogue-heavy films. Françoise Fabian plays it well as the seductive and complex Maud, who Jean finds it easy to confide in.
Fairly good film, but the conversations on religion, atheism, love, morality and Blaise Pascal were not as thought-provoking as I had hoped they would be.
Favorite quote: Girls brought a lot to me morally. (…) Each time I’ve known a girl. It’s different each time. You can’t generalize. I’ve discovered a new moral problem I didn’t have to face before. The experience was beneficial. It shook me from moral lethargy”
Rating 7/10





A Night at the Opera (1935)
Marx Brothers comedy classic, I laughed a lot. The contract reading sequence is timeless. The scenes aboard the ship are especially funny, from the 27 min mark and onwards. What prevents it from becoming a top 100 film are the music and singing sequences which go on far too long. The brothers play the instruments well though.
A bit of trivia. Queen borrowed the title for their 1975 album. The band’s next album A Day at The Races is also the title of a Marx brothers comedy.
The scenes addressing the crowd, in the hotel room with the four beds, ad the finale are good fun, but has to be said rely on stupidity from the police. What lifts it above average for me are the sheer number of amusing one-liners by Groucho.
Favorite quote: ”Did I pack you?”
Rating 8/10





Salinger (2013)
About JD Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye. The documentary received mixed reviews from critics. I found it interesting, even though it is intrusive and goes against Salinger's wishes, since he wanted to be known only through his fiction. Salinger famously refused public celebrity. He sounds like someone who wasn't suited to marriage at all. He is portrayed as reclusive, and completely devoted to his craft. Someone who wasn’t there for his kids, was sensitive to disloyalty, and had a thing for the innocence of teenage girls. Interestingly it is revealed that Salinger will release several posthumous works between 2015-2020.
We get an overview of his work and life in chronological order. I didn't know Salinger had a nervous breakdown after 300 days of army duty during WW2. I wasn’t familiar with his past and all of his fiction, having only read Catcher (1950) and Franny and Zooey (1961), so quite a lot was new to me.
Has encouraged me to check out his notable short stories. Here are several that are mentioned:
Slight Rebellion off Madison (1946) short story about Holden Caulfield, is the first story he had published in prestigious New Yorker.
I’m Crazy (1945) was another short story about Holden Caulfield.
A Perfect Day for Bananafish (1948) was about a WW2 veteran.
For Esmé – with Love and Squalor (1950) Considered one of the finest literary pieces to result from the Second World War.
Rating 7/10






Friday (1995)
A cult 90s comedy. The father character is hilarious in the opening scenes, talking in his sleep, and always grumbling. Unfortunately there were not many laughs beyond the intro. The story, or lack thereof, is a weakness. Maybe I need to live in da hood to ”get” this movie. Not for me, and I find it overrated.
Rating 5/10




How was your month? Have you watched any of the above films? Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome

2014 Blind Spot series: The Birth of a Nation (1915)





My contribution to Ryan McNeil's 2014 blindspot series blogathon, where I watch a film each month that I have never seen before.

Directed by D.W. Griffith, Birth of a Nation is a key film of the silent era. The first big-budget blockbuster, the first epic.

Set before, during, and after the American Civil War 1861-1865. Was, and still is, highly controversial with its portrayal of African-American men (played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women, and the portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan (whose original founding is dramatized) as a heroic force. There were widespread African-American protests against the racist elements. The NAACP spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to ban the film. Griffith's indignation at efforts to censor or ban the film motivated him to produce Intolerance the following year.

The Birth of a Nation was the longest and most profitable film then produced, and secured both the future of feature-length films and the reception of film as a serious medium.
Of significance for its groundbreaking filmmaking techniques, and has been quoted as “the birth of an art”. According to 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, director DW Griffith was more interested in the possibilities of the film medium, than the blatantly racist play by Thomas Dixon, which the film is based on.
Griffith utilized close-ups, panoramic long shots, panning camera shots, parallel storylines, cross cutting, night photography, color tinting for dramatic purposes, building up the plot to an exciting climax, dramatizing history alongside fiction, and a battle sequence with hundreds of extras made to look like thousands. In fact cross-cutting and close-up he had already experimented with in short films from 1909-1911.
Also features the first original music written specifically for a film. ”The Perfect Song" is regarded as the first marketed "theme song" from a film.
These innovative film techniques, while not all of his creation, make it one of the most influential films in the film industry. The impact was far greater in 1915, because these techniques are commonplace today. In fact so common, that I hardly noticed the groundbreaking camera work.

So what did I think? Lasting over three hours it tested my patience. Truth be told the story wasn’t of great interest to me. Mainly was a film I felt I ought to finally see due to its reputation. The recreation of the battle field scenes is quite impressive and looks like historical footage. However I would argue those scenes are overpraised and only makes sense with the title cards telling us what’s going on.
The assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre is probably the most memorable scene, which I feel works without title cards. Even though the second half is very racist, as cohesive storytelling I feel it’s more straightforward and easier to follow than the first half.

Roger Ebert wrote in his insightful review, “all serious moviegoers must sooner or later arrive at a point where they see a film for what it is, and not simply for what they feel about it.” He also notes, “But it is possible to separate the content from the craft?” Ebert continues that "The Birth of a Nation is worth considering, if only for the inescapable fact that it did more than any other work of art to dramatize and encourage racist attitudes in America. (The contemporary works that made the most useful statements against racism were “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and "Huckleberry Finn.")
Unfortunately the film is also credited with the revival of the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan, which was all but extinct when the movie appeared.

Birth of a Nation is a film that is difficult to love due to its controversial subject matter, yet among the most influential in film history.



Thanks for reading. Have you seen  The Birth of a Nation or other D.W. Griffith films? Is it possible to admire the filmmaking despite the racism?

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