Monday, May 18, 2009

John Ford in "Undercurrent"



Chris Fujiwara has assembled a wonderful, diverse dossier of essays on John Ford in the new issue of Undercurrent. The roster of 18 writers is first-rate--and the range of pieces a real treat.

One of my favorite 'minor' Fords is She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and since it doesn't appear in the Undercurrent special section, I thought I'd say a few words about it.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon--the first thing we notice about it is the searing Technicolor!--is the middle work of the Cavalry trilogy, sandwiched between Fort Apache (1948) and Rio Grande (1950), both of which are in black-and-white. It is a comedy, a romance, an adventure film, but most of all it strikes me as a Cavalry procedural. An elaborate web of rituals--and their underlying rules--envelops this film. These rituals aren't grand but small-scale, ordinary, everyday.

For Ford, these Cavalry rules and procedures form a grid that serves two purposes: (1) To ground the film, moment by moment, in the minutiae of the work that Cavalrymen do; and (2) To provide a solid support structure within the film through which emerge its humor, romance, and pathos.

Ford uses, repeatedly and with great imagination, that lowliest and least-respected of bureaucratic activities: making a report. In a moving moment, a corporal is rescued after being seriously wounded in a Cheyenne attack. But before being attended to, and half-fainting, he insists on delivering his report. Capt. Brittles (John Wayne) listens attentively, then replies according to proper procedure without acknowledging the man's wounds: "That's a good clear report. It'll join your record. You'll come up with that extra stripe in 2 or 3 years." As written, the words are unemotional but Wayne's expression and delivery undercut their neutral, businesslike quality with sadness. Later, when the corporal is being operated upon by a surgeon, Brittles refuses to bend the rules and stop the troop for even a few minutes ("You know I can't halt even if it were my own son!"), and so the operation takes place on a wobbling, lurching wagon with the inebriated nurse (Mildred Natwick) singing a lusty perversion of the title tune ("She wore a yellow garter/wore it for her lover/in the US Cavalry").

In another report-making instance, a former Confederate brigadier-general, now a trooper for the US Army, spends the final moment before his death praising, with Cavalry formality, the sergeant (Ben Johnson) who aided him. At the close of the film, Brittles is brought out of retirement in a photo-finish--just as he is about disappear into a flaming-red John Ford sunset--and returns to the fort. A celebration dance--that Fordian axiom--is about to begin. But business comes first: Brittles must make a report. We see him exit through a door but puzzlingly, the camera stays in the ballroom, with his commanding officer (to whom he would ostensibly report) in full view. Who on earth could Brittles be making his report to instead? To his long-dead wife, it turns out, as he kneels at her grave.

In his essay on Fort Apache, Dan Sallitt proposes the fascinating idea of the Fordian "container"--a deliberate authorial setting of mood that operates independently of story, often undercutting or deflecting the deep tragedy and sadness of the film. There is nothing in Yellow Ribbon that is close to the shattering ending of Fort Apache but when we peer through the thick net of work and ritual, procedure and process in Yellow Ribbon, we find that at the heart of the film lies defeat: the complete and utter failure of "the last patrol," the mission that forms the film's central section and occupies most of its running time.

Leaving aside what are often considered to be the 'major' Fords--The Searchers, My Darling Clementine, Liberty Valance, Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath, etc.--I'm curious to learn if you have any favorites among his other, possibly 'minor' works?

The Ford at Fox collection has gathered great praise but its very size (21 DVDs!) has daunted me. I'm wondering: what are (in your opinion) the high points of this set, the films you might recommend first?

Also, any ideas or comments on the Undercurrent essays? Please feel free to share.

Cavalry procedure? A lieutenant (John Agar) embraces his sweetheart (Joanne Dru) and turns around to ask his captain (John Wayne) a silent question. The captain barks: "Well, haul off and kiss her back, blast you, we haven't got all day!"

