D.W. Griffith’s The Mended Lute – Film + Director’s-style Commentary
The American Studies and History Podcast presents an academic audio commentary on D.W. Griffith’s 1909 film, The Mended Lute. The video below contains the entire 8 minute original film with a new audio commentary track exploring the racist attitudes which sit at the heart of this production.
The Mended Lute with Academic Commentary
In 1915, film making pioneer, D. W. Griffith released The Birth of a Nation, a piece of disturbingly racist cinema that presented African Americans as animalistic, buffoonish, sub-human creatures. It became a classic of the era, the quintessential example of racism in early cinema but six years prior to the release of that monstrosity Griffith created a short film which exposed contemporary Native American stereotypes (many of which are shockingly similar to Disney’s 2013 disaster, The Lone Ranger). If The Birth of a Nation reflected unnerving contemporary ideas about African Americans and the role of the Ku Klux Klan in American history, then this earlier short –called The Mended Lute– provides us with a valuable glimpse of how Native Americans were seen and stereotyped. We should remember that when this film was made in 1909, the Wounded Knee Massacre had occurred less than twenty years before. At the time of The Mended Lute’s release the Indians were routinely viewed as savages but what Griffith shows us is the nuance contained within that view. In this piece, savagery existed in two distinct forms – the noble, versus the ignoble. One could be a noble savage, a person who lived in a state close to nature but who was personally, perhaps even spiritually, enriched by the experience. In contrast, pure savagery, or ignoble savagery, was the model most commonly used to justify the recent and historic atrocities suffered by Native America. In The Mended Lute Griffith helps to illuminate how white Americans viewed the Indians and the competing, often contradictory ideas that sat at the heart of that view. Griffith may have only set out to create a short romantic adventure but what he provides us with in The Mended Lute is an opportunity to consider the specific type of racism that was directed at Native Americans in early twentieth century; a study on the nature of savagery; savage versus noble savage.
What is an ‘Academic Commentary’?
Think of a third-party scholastic director’s commentary; an audio track that plays over the top of a film which explores the movie’s social, cultural, and historic significance. Whereas productions like Rifftrax have added comedy audio tracks to films, these academic commentaries instead aim to add depth to classic features.
Is the video in this episode the complete film?
Yes, this presentation contains a complete edition of The Mended Lute with the new academic audio commentary track added over the top.
Can I download this video as a podcast?
Yes, soon. There are some small technical hurdles to overcome but this video should be released as a podcast shortly.