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DJ Spooky Arrives on Campus

Laura Miller | Tuesday, October 2, 2007

On Saturday, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center held a screening of the D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, “Birth of a Nation.” It was the first segment of a three-part series presented by the DPAC that was intended to contextualize this controversial film.

The title is well known, and is infamous for its horrendously racist content. The film is split into two parts, the first focusing on the Civil War and the second on Reconstruction. Both parts feature the interaction of two families, the Camerons and the Stonemans, who represent families of the South and North, respectively. The first part of the film is somewhat pedantic to the modern day viewer – not really illuminating or surprising in any particular respect. But as the film launches into its second part, a markedly different picture comes into view. The film’s position on Reconstruction becomes evident when a more obvious racist mentality comes into play.

The film’s intent evolves into a recruitment technique for the Ku Klux Klan. It characterizes the post-war years as ones that were rife with persecution of whites and upheaval of the white-democratic standard followed by the institution of an uneducated black anarchy.

Terms such as the “Aryan birthright” emerge, attempting to unite whites against blacks in a new racial war.

From a cinematographic perspective, the lengthy film was a masterpiece of its time. It had a large budget and excellent scenes and special effects. From a social and political perspective, the film twisted the events of Reconstruction into a fabricated history that served to recruit KKK members and dehumanize African-Americans.

Due to the obvious offensive nature of the content, the Performing Arts Center has framed the film as part of a three-part series. On Tuesday night, there was a panel presentation that sought to gain a variety of perspectives from a cross-section of academic areas such as the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, Africana Studies and the Center for Social Concerns. Paul Miller, also known as DJ Spooky, will be performing Wednesday to wrap up the series.

DJ Spooky is an artist who melds a variety of disciplines in order to address a wide span of controversial social issues. He uses recordings of his own music along with pictures, film and graphics to ask the viewer to consider important and difficult questions.

His performance on Wednesday, entitled “Rebirth of a Nation,” is an innovative remix of D.W. Griffith’s original 1915 film. Using his talents as DJ and artist, DJ Spooky will attempt to create a response to Griffith’s film from the film itself – an enormous feat, given the nature of the movie.

DJ Spooky relies on his disc jockey skills to manipulate the “variables” of the film through intercuts. The manipulation of these new cuts will elicit new meaning from the original work.

Other articles and samplings of Spooky’s multimedia presentations can be found on his Web site at www.djspooky.com. DJ Spooky will be performing his “Rebirth of a Nation” at 8 p.m. tonight on the Decio Mainstage Theater in the Debartolo Performing Arts Center.