124 Comments:

Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I have watched and thought about Ford films for so long that I hardly know how to begin, but have to wonder at your first assertion, Girish: when has "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" ever been considered minor Ford!?! Actually it strikes me that only the critical ascendence of "The Searchers" has allowed for the slight demotion of this film's status ... but my sense is that it is usually considered one of the key Westerns (and thus key Ford films), with "Wagonmaster" the more typical minor film that critics seek to rescue with their praise. One thing to say about "Yellow Ribbon": it boldly takes up the topic of the aging male Western hero, long before films commonly praised for doing so, such as "Ride the High Country," "The Shootist," or "Unforgiven."

May 18, 2009 5:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Corey, I meant minor only in comparison to The Searchers, My Darling Clementine, The Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach--more ink has been spent on those films than on Yellow Ribbon!

Corey, do you remember your confession in an earlier thread of sharing the films you deeply love with a large group of people (students, in your case), only to feel hurt when they are shot down or brushed aside? Well, think of me sharing my love for this wonderful film by qualifying it cautiously as 'minor' (pre-empting its "rejection") in the same way!

May 18, 2009 5:17 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Prompted by the end-of-year list at Zach's place (and Olaf Möller's comments he quotes), When Willie Comes Marching Home was the first of the Ford at Fox pack I watched.
Like Zach said, it's not an absolute masterwork, but it's still wildly enjoyable, and is as fierce (and yet tender) a critique of traditional notions of heroism as Small Soldiers. What's beautiful is that Willie's unglamorous "heroism" for the 1st half of the film (training recruits) is only frowned upon by civilians, while the military hero who comes back regards Willie with just as much respect as when he left: the gap between civilian expectations of war and military experience of it extends to all aspects of the war.
And when Willie is a hero (almost against his will), his superiors register more as obstacles than as support: the military machine seems at first incapable of rewarding its fighters.
And the gaze, just as tender towards Willie when he is training recruits as when he is bringing back footage of the Germans' secret weapon...

The boxset is pretty daunting, though, and I still have to make serious headway into it :-).

May 18, 2009 5:51 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

You mention it tangentially here, and I've always loved The Lost Patrol since discovering it on mid-afternoon TV back in the '90s - it seems to me that it defines a certain stringent, economical storytelling that Ford isn't often given credit for, and in fact it could well be the hidden inspiration behind John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 (it certainly seems more likely to have done so than Rio Bravo). The use of Boris Karloff is iconic, as much so as his role in Scarface, and the unsentimental working-out to the Nth degree of a genre staple seems very modernist.

May 18, 2009 10:15 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - of the Ford films that are sometimes considered minor, I'm especially fond of Drums Along the Mohawk and The Horse Soldiers.

My eccentric list of favorites on Ford at Fox, in approximate order of preference: My Darling Clementine, Drums Along the Mohawk, Tobacco Road, Wee Willie Winkie, Pilgrimage, The Iron Horse.

May 18, 2009 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

There are obvious problems with Seven Women, such as the racially insensitive casting of Mike Mazurski and Woody Strode. What I keep remembering, though, is watching how Anne Bancroft would stand, as if she was a female version of John Wayne.

May 19, 2009 12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Long Gray Line
The Whole Towns Talking

May 19, 2009 12:24 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - one more comment on your Yellow Ribbon comments: Fort Apache too has a surprising amount of plausible-seeming detail about cavalry life. Both films are scripted by Frank Nugent from stories by James Warner Bellah. I'm not sure where the Army expertise is coming from, but the writing in these films is really distinctive and not mentioned often enough.

May 19, 2009 12:29 AM  
Anonymous Laurent said...

Girish - You share your love for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with Serge Daney who wrote an article entitled "John Ford For Ever" when he saw the film on French television.

May 19, 2009 4:46 AM  
Blogger Ed Howard said...

I'm still just dipping my toe into Ford, but of the 5 or 6 I've seen so far, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is undoubtedly my favorite. There's just something so moving and beautiful about its methodical examination of cavalry life. I love that narrative takes a back seat to character development and small incidents -- as it also does in stretches of Fort Apache. Also, the use of color is simply stunning.

May 19, 2009 9:40 AM  
Blogger Darren said...

First, I just want to mention how pleased I am to see you writing about a specific film, Girish. I always enjoy your idea-generating posts but miss hearing you talk at length about particular films. Maybe it's just time for me to make another trip to TO.

