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Posts Tagged ‘D.W. Griffith

“The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare”*…

 

griffith

Dorothy and Lillian Gish and D.W. Griffith at the White House, 1922. Library of Congress

 

The year 1915 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Monuments to Confederate and Union heroes were being dedicated all over the country. Woodrow Wilson, a fan of Jim Crow laws, was president. He had allowed federal workplaces to segregate again.

Enter Thomas Dixon Jr., Wilson’s classmate from Johns Hopkins. A film had just been made of Dixon’s second novel, “the true story” of the South under Reconstruction. Would the president, he wondered, be interested in viewing it? (He would.)

“History written with lightning,” Wilson declared of The Clansman, the second film ever to be screened in the White House. It was an endorsement guaranteed to head off resistance from town censor boards charged with shutting down entertainment deemed unsuitable or incendiary to the public…

The Clansman was a silent movie with title cards. It depicted whites as victims and blacks as villains. Benevolent former masters were denied votes and subjugated by newly freed blacks taking over the country. In an early scene, black legislators sit at desks, shoeless and drunk, too busy stuffing their faces with fried chicken to work. The title card read: “An historical facsimile of the State House of Representatives of South Carolina in 1870.” South Carolina had been the first state to elect a majority-black legislature and that the card implied that the apish behavior depicted was historically accurate, too.

In a later scene, the white heroine (played by Lillian Gish) is threatened by a black man unable to contain his urge to “mongrelize” the white race. Before she is ravaged, a savior army rides in: The Ku Klux Klan. The title-card copy comes straight from the president’s five-volume History of the American People, published in 1902:

440px-wilson-quote-in-birth-of-a-nation

More of this sad story, and its aftermath, at “Hatred Endorsed by a President.”

* Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

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As we ruminate on recurrence, we might send never-ending birthday greetings to August Ferdinand Möbius; he was born on this date in 1790.  A German mathematician and theoretical astronomer, he is best remembered as a topologist, more specifically for his discovery of the Möbius strip (a two-dimensional surface with only one side… or more precisely, a non-orientable two-dimensional surface with only one side when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space).  See ““It might help to think of the universe as a rubber sheet, or perhaps not.”

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Written by LW

November 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio”*…

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The ever-illuminating Jason Kottke dips into Statistical Reasoning for Everyday Life (Bennett, Briggs, and Triola; Addison Wesley Longman; Second Edition, 2002) for a measure of Shakespeare’s vocabulary.  Using a method recounted here, the authors concluded:

This means that in addition the 31,534 words that Shakespeare knew and used, there were approximately 35,000 words that he knew but didn’t use. Thus, we can estimate that Shakespeare knew approximately 66,534 words.

Linguist Richard Lederer observes (as cited in in this piece) that Shakespeare hadn’t begun to reach the bottom of the barrel:  there are currently over 600,000 entries in the Oxford English Dictionary (and in Shakespeare’s time things were especially fluid– as witnessed by the Bard’s own fevered invention of new words and phrases).

Still, Shakespeare’s facility is easier to appreciate in context when we recognize that the average English speaker has a vocabulary of (only) 10,000 to 20,000 words, and, as Lederer observes, actually uses only a fraction of that (the rest being recognition or recall vocabulary).

* Love’s Labour’s Lost I,ii

As we reach for our copies of Word Power, we might wish a glittering birthday to Anita Loos, who was born on this date in 1888. A writer from childhood, she sold a movie idea to D.W Griffiths at Biograph while she was still in her teens– and began a career through which she wrote plays, movies, stories/novels, magazine articles, and finally memoirs.

She’s probably best remembered for her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Loos claimed to have written the spoof, which she started on a long train ride, as an entertainment for her friend H. L. Mencken (who reputedly had a fondness for Lorelei Lee-like blonds).  In any case, the book was an international bestseller, printed in 14 languages and in over 85 editions. It was a hit on Broadway in 1949, then adapted again into a movie musical in 1953– the Howard Hawks classic in which Marilyn Monroe reminds us that “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

Loos with fellow writer (and sometime husband) John Emerson
by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair, July 1928

Tres exclusif…

I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member…
– Groucho Marx

From DreyX, “Ten Places You Can’t Go“…  for example:

Since 1967,  Disney’s Exclusive Club 33: Walt Disney felt that he needed a special private place where he could entertain sponsors and other guests. After he had died Disney Land decided to make Club 33 open only to special members and their guests. Located at at the heart of New Orleans Square at Disney Land, it gives the members and their guests exclusive access to the club’s restaurant, and the premises which are not open to the public at large. After Disney’s death Club 33 had opened itself with special limited memberships to the public. As of June 2007, the membership waiting list was 14 years, and membership interest list was closed to new inquiries as of April/May 2007.

Or

Metro-2 in Moscow: Russia has a secret underground metro system which parallels the public Moscow Metro. The length of Metro-2 is rumored to exceed even that of the “civil” (i.e. public) Metro. (It is said to have 4 lines and lie 50 to 200 m deep. It is said to connect the Kremlin with the FSB headquarters, the government airport at Vnukovo-2, and an underground town at Ramenki, in addition to other locations of national importance. In the late 1940s Stalin had created the tunnels in the event of a nuclear war. In 1994, a group of urban diggers had stumbled on to the underground system. Though not much more information is known known to the public about this.

See the other eight– from the Vatican’s Archive to Area 51– here.

As we manage our aspirations, we might frame a close-up of D.W. Griffith, a father of cinema, who arrived in Los Angeles on this date in 1910 in search of a sunny climate and a range of scenery.  With a stock company that he brought with him (including such future luminaries as Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish), Griffith began producing one- and two-reelers for Biograph.  After shooting over 450 shorts for Biograph, Griffith struck out on his own to make his powerfully-influential– but equally-powerfully controversial– Birth of a Nation (1915).  On the heels of the criticism (and in some quarters, riots) that greeted this history of the Civil War and the Ku Klux Klan, Griffith made Intolerance (1916), meant to prove his opposition to racism; at $2.5 million, it was by far the most expensive film ever made– and ruined Griffith financially.  But he rebounded, and in 1919 co-founded United Artists with Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin.  To this day, the highest honor bestowed by the Directors’ Guild of America is “The D.W. Griffith Award.”

David Llewelyn Wark Griffith

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