Feature Drama | 1910 | Silent | B/W
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Birth of a Nation extract
"The bringing of the African to America planted the first seed of dis-union." Three African men, bound together, bow down in front of a man in a black cloak who stands on a pedestal, raising his arms above them. "The abolitionists of the Nineteenth century demanding the freeing of the slaves." In a crowded lecture hall men and women sit. Three African slaves sit at a table on the stage. A man walks around slowly with a collection plate. "In 1860 a great parliamentary leader whom we shall call Austin Stoneman was rising to power in the National House of Representatives. We find him with his young daughter Elise, in her apartments in Washington." A man sits, his daughter (Lillian Gish) in an elaborate dress, fusses over him. She runs outside clutching a white cat. She wanders over to where two suited men stand talking. One suddenly rushes off and Elise prods the other one as he feigns sleep. The first man returns to fetch his friend and they enter the house together. Elise skips behind them. "In the Southland. Piedmont, South Carolina, the home of the Camerons. Where life runs in a quaintly way that is to be no more." Two girls wander down the road to greet their mother who stands outside their house in the sunshine. A carriage stands next to the pavement. "Bennie Cameron, the eldest son." A man in top and tails walks up to the garden gate and looks around. A cart crowded with slaves drives past and two children fall off. But a man following behind picks them up by their dungarees and carries them along. Bennie walks up to the carriage which the two girls have climbed into, and stands talking to them. "The mother and the little pet sister." A woman sits, rocking in her chair. At her knees sits a young girl doing embroidery. Across the room, her father sits drinking a cup of tea. "Hostilities" At the mans feet a cat and dog sit. The cat attacks the puppy, its claws sunk into its belly. The dog writhes helplessly. The mans hand reaches down to pet them.
"Margaret Cameron, a daughter of the south. Trained in the manners of the old school." A girl walks demurely down a set of steps into a hallway. She sees a letter on a table and, picking it up, races through the room. She checks herself at the last minute, resuming her demure posture, trying to hide a smile. "Chums - the younger sons North and South." Two men stand smiling. One gestures to the others hat, saying "Where did you get that hat?" the other, taking offense, punches his brother, chasing him around the house. The mother and father stand proudly in the hallway as two men and their daughters walk in. Outside the two boys still fight playfully. The father looks around the hallway, wondering where they are. He pokes his head outside to see them punching each other. As he walks up, they pretend to have been hugging. Behind his back, they threaten each other, then genuinely hug. The hall is empty and the boys stroll in. They are introduced to another boy and the three of them race up the stairs together. "Over the plantation to the cotton fields" A well-dressed man and woman and their child wander in the sunshine, led by an old man with a limp. They walk by the side of a lake. "By way of Love Valley" The couple wander on. In the cotton fields a black couple dressed in rags pick cotton. The man walks past, aloof, with his daughter. Another couple wander up. The Cameron boy picks a cotton flower and, twisting it in his fingers, shows it to the other couple. The Stoneman boy stands admiring a photograph which he has taken from his pocket. His friend runs up and snatches it from him. "He finds the ideal of his dreams in the picture of Elsie Stoneman, his friends sister, whom he has never seen." The man looks, entranced, at the photograph (Lillian Gish) He smiles to himself and pockets the photograph, beckoning the others on. The man and woman working in the field straighten up to watch them go. "In the slave quarters. The two - hour interval given for dinner, out of their working day from six to six." The touring group stand and watch as a group of slaves dance. They smile at one another and the leader of the party throws a coin at their feet and moves on. The gathered crowd breaks up. "The gathering storm. The power of the soverign states, established when Lord Cornwallis surrendered to the individual colonies in 1781, is threatened by the new administration." Mr. Cameron and his wife sit outside, watching the world go by. A mustached man comes up behind them, showing them a newspaper article. They sit, troubled.
The rest of the family walk back from their sight-seeing, smiling. Their father shows them the newspaper, it reads "If the North carries the election, the South will secede." Mr Stoneman talks deteminedly, clenching his fist. "The Stoneman library in Washington where his daughter never visits. Charles Sumner, leader of the Senate confers with the master of Congress." The two men sit in a study at a small table. They are involved in a serious discussion. "Lydia Brown, Stonemans housekeeper." A woman stands, a rag tied around her head, she poses like a lady, holding out her dusting cloth which she throws at another maid. In the study, the two men argue. Mr. Stoneman lifts up his wig and itches underneath it. "The mulatto aroused from ambitious dreamings by Sumners curt orders." The two men stand up and shake hands. They walk out of the room together. In the hall, the housekeeper stands posed. Charles Sumner, walking up behind her, shoos her away. Mr. Stoneman stands alone in the study arranging his wig. Lydia, the housekeeper, offers Mr. Sumner his hat then as he reaches for it, drops it on the floor. He snatches it up and pushes her away as he polishes it. As he walks out, she spits and shouts after him. She collapses on the floor in tears, ripping at her bodice. She looks acrosswith a crafty expression to see Mr. Stoneman busy in his study looking over papers. "The great leaders weakness that is to blight a nation." The house keeper sits, rolling her eyes as Mr. Stoneman wanders past. She fakes tears and when Mr. Stoneman asks her whats wrong she explains that she was attacked by Mr. Sumner. He puts his arm around her to comfort her. "The visitors called back to their Northern home. The chums promise to meet again." The two boys stepping out into the sunshine, shake hands. "Young Stoneman vows the old vow that his only dreams shall be of her till they meet again." The mustached man stands talking to the Elise in the hallway of the house. His friend wanders up and gestures them outside where they meet the rest of the family. The four brothers bid goodbye to their family who wave as their car speeds off.