Last spring I devoted a couple months to watching 20 or 30 early Ford films, and the two most pleasant surprises were two melodramatic WWI films. Four Sons is the best example of Murnau's influence at Fox. And, like Dan, I have a real soft spot for Pilgrimage. I didn't want it to get to me, it shouldn't have gotten to me, but I'll be damned if I didn't break into tears more than once.

May 19, 2009 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Laurent mentions the Daney essay which describes the graveyard scene in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," which is one of those moments that justifies rather obsessive auteurism: it echoes Will Rogers at his wife's grave in "Judge Priest," which is picked up by Henry Fonda speaking to graves in both "Young Mr. Lincoln" (a young woman) and "My Darling Clementine" (a young man). And the arrival of the shadow of a young girl in the cemetery will be picked up again and reversed by the arrival of Scar finding young Debbie in the graveyard of "The Searchers." Ahh, the links that make an oeuvre resonant ...

May 19, 2009 11:11 AM  
Blogger jesús cortés said...

Some of my favorites are "minor" or less famous: "The wings of eagles", "They were expendable", "Seven women", "the last hurrah", the episode "The civil war" in "How the west was won" or "Pilgrimage".
The first to be my flag: "Fort Apache" back when I was fourteen!

May 20, 2009 1:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I would not want to enter any new unfurtherable discussion, but, really - Who decides which films are "minor" or "major"? (or "midstream", "middle of the road", "average"?) Be it Ford's or anyone else? The Academy? I'd never mind. The box office? A ridiculous, wholly commercialistic contention. I could not care less. Film historians up to now? Why, not even if they could prove they are not merely copying "accepted wisdom" and that they have actually seen the films they call "minor". I could go on, on the way, I'm afraid, "offending" every group related with film studies or criticism. But, really, does anyone recognize any "authority" outside of himself?
Minor - or just bad - was considered for long years "The Searchers", as well as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". Minor remain "Two Rode Together", "Steamboat Round the Bend", "Pilgrimage" or "7 Women" for most people, which seems to me about the same kind of scandal -or joke. So I would not mind such categories, I just don't see the point. What's minor for some is great for others.
Miguel Marías

May 20, 2009 5:53 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Very well said, Miguel ! My god, how could anyone in the world, at any point of history, consider SEVEN WOMEN minor? Or THE SEARCHERS or LIBERTY VALANCE? The films truly transcend these strictly 'contingent' verdicts. No authority beyond onself: a fine motto, Miguel !

May 20, 2009 6:20 AM  
Blogger jesús cortés said...

Miguel, many people say minor when it´s not in his group of favorites or consider it a guilty pleasure or something ridiculous like that.
I guess it´s a question of self-confidence.
For what other reason can people consider minor Erice´s "Lifeline" apart from it´s length? for example

May 20, 2009 7:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

The words 'major' and 'minor' generally seem to be used in a way that describes the overall critical standing of a film--but of course, as Adrian points, that's contingent, both historically and across cultures even perhaps at the same moment in time (e.g. the higher reputation of Hitchcock in 1950s France than in the US).

But I like the idea of aspiring to Miguel's "no authority beyond oneself"--it also makes for a good and useful personal-polemical stand on filmmakers and films!

Perhaps, for the purposes of this thread, 'minor' should be construed more narrowly as something like 'underrated' or 'less-well-known'...

May 20, 2009 10:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, I miss those 10 days of sustained, detailed, passionate conversations in Toronto for the rest of the year.

May 20, 2009 10:14 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I can't go along with "no authority outside oneself," even though that would feed my narcissism. Or, if I do subscribe to only my personal preferences, I will keep them to myself -- there's no point in carrying these into criticism, which is cultural even when it veers into the personal. A product of Marx, Freud, and Foucault, among others, I am forced to face the fact that authority always exceeds my vain attempts to control the world! And the categories of major and minor -- however we might wish to challenge them -- are larger than our personal tastes. As Girish suggests, they are manifested institutionally and materially. One person's strong belief that a film the world treats as minor is in fact major is not going to get that film restored or put onto DVD, for instance. And may I gently take the position that your personal taste isn't really your own, or personal? Even challenges to the standard view are of course conditioned by social, historical, and cultural conditions. The claim that some films "truly transcend" cultural opinions is also offered here oddly to confirm personal authority -- by saying personal authority is irrelevant when faced with films whose greatness can only be affirmed by all. (That is, if your personal authority says these films are minor, you are wrong: but how can that be if personal authority is all that matters?) Yes, values and opinions change, but I think we need to recognize how those changes are not often in our individual control. A more careful history of the reception of Ford could demonstrate this -- by, for instance, noting that the films he won Oscars for are not the films he is valued for now.

