“He achieved what no other known man has ever achieved,” wrote James Agee. “To watch his work is like being witness to the beginning of melody, or the first conscious use of the lever or the wheel; the emergence, coordination, and first eloquence of language; the birth of an art: and to realize that this is all the work of one man.” The man was D.W. Griffith. The work climaxed in a single movie, The Birth of a Nation, “the first, the most stunning and durably audacious of all American film masterpieces,” wrote Arlene Croce, “and the most wonderful movie ever made.” Birth joined aesthetic invention to mass appeal. Nothing like it had ever been seen before, and it was seen by millions more people than had ever seen any other movie, more than would see any other movie for half a century. A Variety poll of two hundred film critics voted The Birth of a Nation the greatest motion picture in the first fifty years of the industry. 1