- Hardcover: 264 pages
- Publisher: University Press of Kentucky (September 10, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0813123283
- ISBN-13: 978-0813123288
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,772,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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American Racist: The Life and Films of Thomas Dixon Hardcover – September 10, 2004
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"In addition to detailed synopses of films, plays, and novels, Slide chronicles multiple aspects of the making of Dixon's films, including financing, casting, promotion, and reception. Slide also provides context that gives the reader a more nuanced understanding of the world in which Dixon wrote."―American Literature
"The most comprehensive account available of Dixon's relationship with motion pictures. . . . A timely reminder that the use of cinema to depict history or to openly express political views has a long and controversial legacy."―Bowling Green Daily News
"Slide writes in an easily readable style. . . . He seems to have warmed to his subject, yet he doesn't overstress Dixon's virtues or downplay his shortcomings."―Charlotte Observer
"A compelling, overlooked subject. . . . This book will be welcomed by scholars of race and silent cinema and by anyone interested in the intersection of politics and film."―Cineaste
"Students in film studies, American Literature, ethnic studies, and southern studies will find value in Slide's book."―Journal of American History
"It's a fascinating, renegade life, and Slide tells up as much of it as we are likely to know."―Palm Beach Post
"Slide has long had a reputation as one of the most productive and knowledgeable film historians outside the academy. American Racist, with its authoritative research and incisive commentary, will only affirm that standing."―Matthew H. Bernstein, Film Quarterly
About the Author
Anthony Slide is the author of numerous books, including Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses and The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville.
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During the early 1980s I acquired a copy of THE CLANSMAN (1905) by Thomas Dixon. Familiar with D.W. Griffith's feature film version THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915), I scanned the opening pages with some interest but the purple nature of its prose and a virulent racism far exceeding anything found in the notorious film version prevented any further excavation on my part. The book is now missing since my move across the Atlantic and until I read this recent biography I believed both Dixon and his works worthy of consignment to oblivion. However, this is a misguided judgement. If Anthony Slide neither wishes to praise Dixon nor to bury him, he has instead provided a highly insightful study into an author whose ideology requires appropriate undersdtanding rather than immediate rejection.
Slide's book places Dixon's work in a relevant socio-historical context necessary to understand a writer who, though promoting repugnant ideals, often reflected certain dominant ideas of his era. Dixon was also a lawyer, minister, playwright, and contemporary auteur responsible for the production of some eighteen feature films between 1914 and 1937, the most famous being THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Yet his racism was contradictory. Although sharing views similar to those of Leni Riefenstahl concerning African-Americans, he never deigrated Jews and he respected Native Americans. He never supported the Southern cause in the Civil War but espoused reconciliation and union instead. However, like Griffith, Dixon was influenced by the dark myth of Reconstruction and feared the supposed Negro threat to American life. But, as Slide shows, these views differed little from those held by Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson. They would certainly not receive unqualified approval from today's Aryan Nation since Dixon's ideology contained several contradictions that Slide analyzes throughout his study.
Although Griffith's film revived the fortunes of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, Dixon never supported its rebirth and even condemned it as his 1907 novel THE TRAITOR and his last screen credit NATION AFLAME (1937) show. Like Griffith, he idealized a remove historical image of an organization that was actually disbanded by its creator Nathan Bedford Forrest two years after its foundation in 1867 as John Wyeth mentions in his still classic study THAT DEVIL FORREST (1899). Slide's chapters emphasize that "Dixon is a complex character, and while his on-screen commentary on race, on miscegenation, on women's uffrage, on socialism, and on communism may appear outmoded, one should never doubt Dixon's integrity or his supreme faith in his Southern philosophy." (7) He saw the South as being representative of any American state espousing common conservative values against elements felt to be alien such as the Negro, feminism, and socialism. In other words, Dixon had much in common with the contemporary ideas examined by Richard Slotkin in THE FATAL ENVIRONMENT: THE MYTH OF CUSTER IN THE AGE OF INDUSTRIALIZATION, 1800-1890 (1988)