May 20, 2009 1:20 PM  
Blogger jesús cortés said...

Corey, are you trying to suggest that if we were now in 1959 we would have to wait at least 20 years to see some Ford films recognized because that´s the lapse of time necessary to reach a different opinion by the majority and in the mean time they´d must remained "minor"?

May 20, 2009 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, everything is conditioned, I am quite aware of that. And each of us is conditioned even by the films one has seen or has not yet seen. But in these matters I'm decidedly a "trotskite": perhaps revolution cannot be permanent, but film (only film?) history should be permanently revised and perhaps, every so often, rewritten. Of course, there are powers much above (or below) each of us. But one can challenge them. At least try to. One may think for years that "Broken Lullaby" aka "The Man I Killed" is one of the very best Lubitsch films, one of the greatest made in the '30s, it certainly will never make the "canon" (any canon) or the Sight & Sound Ten Best Lists, no more than Borzage will get the respect he deserves. Partly, because most "minor" films are usually ill-received or misunderstood at their release, which do not circulate and which, unseen, remain for decades unanalyzed and are seldom even mentioned, but rather carelessly dismissed. I do not think, Corey, that one should keep what one thinks, be it against the trend or not: that would be leaving all the power to the more powerful. But rather the contrary: if one has the chance, one should say whatever one seriously believes, at the risk of being considered an eccentric, an agent provocateur or whatever. Taking that risk might encourage others to take a look and maybe discover a great film or a great filmmaker. What would it be of Ozu, Naruse or Shimizu if everybody had kept silent? Criticism must take the risk of going against received opinions (often unverified or lazily taken as the truth) and of betting for Straub in 1969 or for Raya Martin now, instead of waiting until 2019 and see if such an opinion is acceptable --- for whom?
Miguel Marías

May 20, 2009 1:50 PM  
Blogger girish said...

A-ha! Wonderful points to chew on here...thank you!

Like Corey, I believe that our personal preferences come to be formed by powerful cultural/social/political forces. The authority of these DOES exceed my attempts to control the world (as Corey puts it so well) but (and here is where I part ways with Corey) NOT TOTALLY. I believe in the possibility of personal action making changes--perhaps small but significant nonetheless--in the world and specifically in the world of film culture. Let us not forget that it was the personal will and action of only a few (or at most a few dozen) cinephiles, critics, writers and eventual filmmakers in France from 1950-1960 that made an incalculable and transformative impact on film culture and film history! I also believe that one person's beliefs and actions *can* get films restored or put on DVD. Take the recent small but inspiring example of Jake Perlin (of BAM and Film Comment) and his own personal start-up The Film Desk that has reissued several worthy films in the last year that have seen release (both theatrical and DVD) and an increase in critical interest (e.g. in Philippe Garrel's films) that might otherwise not have materialized. It's just one small example; I'm sure numerous others exist around the world.

Personal action by individuals--such as advocating for films by writing, speaking, teaching, and curating them--CAN make a difference by increasing visibility and interest in certain films and filmmakers, thus leading to higher probability for restorations, retrospectives, and journalistic/academic interest. All this irrevocably changes the terrain of film culture moving forward into the future. So, in these ways, I think I'm more optimistic than Corey in the efficacy of personal action.

May 20, 2009 3:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Let me provide another important example I know of personal taste being put to use, applied actively--by being expressed and advocated in criticism and curating, with powerful results for film culture.

James Quandt, from a small remote town in Saskatchewan, made his first trip to NYC as a youth, saw his first Bresson film at a theatre there ("the ground moved beneath my feet," he told me once), made it his mission to assemble the first complete Bresson retrospective to be seen here in North America, and also, in the process, put together that wonderful collection of essays on his work. What a boon this has been for film culture!

