Discuss how the filmmaker contributed to the development of cinematic language.
Birth of a Nation (1915)
The cinematic language has developed over time. There are very many filmmakers who are credited with developing the language used today in making films. In evaluating how the filmmakers impacted to the advancement of the language used in cinemas, this essay will make references to the Birth of a Nation directed by D.W Griffith that was produced during the year 1915. The article will tackle the tackle the shots, as well as the angles that were taken when producing the film. It will also show how Griffith used these techniques to ensure that he brings out the emotional content as well as the impacts of the scenes in the film.
The plot of this film rotates around two families that are living on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon. They become friends when their sons attend the same school. The Stonemans who are living in the Northern part are in Washington DC. They also own a rural gateway found in Pennsylvania. The Stoneman is the head of his family. The southern family is known as Camerons. They own a plantation in South Carolina. In their plantation farm, some slaves pick cotton as they dance to their master (Willan, 643).
The Birth of a Nation is one of the films that were very instrumental in changing the language of cinema. It should also be known that did not invent each and every technique that was used in the film. He just advanced on them. The films that he directed were quite good in using these techniques. This might have been because he was more creative as compared to other movie directors. In his film, the Birth of a Nation, a lot of improvements can be seen. The film, therefore, signified the climax of visual policies that were used in voicing the tale that the motion picture industries had been working on for centuries.
There are numerous production approaches in this film. One of the new styles that were used in the film is what is known as the nighttime photography. This feature was achieved by firing the flares of magnesium into the night. They were used for the split screen sequence. It was mainly used for the sacking of the Atlanta. It is because of this that the film is always said to be the first one to use many extras so to recreate battle scenes. The Birth of a Nation is also the initial film that had a unique score. In ordinary filming, the two-reelers are set to screen in an auditorium. There would always be a person playing the piano. The aim of incorporating the piano is to improve the general ambiance of the music (Willan, 625). The aim is to ensure that each and every screening has a totally different soundtrack. Griffith also added the historical references so as to make the documentary authentic. Another important innovation that he included in the film were the intertitles of people like Woodrow Wilson makes the film an excellent one. The composition of shots also helps in recasting the famous paintings or the photographs that showed the adverse impacts of the civil war (Willan, 633).
Camera angles and distance
Other directors always argued that if people had gone to the auditorium to watch a film, they would be happy seeing every part of that actors. Griffith realized that the actors would be more appealing if different angles were used when taking the pictures. He noticed that by zooming into the subject, more details would be visible. During the shooting of the film, there was, therefore, zooming so as to show the reaction on the face of actors. Taking of close-ups helped in personalizing the expressions of the character, and this is really valuable for the understanding of the film. Long shots were also critical in the film as they also added value. Long shots are majorly used so that the viewer can see the foreground as well as the background of the film. There are very good shots immediately the film starts. There is a mother together with her children. They are weeping on the side of the hill. The photographer moves the camera horizontally (panning). It is through the panning that we can see what the mothers and her children were looking at. The audience realizes that they were watching General Sherman’s army that was marching. Through this shot, we, therefore, see the importance of a long shot (Doane, 111).
Another important element that is seen in the film is the occurrence of multiple planes. The multiple planes are good as they enable the viewer to give the viewer an opportunity interpret numerous scenes. This might involve what is happening in the back, middle, and foreground. This is seen in many scenes like in the battlefield. The use of multiple planes is also seen in the busy interiors. The use of the multiple planes is vital as it helps in making the sequences used authentic.
Another important way through which Griffith contributed to the development of the cinematic language is through developing the use of transitions. Transitioning is the change from one scene to another. The transitions help in connecting two or more scenes together. It makes the information flow cohesively. In this film, he uses a lot of dissolves or what is known as fade to black in the cinematic language. It is transitioning gradually from one image to the next. While transitioning, the camera positions used in the films were fixed. The camera people could then dissolve from a courtroom that is empty to a courtroom full of people. These were the newly elected representatives. Through this, Griffith manages to show that these people overran the court and tarnished the whole room as well as its traditions.
Another milestone in the field of cinematography that was brought by Griffith is the use of flashbacks. He called his flashback the switchback. When using the flashback, there is a return to the past events. The flashback always interrupts the forward progress of the movie. Through using these stylistic devices, the gets to know of what transpired previously. The Birth of a Nation also employs the use of a style known as “cutting back and forth.” Cutting back and forth is always used simultaneously when scenes occur together. Griffith also used what is known as parallel editing. In parallel editing, he was trying to show that in the film, there could be things that stage acting could not do. In parallel editing, the duration of certain shots is always extended. This is achieved through making very fast cuts between them. The result is bringing the storyline to climax through using suspense and intensity. The last scenes in the Klan rescue are done using the parallel editing (Willan, 650).
From the above discussion, it is seen that Griffith in The Birth of Nation contributed greatly when it comes to the development of cinematic language. Some of the styles that he introduced in the film are the use of close-up shots, innovations as well as the use of flashbacks. In addition to these styles, he also used the parallel editing.
Willan, Brian. “‘Cinematographic Calamity’ Or ‘Soul-Stirring Appeal To Every Briton’: Birth Of A Nation In England And South Africa, 1915–1931.” Journal Of Southern African Studies 39.3 (2013): 623-640. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
Doane, Mary Ann. “Facing A Universal Language.” New German Critique 41.122 (2014): 111. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
“Themes in The Birth of a Nation.” American Studies @ The University of Virginia. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.