Sunday, October 31, 2004

Thomas Dixon biography


Finished reading American Racist, by Anthony Slide, a recently published biography of the novelist and film-maker Thomas Dixon. I was surprised at how interesting I found this book - a testament, no doubt, to Anthony Slide's talents as a film historian.
Thomas Dixon has a notorious reputation as the author of The Klansman, the book which served as the basis for D.W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation (1915). Dixon has been, rightly so, branded an arch-conservative obsessed with what he viewed as "the Negro problem." However, as American Racist shows, Dixon was also a complex and talented individual who, as well as writing a few of the more popular novels of the early twentieth century, was involved in the production of some eighteen films. (Dixon had a knack for leveraging the stories found in his books into stageplays and films.)
Thomas Dixon used the motion picture as a propaganda tool for his opinions on race, communism, socialism, and feminism. His most spectacular cinematic production, The Fall of a Nation (1916), argues for American preparedness and boasts a musical score by Victor Herbert, making it the first American feature film to have an original score by a major composer. (Like the majority of Dixon's films, The Fall of a Nation is now lost.)
Anthony Slide examines each of the author's films and discusses the novels from which they were adapted. Slide chronicles the Dixonr's transformation from a supporter of the original Ku Klux Klan in his early novels to an ardent critic of the modern Klan in his last film, Nation Aflame. Slide's book is the first work to discuss Dixon's work as a film-maker. Especially interesting was the book's final chapter, "Raymond Rohauer and the Dixon Legacy," which details the modern-day fight over the rights to The Birth of a Nation.

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