Focusing on the period from 1910 to 1915, this article argues that Richard Wagner's work was crucial to the development of American cinema. Critics and artists not only advocated Wagner's composition techniques for film accompaniment, but also turned Wagner into an emblem for far broader reforms. These reforms included a greater integration of music and film, a conception of film as a high art, and a conception of film as a medium for national purification and bourgeoisification. These reforms, and their connection to Wagner, helped set the stage for the use of "The Ride of the Valkyries" in D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915).