Ever since D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation unveiled its fables of the Reconstruction, viewers have struggled to reconcile the movie’s remarkable visual language with the reprehensible racism on display. For DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller), there’s an even bigger issue at hand: Did the spectacle act as a how-to for modern media’s revisionist histories? Billed as “a DJ mix applied to cinema,” Spooky’s beat-laden breakdown is ostensibly an attempt to hold Griffith’s 1915 masterpiece of ignorance accountable. Never mind the multitude of pioneering tricks that are now Filmmaking 101. Let’s focus on the damage done.
What’s onscreen, however, is just a lukewarm rehash with hipster cachet. Other than a few computerized zooms here and there, Rebirth merely trims the original’s scenes and adds in somber grad-school-thesis narration about Griffith’s antimiscegenation views. But that’s belaboring the obvious; even a casual viewer can spot the racism hidden in plain view. Worse, the film’s intriguing tie-in to whitewashing Iraq, Katrina et al. is relegated to a brief coda. Why not juxtapose Griffith’s vintage bile with snippets of today’s manipulated news bites and make the connection explicit? Use the film’s tools against it and perform your intended act of jujitsu criticism. Mix shit up, Mr. DJ; don’t just sample the hate wholesale.—David Fear
Opens Mon; MoMA. Find showtimes