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Updated 11:00 AM January 10, 2005
 

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DJ takes a new spin on old film with 'Rebirth of a Nation'

"Birth of a Nation"—widely considered to be a landmark but racist film—is in need of a remix, says the performer known as DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid.
(Photo courtesy Music And Art Management Inc.)

Not a remake, but a remix, says the artist, whose real name is Paul D. Miller.

Miller's version shakes up the movie with his innovative blend of images and music. He will combine footage from the film with other video imagery projected on three giant screens, including performance footage of dance master Bill T. Jones. The soundtrack is a pulsating live audio mix.

"I'm applying DJ techniques to cinema," he says. "The idea of the remix means that the original gets changed, and that's part of the point of all of this."

His remix clearly won't be an homage to the original D.W. Griffith film, a Civil War saga with a condescending portrayal of African American slaves.

"It's crazy racist, but it's also a technical feat for that era," Miller says of the 1915 movie. "It's pretty much a straight-up Ku Klux Klan propaganda film."

His performance—called "Rebirth of a Nation"—is part of the University's Martin Luther King Symposium. It is 8 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Power Center for the Performing Arts.

Prior to this performance, a showing of "Birth of a Nation" also took place Jan. 9 as part of the MLK Symposium.

Miller's performance will address several issues, he says, including terrorism. The Ku Klux Klan, featured prominently in "Birth of a Nation," was "one of the first American terror groups," Miller says.

"You can think of Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber as a contemporary update of what they were up to," he says. "What I'm doing is thinking about terrorism and thinking about multiple interpretations of history."

Another area in which the past can help us interpret modern-day happenings, he says, is the breakdown of voting patterns in the 2004 presidential elections. Look at the placement of the red states and blue states—those that leaned Republican or Democratic—and you'll see a near-replica of the line between the pre-Civil War slave states and free states, he says.

Miller says one of his main themes is that people need to be aware of the information they're getting from movies, music and other sources—whether it's a movie as old as "Birth of a Nation" or a song as recent as a Top 10 hit being played on the radio today.

"At the end of the day it's all about media literacy," he says. "We all need to think about what we're hearing and not be passive consumers."

Miller is the author of the recent book "Rhythm Science" (MIT Press, 2004). His CD "Celestial Mechanix" also was released last year. Information about both and more details about Miller are available at http://www.djspooky.com/ and information about the book is at http://www.rhythmscience.com.

Tickets for "Rebirth of a Nation" range from $16-36. Call (734) 764-2538 for more information about the performance, sponsored by the University Musical Society and the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives.

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