May 20, 2009 3:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ha ha, Corey-bhai is firing me up today! (Shukria, ji!)

Corey-ji says: "...if I do subscribe to only my personal preferences, I will keep them to myself."

Our personal tastes and preferences (while surely being culturally formed, no doubt about it!) are not isolated and free of politics. They contain within them imaginings of a better, more just world--or alternatively: imaginative, original, or complex representations of our highly imperfect world. Thus, to me: keeping our tastes and preferences APART from our criticism/teaching/curating is a sort of betrayal of one's deepest political values and beliefs . In fact, this, to me, is more narcissistic than polemicizing for our preferences.

In other words, when we advocate for certain films or directors, it is not merely the films we want to advance but also certain ways of looking at the world (a highly political act), critiquing our world, imagining a better world. This, to me, is the opposite of narcissism.

May 20, 2009 4:11 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

As much as I agree that there are many forces that shape and influence our tastes that spring from when and where we are, and that it's important we be conscious of that, I'm always uneasy with being told that my "personal taste isn't really [my] own, or even personal".
What that comment leaves out is, basically, my (and by extension any viewer's) freedom. No one here is simply an empty vessel that has been spoon-fed by a certain cultural trend; everyone here has made choices of what to see, who to read, what to try harder to understand and appreciate (the strombolian films discussed a few posts back) etc. The examples Girish discusses are extension of that, I think: people who have decided to use their freedom to broaden the range of possibilities for others. Generous people...
And that's (partly) why many here get annoyed at the critics whose work is that of publicists for the industry: what is totally lacking in their vision is the freedom to choose, a freedom that comes with increased knowledge and awareness; they are happy with being spoon-fed.

May 20, 2009 4:19 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Oooh, I hadn't seen your last comment when I posted mine, Girish. That's very beautiful.

May 20, 2009 4:29 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I now realize I put my comments too forcefully, in part to counter what I saw as a forceful assertion of the power of personal preference, the weight of history, culture, politics, etc. be damned. But I am optimistic enough to believe in possibilities of resistance (as do the three gurus I named: Marx, Freud, and Foucault -- though for the latter resistance is an effect of as well as a challenge to power). And James Quant is a superb example of a critic who can make a difference in public taste, perhaps, but even more crucially in public awareness (it's hard to have any opinion about work you are unaware of). But to pick up on Miguel's examples (Ozu, Naruse, Shimizu): I don't believe their elevation to their current status was the result of a single contrary assertion of their value, but of a series of claims from a group of people. In other words, a shared evaluation rather than a single opinion was at work here (and I'm not sure any of these figures was ever dismissed as minor: they were largely unknown -- in the West at least -- and that's not quite the same thing). Now of course the contrary claim would be to dismiss such figures as overrated ... (which I am NOT doing!).

(Which reminds me -- are those in this discussion purposely avoiding David Thompson's notorious dismissal of John Ford in his "Biographical Dictionary"?)

It so happens I just picked up the latest "Film Comment," which has an essay by Philip Lopate called "For Your Reconsideration: On changing one's mind about a movie," with apologetic contributions from about a dozen critics on films they were initially "wrong" about: this touches on an earlier discussion Girish initiated, but seems relevant to this one as well. We simply don't always recognize "transcendent" films when they appear -- often conditions have to change for us -- individually or collectively -- to decide upon a film's status.

May 20, 2009 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Mike Grost said...

BORN RECKLESS is a Ford film that gets little attention. But it is very rich.
One can see echoes of BORN RECKLESS in later Ford: it anticipates the crime plot in STAGECOACH, anticipates GIDEON'S DAY.
BORN RECKLESS is full of the gay side of Ford. Its star Edmund Lowe was also queer.
BORN RECKLESS shows Ford looking at modern life.
BORN RECKLESS shows Ford working in the crime film genre.
Thinking of "Ford as a whole" is very hard - there are so many films. Films like BORN RECKLESS can get swept under the carpet. But seeing them can also shake up our preconceptions, and help us see a major film artist in new ways.
I also love PILGRIMAGE, and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. "Old men should prevent wars!"

