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  • Kalyn McCall

D.W. Griffith in Orange County, California

D.W. Griffith made cinematic history in Orange County more than once.

In 1910, D.W. Griffith recorded one of his first films and one of the first films to be shot primarily in Orange County. Choosing the Mission San Juan Capistrano and San Juan Canyon as his backdrops, Griffith shot his Western film The Two Brothers (1910). The short film told the story of two brothers in the era of the Spanish dons. While shooting this film, Griffith honed his craft that would make him a household name, practicing panoramic shots, tracking, and dramatic camera angles.

Watch the full short film here:

In addition to the romance of the mission, Griffith was captivated by Orange County's natural beauty as well. Drawn to the waters, Griffith used Rocky Point (now Corona Del Mar) for various shots in his film The Sands of Dee (1912). The film tells the story of a young woman living by the sea with her parents. She falls in love with an artist, and eventually, things turn into tragedy. The Sands of Dee also starred Mae Marsh, who began her acting career with Griffith and would go on to star as Flora Cameron in Griffith's greatest epic.

Watch the full short film here:

A few years later, Griffith returned to Orange County and changed the world by perfecting the narrative motion picture. The Birth of a Nation (1915), based on Thomas Dixon's novel The Clansman (1905), was one of the world's first blockbusters and the first long-form film. The film not only memorialized a Southern vision of the Civil War and Reconstruction but was a cinematic marvel embracing many new innovative technologies and techniques. His epic masterpiece told the story of North and South before, during, and after the war, culminating in the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, America's first superheroes. Many of the film's most iconic and triumphant scenes of the Klan riding to restore order in the South were filmed on location in Los Angeles and Orange counties (the film's music has been changed in this clip). This film went on to inspire the birth of the second Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s (of which Orange County had several chapters) and the celebration of former Confederates and Klansmen like Orange County's H.W. Head.

Watch the full motion picture here:


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