The Birth of a Nation: cinema's original sin. At what cost were made its landmark strides in film technique and storytelling? That's a difficult question unmet by the lacking insights of Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, whose Rebirth of a Nation contends to be, according to its pompous prologue, "a DJ mix applied to cinema.. exposing the film's true meaning and how it relates to today's social-political conflicts." Unfortunately this mostly just entails Miller intermittently narrating the plot points of a condensed version of D.W. Griffith's Ku Klux Klan-exalting 1915 epic, overlaying a mediocre new soundtrack performed by the Kronos Quartet, and employing lazy geometric doodles to magnify visual details crystal clear to begin with.
I've rarely seen a project so pathetically feeble compared to its stated purpose. Minutes go by without any examination of Birth until the voiceover piles on yet another redundancy: "Unwilling to accept the incoming change, the Southern colonel refuses to shake the hand of the mixed-race politician." Thanks, Paul, wouldn't have otherwise gathered that from Griffith's exclamation-pointed melodrama. As for the influence of Birth on our current ideological landscape, Miller drops cultural studies pseudo-science —"Griffith's subtle manipulation of realism.. set the stage for media propaganda throughout our modern history leading all the way up to the coverage of Hurricane Katrina and Iraq" — without a shred of supporting evidence. Miller's film is apparently a theatrical version of what was initially a live multimedia performance and thus may have suffered in the translation, but as is it's useless. The sad truth is that Griffith's directorial skills were more than proficient enough to eventually render something like Rebirth's timid "exposé" of his racism completely unnecessary.