Putting the Historical Spin in Defense of D.W. Griffith Award

In defending the DGA's bone-headed decision to "retire" the D.W. Griffith Award, Ted Elliott's own words betray him ("The DGA Is Right, D.W. Griffith Was Wrong," Dec. 27). He writes, "It is given to honor a director whose lifetime achievements are deemed worthy of extraordinary recognition."

Exactly.

The award is being retired because of one film. It does not take into account Griffith's true masterpiece, "Intolerance," which he made primarily as an apology for "The Birth of a Nation." Nor does it acknowledge such potent features as "Hearts of the World," "Broken Blossoms," "Way Down East," "Orphans of the Storm," "Isn't Life Wonderful?," "Abraham Lincoln" and on and on, all of which display a singular and powerful love of humanity.

Had the whole of Griffith's career been considered, this would never have been an issue, but the desire to be PC almost invariably overrides CS (common sense).

MICHAEL SCHLESINGER

Sherman Oaks

Thank you, Ted Elliott, for establishing the criteria for using the names of the great men and women of history. I would like for you to continue your good work by approaching all the cities, counties and states that have named streets, schools, buildings and themselves after Thomas Jefferson, and convincing them that, as an unrepentant slave owner, we should banish him to historical infamy.

Never mind that he risked his very life to persuade his generation to seek liberty for our country; never mind that he produced the greatest statement of those liberties yet recorded; let us forget his service to our country as ambassador, secretary of state, vice president and president. Let's ignore his scientific and literary achievements; after all, he did commit a heinous moral crime that negates all the rest of his life.

TOM VAN HUSS

Playa del Rey

Ted Elliott's claim that D.W. Griffith made the wrong decision in choosing to make "The Birth of a Nation" illustrates a greater ignorance of the first decades of this century than his introductory comments suggest.

Civil War-based novels and plays had long been popular, especially in the South and Midwest. Thomas Dixon's "The Clansman," on which Griffith's film was based, had been dramatized and performed regularly and successfully; the first dramatic experience of future director Raoul Walsh, who played Booth in "The Birth of a Nation," was as a Klansman in a Texas production of the play a decade earlier.

During this period these works were almost always sympathetic to the South, lamenting the loss of an ideal fairy-tale society without considering the racial and social realities. In such a context, Griffith would not have had any misgivings about making a film that reflected the "reality" of the Reconstruction times as it had been told to him by his grandfather.

According to Richard Schickel, his most recent biographer, his shock at discovering his views were not shared by all Americans, white as well as black, was genuine. The controversy over "The Birth of a Nation" did force American society to confront racial issues that had previously not been considered proper subjects for polite discussion and was a pioneering factor in what 40 years later would develop into the civil rights movement.

RICK MITCHELL

Los Angeles

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