The young boy Stoneman is waved off by his friend who still holds onto the photograph of Elise, and as they go back into the house, he watches her, shiftily. "The first call for 75, 000 volunteers. President Lincoln signing the proclamation. An historical facsimile of the Presidents Executive office on that occasion after Nicolay and Hay in 'Lincoln a History' Lincoln sits, a group of men stand behind him as a document is read to him. He suddenly gets up, taking the sheet of paper. Putting it on the table, he nods and, arranging his glasses, signs it. "Abraham Lincoln uses the Presidential office for the first time in history to call for volunteers to enforce the rule of the coming nation over the individual states." Lincoln finishes signing the document and blots the ink. He hands it over to a man who rushes it out of the office. The other men gather together and stroll off, leaving Lincoln sitting thoughtfully at the table. He takes out a hankerchief and presses it against his eyes. "The Stoneman brothers departing to join their regement." The two boys playfully chase Elise, who stops suddenly, admiring their uniforms. She hugs her brother then, stopping his friend, hugs him too. They jump through the bushes. She jokes with the friend, aiming an imaginary rifle at him. As they leave, she runs to her mother, collapsing in tears at her feet. "Elise on her return to her aunts home in Washington, tells her father of her brothers leaving for the front." Elise, in a pale dress and black head scarf, carrying a carpet bag, twirls into the room. She greets her father who sits in thought. "After the first battle of Bull Run, Piedmonts farewell ball on the eve of the departure of its quota of troops for the front." In a crowded hall couples dance, weaving in and out of one another. Outside, people are silhouetted against a blazing bonfire. They huddle together, cheering. By a tree, friends gather, talking. People gather around the fire, walking arm in arm. A man strides up, carrying a flaming torch.
In the hall, couples dance together, stopping and starting in unison. One of the Stoneman briothers, in his military uniform, struts into the hall. "While youth dances the night away, childhood and old age, slumber." The Stoneman boy opens the door to the a study quietly to see his father asleep in an armchair by the fire and his young sister wrapped in a blanket on the sofa. He takes a flag and dangles it into the sleeping girls face until she fidgets and wakes up, hugging him when she opens her eyes. She falls asleep again and he tucks the blanket around her and creeps out. In the hall, the dancing becomes ever more complicated. The Stoneman boy brings in an American flag and the guests all cheer. "Daybreak. The time set for the troops' depature." A sunny steet. People stand talking together "The assembly call" A man in uniform blows a bugle. In the dance hall the revelers, hearing the sound, suddenly stop dancing. Outside, men on horses race down the streets, crowds standing and cheering on every side. In the Stonemans house, people stand talking. Suddenly the son looks up. The bugler sounds his horn again. The Stoneman boy smiles. In the hallway people race into action. Outside the house soldiers stream out of the houses.In the study, Mr. Stoneman comes to and walks out, the little girl sits up, rubbing her eyes. In the hall girls cheer off their men. In the stuidy the soldier Stoneman says goodbye to his little sister. Outside, a man races up on a horse. In the study, the boy lifts up his sister, pointing out to her a flag hanging from the ceiling which reads 'Victory or death. Conquer we must - for our cause is just." The little girl hugs her brother. "A mothers gift to the cause - three sons off for the war." The boys parents and the two brothers walk into the study. Outside, the boy greets the man on the horse, saluting him. The gathered crowds cheer, lines of men in uniform race forwards. In the house, the three brothers prepare to say their last farewell. In the street everyone cheers as the army marching band walk through the streets followed by rows and rows of soldiers. The Stoneman brothers stand on the steps to their house. They say their last farewells, leaving their family in tears. In the street, the procession has come to a halt. The brothers mount their horses and smile to the crowds as they lead off the march. The family crowd together, the women sobbing. They wander indoors, the father smiling, stays to watch. The crowds cheer and march after the troops.
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