DJ Spooky's Movie Remix
July 1, 2009 8:41 AM   Subscribe

When The Birth of a Nation was released in 1915, it sought to recast the Civil War and the pains of Reconstruction as being fundamentally caused by African-Americans. It also served as a landmark in American cinema, and is hailed as a masterpiece today. In response, DJ Spooky has "remixed" the movie and released it on DVD under the title "Rebirth of a Nation."
posted by elder18 (28 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I love one of the titles to an Amazon user review of the DVD: Revisionist History Revised For The 21st Century.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:45 AM on July 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

I got all this in film school. MASTERPIECE because DW Griffith had an aptitude and ambition for Cinema as an Art Form that quite simply changed everything forever. RACIST CRAP because, unfortunately, DW Griffith was originally from the American south and happened to believe all the lies about the "negro" he was fed as a child.

It really is an astonishing piece of ... something-other. Glad to see Mr. Spooky has seen fit to remind us.
posted by philip-random at 8:52 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

For years, I've said to myself, you know what Birth of a Nation needs? An illbient soundtrack, that's what.
posted by box at 8:57 AM on July 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

For years, I've said to myself, you know what Birth of a Nation needs? An illbient soundtrack, that's what.

When I saw it, there was no soundtrack, just silence. The prof maintained that the one on the film print was arbitrary at best and had nothing to do with the original music score that was supposed to be played by an orchestra, live in the theater.

Illbience sounds just fine to me.
posted by philip-random at 9:01 AM on July 1, 2009

Both the original and DJ Spooky are discussed in the documentary Moving Midway which is a surprisingly good film.
posted by puddsharp at 9:04 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wait a minute ... is Birth of a Nation off copyright yet?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2009

Sounds great... then I watched the trailer. Does anyone know if the film is like the trailer, mixing contemporary footage with voice over with BoaN images or is it just made up strictly of images from the film?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2009

Birth of a Nation is available on Internet Archive to stream or download. And I would like to point out that Paul D. Miller, that subliminal kid, was not the first to "remix" this movie. Behold: The Rebirth of a Nation? It's the original movie, but ... inverted! Black becomes white, white becomes black, and gray stays put.

See also: Public Enemy's Rebirth of a Nation.

And in no way, shape, or form of relation to all this: Rebirth of a - "9/9/09 - OFFICIAL KNEE DAY (God is going to bring us into repentance one way or another)"
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Birth of a Nation at Google Video, sadly a horrible transfer but good enough if you postage-stamp the size down enough.

I watch this every time it's on Turner Classic Movies, which is to say not very often at all. It's so wonderful and awful at the same time. The willingness to watch and think about this film critically (at last) makes me long for Riefenstahl's work to be more widely available.

I'm interested indeed in the DJ Spooky work. Meta works fascinate me. I hope he's done as well by it as his reputation and the material require. It's a shame I have to pay money to see a remix of a 100-year-old film. I guess I'll pony up. I can always give the DVD away once I've watched it if it isn't repeat-watch-worthy. Thank goodness it's only $10 through Amazon.
posted by hippybear at 9:10 AM on July 1, 2009

My grandfather told me about seeing this movie when it first came out. It was a big huge deal, like standing in line for a blockbuster opening weekend now. I think it was also more expensive to see than a regular movie. Seeing this and seeing Buffalo Bill's Wild West show were the two big media events of his childhood.

I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have been interested in the remix.
posted by OolooKitty at 9:11 AM on July 1, 2009

Philip-random, your professor's approach to the music reminded me of this from wiki:
Few film scores have survived intact from this period, and musicologists are still confronted by questions in attempting a precise reconstruction of those which remain. Scores can be distinguished as complete reconstructions of composed scores, newly composed for the occasion, assembled from already existing music libraries, or even improvised. Interest in the scoring of silent films fell somewhat out of fashion during the 1960s and 1970s. There was a belief current in many college film programs and repertory cinemas that audiences should experience silent film as a pure visual medium, undistracted by music. This belief may have been encouraged by the poor quality of the music tracks found on many silent film reprints of the time. More recently, there has been a revival of interest in presenting silent films with quality musical scores, either reworkings of period scores or cue sheets, or composition of appropriate original scores.
posted by resurrexit at 9:12 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

oh, filthy light thief's link to the movie at Internet Archive is MUCH better quality than my link to Google Video. Much much much better.
posted by hippybear at 9:14 AM on July 1, 2009

that trailer for spooky's remix was pretty great. I'm very interested in seeing what he's done with the film.
posted by shmegegge at 9:15 AM on July 1, 2009

What interested me was the idea of "re-mixing" a movie, since the term and act have largely been restricted to music.
posted by elder18 at 9:17 AM on July 1, 2009

I saw Spooky perform the soundtrack to this live some years ago in Providence. The music was interesting, but Spooky's DJ skills are not.

