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Child of Giants: My Journey with Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lange

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Thomas Ropelewski
Directed by Thomas Ropelewski
DVD, color, 97 min.
College - Adult
Art, Photography, Biography, American Studies

Reviewed by Rue McKenzie, University of South Florida, Tampa

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 5/20/2011

Child of Giants: My Journey with Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lange immediately pulls the viewer into the world of two great artists from the perspective of their first born child. The personal stories told primarily by Daniel Rhodes Dixon reflect lives filled with creativity, uncertainty, passion, and, at times, despair. While providing an excellent overview of the paintings of Maynard Dixon and the photographs of Dorothea Lange, the family dynamics and social culture of the first half of the 20th century are the true focus of the documentary.

Maynard Dixon is best known for his portrayal of the American West through paintings. Dorothea Lange’s Depression-era photographs, and her visual account of the relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II, are widely recognized for their discerning portrayal of the human condition. These two artistic and social nonconformists were also very complicated individuals, and having them as parents is documented as both challenging and, at times, rewarding. Daniel Dixon openly shares intimate and sometimes disturbing accounts of his life experiences as they relate to his parents and other family members. But he doesn’t focus on himself. The lives of his parents and other relatives are carefully examined with openness and sometimes with a touch of humor.

The program is clearly and carefully organized, with photographs, paintings, and film footage interspersed liberally throughout. This is a biographical, autobiographical, artistic, social, and historical documentary that is rich with information and engaging speakers. The unseen relationship between the filmmaker and all the interviewees reflects an honest and fluid documentary environment, which adds to the absorbing nature of the program. Daniel Dixon is a marvelous storyteller. It feels as though he is speaking directly to the viewer, and I felt sadness to learn of his passing at the end of the program.

Child of Giants is unique in its quality and broad appeal. The program can be readily recommended for personal enrichment, and is appropriate for course support in the study of Art, History, Humanities, Sociology, and American Studies.

Highly recommended