May 20, 2009 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Corey, I see no big contradiction in your last post to what I mean. I never said that one person singlehandedly can change much (though some may do; not I, but certainly Sarris, Langlois, Truffaut, Bazin and others did), nor all of a sudden or overnight. It is usually a long, often underground or indirect effort, as isolated people agree and act upon their beliefs to the extent of their power, programming, publishing, writing, teaching or making films themselves. In the long run, in some cases, it can work. "The Searchers", "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", "Wagon Master", "The Sun Shines Bright", "Judge Priest", "Doctor Bull" among many other Ford films, "Vertigo", "Akasen Chitai", "Moonfleet", "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt", "La Règle du jeu", "L'Atalante", "Gertrud", "Lola Montès", "L'Avventura", "Les Carabiniers", "Two-Lane Blacktop", "The Edge", "City Girl", I could go on for days, you can do a very good Ten (or 40) Best list with films considered as failures at their release, both commercially and critically, and now widely (at least in some parts of the world) considered as masterpieces or milestones.
As for our likes and dislikes being culturally determined, only up to a point, which depends largely on our own attitudes. If you accept uncritically what you are told, maybe. If you only do it after careful observation, as well as looking into what is not considered "great", "serious" or even "respectable", not so much. One of the things I like about films is that nobody ever told me what I should watch, while at school you had to read some classics, which it was difficult to argue against with your teachers, if you did not find them deserving their status. This freedom today may be lost, of course, in some countries, where film is taught at the school (which can be a positive thing but also risks fostering conformity).
Miguel Marías

May 20, 2009 8:06 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Since some of my fellow contributors in the UNDERCURRENT issue have shared their thoughts (Adrian, Dan, Miguel), I guess I would like to too.

First, I'm glad it seems to be have been settled fairly early in the discussion that "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" is not a "minor" Ford. I don't know how much ink has been spilled over which film but this one is surely a masterpiece and I think has always been regarded that way for most Fordians. And, Girish, your own eloquent words about it only underscore the point.

But no matter where they fall in my own mind, and though I will throw out some titles here people might not have been as quick to see
and may have an impression of as minor, I'm not real comfortable with consigning Ford films as "minor." I've seen all his extant work. Here's about how it divides up for me--several dozen movies that are absolute masterpieces; several dozen more that for one reason or another may not be quite on that level but I love them too, in some cases just about as much, and wouldn't want to be without them; and the remaining third of films which does include a handful of (sometimes ambitious) failures but mostly films that are enjoyable but may not sustain endless viewings or deep critical consideration in the same way as all those essential Fords. I'll take these in groups.

I sure wouldn't want to steer anyone from films in the last group; movies like "Just Pals" or
"The World Moves On" in FORD AT FOX are good examples, and if you ever get to see "The Brat" (which missed the set), you really wouldn't want to miss it because it's quite charming.

Even more care should be taken with films in the group above which does include some that are famous, but the unwary might think from a description that "Salute!"
for example, is a very light movie, but it's a glowingly beautiful, essential Ford movie.
The very first image alone shows how perfectly he can evoke a whole world of that time (much exterior shooting in this one). And it has Helen Chandler, who figures in an especially memorable scene done in one long forward tracking shot. This is the movie I most regret is not in FORD AT FOX, along with "The Black Watch" which I've only seen once and would love to see again. But at least you can see, as one example of a long-underrated gem (though I think that's over now--both Gallagher and McBride took up for it in a big way), "Wee Willie Winkie."

For me, the masterpieces begin with "Pilgrimage" and "Doctor Bull" in 1933 and go on to his last film "7 Women" in 1966, so that's a long period, with a fair amount of artistic evolution, though the same sensibility and key aesthetic ideas are constant through all of it. For UNDERCURRENT I felt it best for me to go this time to what is now the most ill-regarded of these several dozen great films. But I could mention another title too that I now feel belongs there, but underrated it myself for years, even though I always enjoyed it. That's "Mogambo" which the unwary see an an untypical Ford subject so couldn't be a major Ford film. I owe Tag Gallagher for making me take this film more seriously--when I came back to it after reading what he wrote, the greatness of that film became very clear to me. It had always been there--I only needed to lay aside prejudices of what kind of Ford should be making and could do well with. How good is it? Well, to begin with it completely transcends the film on which it's based--technically it is a remake of Victor Fleming's "Red Dust." I got back to see that again last year and though well-made, it's basically just a conventional pre-code melodrama. It is enlivened by Jean Harlow, who I always like, a charming, intelligent actress, but she nothing like the soul-deep quality of Ava Gardner in the equivalent role, and Gardner thrives under Ford's direction. But more important, the way the story comes over is completely changed--it's on a whole other plateau, very beautiful and (for those who still doubt this aspect of Ford) very erotic.

