Monday, 27 March 2017

Classic Movie Fact of the Week #3

Did you know that...
The first sequel in motion picture history was The Fall of a Nation (1916), which is a follow-up to D. W. Griffith's epic drama The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Based on Thomas Dixon Jr.'s novel and play The Clansman, The Birth of a Nation changed the history of American cinema. With a stellar cast that included Lillian Gish and future Academy Award-winner Donald Crisp, the three-hour film chronicled the relationship of two families during the American Civil War and Reconstruction era over the course of several years. The film was a great financial success, although it created a wave of controversy for its portrayal of black men as unintelligent and agressive towards white women and the portrayal of the Klu Klux Klan as an heroic force.

Two of the few surviving frames from The Fall of the Nation

Hoping to capitalize on the massive success of The Birth of a Nation, Dixon decided to adapt his novel The Fall of a Nation into a feature film, which he also directed. Starring Lorraine Huling, Percy Standing and Arthur Shirley, The Fall of a Nation followed the same ideology of white supremacy as its predecessor, but within the context of a «call-to-arms» tale in the mid-War period. However, while The Birth of a Nation dramatized real-life events that occured during the Civil War and Reconstruction era, the sequel focused instead on a hypothetical future where the United States' pacifism nearly leads to its downfall. Set roughly between 1916 and 1919, The Fall of a Nation also touched on the issues of American invasion, woman suffrage and female emancipation.

Unlike its predecessor, The Fall of a Nation was neither a critical or commercial success and it was the only film produced by Dixon Studios before the company collapsed in 1921. As such, the picture was not widely preserved and no copies are known to exist. All that remains today is a small number of stills and Victor Herbert's musical score, the latter of which is held in possession of the Library of Congress. 

American Racist: The Life and Films of Thomas Dixon by Anthony Slide (The University Press of Kentucky, 2004)
D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation: A History of the Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time by Melvyn Stokes (2008)
Film Sequels: Theory and Practice from Hollywood to Bollywood by Carolyn Jess-Cooke (Edinburgh University Press, 2009)

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