Like Griffith, Dixon saw motion pictures not just as entertainment but more as a means for promoting serious ideas. Thus Slide concentrates on Dixon in terms of his role as a member of the contemporary film community rather than as a literary figure. The first four chapters place Dixon within the necessary historical context to understand his beliefs as well as his reproductions of Southern history on print, stage, and film. After THE BIRTH OF A NATION, Dixon concentrated more on cinema. But, despite his racial views, he was often ahead of his time on other issues such as supporting animal rights (like Jack London in his posthumous 1917 novel MICHAEL, BROTHER OF JERRY, opposing capital punishment, and protesting against scientific involvement in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction as his unproduced one-act play THE HOPE OF THE WORLD (1924) reveals. Yet despite espousing segregation and opposing miscegenation, Dixon never held any personal animosity against blacks like later twentieth century racists; instead Dixon believed in separate development allowing the race to follow its own particular cultural and historical destiny as he saw it, one that could never match the achievements of white civilization. However, in the opening chapters, Slide suggests that Dixon may have struggled against repressed sexual feelings involving black males and white females manifesting themselves in badly written purple prose passages in novels such as THE LEOPARD'S SPOTS (1902) and THE CLANSMAN (1905). Slide cites a telephone conversation he had with James Zebulon Wright during 2003 concerning Dixon's first sexual experience with his black friend Dick (33). In 1996, Wright wrote an unpublished doctoral dissertation on Dixon and had access to many of the author's private papers which his widow later destroyed. In his 1984 study, THE CRUCIBLE OF RACE, Joel Williamson states that Dixon wrote THE LEOPARD'S SPOTS believing that his mother has been sexually molested when a child by a black man. Slide also reveals that Dixon entered into negotations for a Kinemacolor version of THE CLANSMAN in 1911 but it is unlikely that any footage was shot. But THE BIRTH OF A NATION boosted the status of both Dixon and Griffith leading to the former directing THE FALL OF A NATION the following year. The film encouraged a developing pro-war mood in America. and doing quite well at the box-office. Since the film (like other Dixon collaborations)has not survived, it is difficult to judge the quality of this work. These missing films result in Slide undertaking a necessary, but problematic, reconstruction by secondary sources which often hinder the necessity of having complete access to all the relevant evidence needed to evaluate fully the historical implications of the material.
Dixon's views on female emancipation were also antiquated as Slide shows in his comparison of the two film versions of THE FOOLISH VIRGIN (1916, 1924). Socialism was also a threat to the fabric of American society as Dixon's second novel THE ONE WOMAN (1903) and its 1918 film version reveals. But although Dixon shared contemporary anti-Red sentiments displayed in his novels COMRADES (1909) and THE ROOT OF EVIL (1911), contradictory elements also appear in the text especially in the latter work. Slide believes that this book "is better identified as an attack on capitalism, and there are many passages that might well be regarded as appopriate to the early years of the twenty-first century rather than the early years of the twentieth." (127) Dixon also attacks slavery in this novel which Slide argues "almost compensates for the worst excesses of racism to be found elsewhere in Dixon's writings." (130)
Slide also shows that the 1920s represented Dixon's most productive period as a journeyman scenarist before the Wall Street Crash. Dixon later failed to change with the times despite his early support for the New Deal and he tended to repeat formulas. However, Dixon contributed storylines to four contemporary Westerns and several melodramas. He also returned to directing and scripting THE MARK OF THE BEAST (1924), one of the first American films to deal with psychoanalysis long before LADY IN THE DARK (1944) and SPELLBOUND (1945. The con cluding chapters deal with the last adaptation of Dixon's anti-Klan novel NATION AFLAME (1937), the final obscure years before his death in 1946, and Raymond Rohauer's attempts to gain exclusive copyright of THE BIRTH OF A NATION.
AMERICAN RACIST is a pioneering work. In many ways, it illustrates important issues of character complexity and tensions affecting certain historical eras that also appear in Maureen 0'Hara's TIS HERSELF (2004)and Julie Gottlieb's 2000 study FEMININE FASCISTS. 0'Hara discusses dark Ford's contradictory and his hidden bi-sexuality while Gottlieb traces the role of former suffragettes in Oswald Mosely's British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. People and historical events are often not as monologic as politically correct academics, attempting to control information and silence alternative voices in ways resembling totalitarian governments, wish. Anthony Slide's book is a welcome addition to the many informed and scholarly studies written outside the mainstream that this particular press has encouraged. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder alongside Stephen Youngkin's exellent biography of Peter Lorre, THE LOST ONE (2005). The long awaited Orson Welles biography by Joseph McBride will soon add to the prestigious list of publications that this company has issued over the past ten years.