May 20, 2009 10:57 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Corey, as far as David Thomson's "notorious dismissal" I personally consider it something as being unworthy of being part of the discussion. Moreover, and this may sound intolerant but it's something I feel strongly about, I think this is now always true about David Thomson.

I read every single word of the first BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY and acknowledge Thomson can write fluently and has a way with words (so did Pauline Kael) and also that he came to that project very fluent with a great deal of cinema, maybe as much as someone could be at the time. But the hollowness that has come to reveal itself over the years in his writing is nakedly there in the Ford piece, and there in subtler ways throughout the book. He eventually became someone with no real feeling for cinema, certainly not when it came to taking it on its own terms as an art. Has anyone ever read "Better Best Westerns" in FILM COMMENT. I don't know if it started there, but that's the vein he has mined. Does he even like movies, really?

He's just someone that cannot be taken seriously as a film critic and his rejection of Ford makes total sense.

(sorry for some careless typing and missed words in the previous, and anyone needs me to clarify anything, I'll be glad to).

May 20, 2009 11:08 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

One final thought I had meant to add re "Mogambo." I came away from "Red Dust" thinking making the comparison was a little unfair, that a Ford "remake" was bound to leave the original in the (forgive me) dust. But later I found that isn't true, when I got back to Allan Dwan's "Frontier Marshal"--a movie I hadn't seen in many years and had not remembered with any great fondness. This is the original (and is actually itself a remake) of "My Darling Clementine." Well, I had undervalued it. It has no Fordian poetry, and Ford does indeed transform the material, but in this case Dwan made a film that is very strong in its own right, with a marvelous clarity and concision in the drama and images that express it intelligently and with unaffected eloquence.

May 20, 2009 11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, I'm still wondering - do you imply there can be such a thing as "impersonal preferences"? I can't quite conceive that.

I more or less share Blake Lucas' on Ford, certainly including "Mogambo" as great; I'd add, though, "The World Moves On".

In answer a question, and without trying to be personal, David Thompson is (together with many more, to be sure)precisely the kind of "authority" I do not acknowledge at all. I don't mind in the least whatever he may say or write, even if he actually thinks it. I could not care less, the same I think Bosley Crowther (and a crowd of others, however powerful the may have been) never said anything of interest (for or against).
Miguel Marías

May 21, 2009 4:58 AM  
Blogger Marc Raymond said...

At the risk of blasphemy, I thought I'd be a contrarian here. My opinion runs very hot and cold on Ford. Some films I think are really great (THE SEARCHERS, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE), but there are many Ford "masterpieces" that I find, and here is a really unsophisticated word, boring.

In particular, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN seems to me a rather weak film, despite Ford's occasional visual flair. I find the post-68 CAHIERS piece much more interesting than the film, which I find a real slog. It also has some real clunky moments and what I might kindly call "old-fashioned" plotting, the kind of thing that turns a lot of students off Ford (which I can personally attest to as a teacher). MY DARLING CLEMENTINE is another film that I like but do not love, finding it far too schematic for my taste.

This leads me to a certain sympathy with Thomson's view, although it is clearly over the top (no other worthwhile film except THE SEARCHERS was his opinion, I believe). I haven't read it in a long time (and may dislike it as much as others now), but I do remember agreeing on Ford's sense of humor, or lack thereof. Again, I don't totally agree, but in his worst films I can sympathize. Also, sentimentality is a tough line to walk, and when it works it leads to an emotional resonance few others match. But, for me at least, it doesn't always work.