*looks at trailer*

Wait a minute, that doesn't resemble what I saw at all. Huh?
posted by mkb at 9:19 AM on July 1, 2009

Anecdote of the "silent" film era: my great grandmother played a piano for a silent movie house in (I believe) the 1920s. Sadly, she passed away when I was young. I would have liked to know more of her experiences. Not all silent films were intended to be wholly silent.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:20 AM on July 1, 2009

by the way, both the original Birth of a Nation and Spooky's remix are available as instant streams on netflix. now I know what I'm doing this weekend. maybe it's fitting for july 4th.
posted by shmegegge at 9:21 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm waiting for the Michael Bay remix.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:23 AM on July 1, 2009

I saw DJ Spooky perform this live in Chapel Hill about 3 or 4 years ago. He was mixing music and clips of the film on the fly. It was really enjoyable, I dug it.
posted by statolith at 9:31 AM on July 1, 2009

filthy light thief, my grandmother played piano and organ at silent movie houses. Even when she was fading into Alzheimer's, she would play those old tunes at the nursing home, I've been told. I never saw her play a real piano, but I remember her throwing down on the little toy piano (pre-electronic Casiotone days) one of my cousins got for Christmas. And harmonica--Mamaw could blow a harmonica.

Now I'm missing that blue-haired old lady. They keeping you stocked with Luckys and tall-boys up there in heaven, Inez?
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:37 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Meh. I saw this in LA three years ago. The remixing was so abstract (mirroring images, overlaying what looks like wires on the film, no recutting with a sense of changing the story or plot) that it really meant very little other than "Oh, it's Birth of a Nation but NOT." It was a two second point dragged out for what felt like hours. I'm all for remixing and repurposing but this is something that sounds much better in concept than in actual form.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:43 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

It appears that the soundtrack is performed by the Kronos Quartet.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:18 AM on July 1, 2009

Meh. I saw this in LA three years ago.

Actually, the impression I am getting is that the DVD release is significantly different from the live shows that were produced. Apparently the DVD version has voiceovers, original music, newly edited sequences, fresh title cards, and still tries to forge ahead with the story Griffith was trying to tell, warts and all. While the artist and intent may be the same with the live show presentation, I do not believe the DVD is in any way a recreation of the live show experience.
posted by hippybear at 10:36 AM on July 1, 2009

Yeah, I was totally underwhelmed with the live show. It actually struck me as rather thoughtless and lazy, in addition to repetitive: Spooky seemed to have become enamored of the concept of remixing BOAN and stopped there.

For anyone who is interested in BOAN, its reception, and responses to it, I'd highly recommend the little-known 1920 film by director Oscar Michaeux, "Within Our Gates." It was an African-American response to BOAN that showed as one critic put it, "What Blacks knew and what Northern whites refused to believe."
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:50 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Does anyone know if the film is like the trailer, mixing contemporary footage with voice over with BoaN images or is it just made up strictly of images from the film?

The film that's out on DVD (I don't know about the live shows) was pretty disappointing insofar as, as has been said, very little has been done to remix the footage itself, rather a narrator comes in every few minutes to deconstruct the film live for you, a la an intro to film studies class. Might have found it interesting when I was in high school, but after 7 years of graduate education, it felt uninspired to me.

I don't recall there being any contemporary footage - oh wait, yes, there's a weird intro bit that uses some contemporary documentary footage, if I remember correctly...
posted by jrb223 at 11:24 AM on July 1, 2009

DJ Spooky's Re-Birth of a Nation is also available to stream from Netflix.

It's in my instant queue, but so are 60 other things, and I haven't gotten to it yet.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:54 PM on July 1, 2009

"it sought to recast the Civil War and the pains of Reconstruction as being fundamentally caused by African-Americans"

goddamn. people suck. And, like the sight of a train wreck, I must look and see just how much.
posted by Nauip at 1:33 PM on July 1, 2009

A situationist comment on this topic: "Griffith’s Birth of a Nation is one of the most important films in the history of the cinema because of its wealth of innovations. On the other hand, it is a racist film and therefore absolutely does not merit being shown in its present form. But its total prohibition could be seen as regrettable from the point of view of the secondary, but potentially worthier, domain of the cinema. It would be better to detourn it as a whole, without necessarily even altering the montage, by adding a soundtrack that made a powerful denunciation of the horrors of imperialist war and of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, which are continuing in the United States even now. Such a détournement — a very moderate one — is in the final analysis nothing more than the moral equivalent of the restoration of old paintings in museums." —Guy Debord & Gil Wolman, A User's Guide to Détournement (1956)
posted by Bureau of Public Secrets at 7:16 PM on July 1, 2009

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