DJ Spooky remixes classic film at Hop

by Meredith Fraser | 1/18/05 6:00am

It is well-ordered chaos -- scattered slapdash poetry set into carefully coordinated motion.

Three screens show incendiary pictures from "Birth of a Nation" as a mix of hip-hop, classical and jungle music blast in the background. Bigoted storytelling is replaced with a postmodern experience that appeals to sight, sound and emotion all at once.

"Rebirth of a Nation," DJ Spooky's electronic "remix" of D.W. Griffith's classic 1915 film, exudes originality that's never been seen before. Spooky, born Paul Miller, performs his multimedia interpretation of Griffith's infamous film tonight in the Moore Theater.

Condensed from Griffith's three-hour film into one hour, "Rebirth of a Nation" focuses on the many social divisions in our culture. Economic, ethnic and political differences are shown through the original film with Miller's modern-day spin.

"In a certain sense what I'm doing is portraying the film as [Griffith] intended it," Miller says of his remix. "This is a film glorifying a horrible situation. And I think a modern sensibility is something where people will look at this and go like 'Oh, I can't believe this, I don't relate to it, I don't think this is right, what does he mean?'" he recently told National Public Radio. In his performance, Miller relates Griffith's film to a modern audience. "The film was made at a crossroads of American culture, and I feel like we are again at a type of cultural crossroads," said Spooky, "so I feel like this film in particular is relevant again in today's society."

Considering himself a writer and artist first (his book "Rhythm Science" appeared on The Guardian's top ten books list for 2004), Miller majored in philosophy and French literature at Bowdoin College and his background finds its way into Miller's writing and music. He leans toward social change and has strong opinions about America's current place in the world.

However, DJ Spooky was created ten years ago not as a means of advancing any high-minded ideas, but simply as a means of paying the rent. Since then he has become one of New York's most coveted acts. Miller's renowned DJ capabilities have taken him around the globe to places like Moscow, Japan, Australia and Vietnam to work with such musical luminaries as diverse as Oscar-winning composer Ryuchi Sakamoto, metal legends Slayer, Wu-Tang Clan MC Killa Priest and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. As profound as all those experiences have been, it was the 2000 presidential election that inspired him to try something starkly different.

"The political corruption that just seemed so stunningly obvious to me sort of triggered me into thinking about the endemic issues in American culture and how I could present them," said Miller. "["Birth of a Nation"] was the first film to define 'whiteness' and was an attempt to define what America was at the time. I tried to make ["Rebirth"] into a parable of contemporary culture."

"Rebirth of a Nation" was born. After digitizing Harvard University's full copy of the "Birth of a Nation" microfilm, Miller was able to slice scenes and form new segments of film. During the performance, he projects the sliced film segments onto three screens; this effectively creates a new storyline and new characterizations. During the performance, he simultaneously produces the musical score to the film.

Each performance is different, and Miller simply creates the story as he goes.

"There is no beginning, middle, and end. It's the idea of what happens in an environment of deconstruction," said Miller. "I have sort of applied the DJ technique to cinema."

"Rebirth of a Nation" premiered in Charleston, S.C., home of Griffith's original audience. Now, after over 30 performances, Miller still wants his multimedia spectacle to be seen by audiences of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs.

"America as a whole has selective amnesia, and I feel like ["Rebirth of a Nation"] poses questions towards this amnesia," said Miller.

"Rebirth of a Nation" starts at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $5 for Dartmouth students and $22 for the general public.