Now, I still love Ford, but I do not think he has a consistent stream of masterpieces like an Ozu, Mizoguchi, Godard, etc. Even within classical Hollywood, I believe Hawks and Hitchcock are far more interesting film to film. That said, I do enjoy reading from critics like Blake who know and love Ford so deeply, often more than watching the Ford films themselves.

To give a more respectable oppositional critic to Ford, any thoughts on Robin Wood's essay on Ford's late films (collected in John Caughie's THEORIES OF AUTHORSHIP)?

May 21, 2009 8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In terms of Thomson and Ford, I wonder whether part of the issue stems from Thomson's constant self-consciousness about 'Americanness'. It's an ongoing concern (or hangup) of his, and I think he unfortunately sees Ford through that lens of nationality / nationalism / nationhood. Ford seems to complicate or undermine Thomson's ideals about America and American cinema, and gets a bad write up because of that.

In Los Angeles Plays itself, Thom Andersen mentions that, when it comes to America, Thomson likes all the wrong things; the 'notorious dismissal' of Ford seems a prime example of that in action.

May 21, 2009 9:14 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Miguel, I meant that our tastes and preferences, though they may feel truly OURS (as if we exercise full possession over them) do not in fact originate in us. As individuals--starting from soon after we are born--we are formed and shaped by cultural forces (including family and childhood) that are so much larger than we are as individuals. Thoughts and ideas that we may think of as our own are in fact possible only because of what already exists out there in culture, like, for example, the particular language that allows us to think these thoughts.

In traditional liberal humanism, the central focus has always been on the individual--great faith has been placed in the autonomy of the individual. But philosophical thought in the second half of the 20th century (e.g Foucault, with Nietzsche as a key precursor standing behind him) has often worked in an anti-humanist vein, i.e. to dismantle this notion of the complete autonomy of the individual. We are largely constituted, Foucault would say, by the culture and time into which we are born.

All tastes and preferences use certain criteria to evaluate art. But, at different stages of history and in different cultures, we can see different conceptions of what constitutes good/great art. There are no absolute and universal criteria to mandate what is good/great art. So the specific culture and time that we are born into, raised in and live in exercises a huge influence on the formation of our "personal" taste--the taste we think we originate personally, as individuals.

May 21, 2009 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, I assure you that you are not telling me anything new. And I did not invent Ford, obviously, nor Rossellini or Mizoguchi. But how come that many other people in my generation and country, with similar culture, like quite different things? And sorry, but I don't take either Foucault or Nietzsche (nor any other, by the way) as a guarantee of anything. So I'm not free? Great news! So I'm determined (PARTLY, I insist)by quite a few things (including my ADN). I had no doubt about that, either. But this so overburdened guy that I happen to be likes a lot John Ford and Godard and not at all Lars von Trier or Reygadas, even if probably I know of more people around me that would think the other way round. And no matter how many arguments I read against the former or in praise of the latter, even if I tried, I would be unable to dislike (in general) Godard or Ford or to like Trier or Reygadas. Of course, I could lie, but why should I?
Miguel Marías

May 21, 2009 10:11 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Miguel, you are misunderstanding me! Did you read my comments to Corey above? Did I not make a case FOR personal action, values and beliefs? And for acting out of a capacity for personal freedom? I also believe that we are only PARTLY determined by cultural forces. Otherwise, I wouldn't feel so strongly about the capacity of personal action to produce change (you can see this in my comments to Corey above).

"But how come that many other people in my generation and country, with similar culture, like quite different things?"

Because not every person in a culture undergoes the exact same experiences from the moment they are born! Every single one of us goes through life on a unique trajectory. But this trajectory is not completely of our own making alone. It is also powerfully influenced by forces such as our family, childhood, the schools we went to, the sum total of our social lives, all that we've read and watched and listened to--the sum total of experiences we have had in our lives. Thus there is a *tremendous* potential for difference between individuals because of these reasons. So, the wide range of taste we see around us should not surprise us at all!

Miguel, if you had been born and raised in a different city in Spain, into a different family, went to different schools, had different friends, etc. is it not possible, even highly likely, that you might have had a differentset of tastes and preferences than you do now? So isn't your love of Ford and Godard contingent upon the particular set of cultural/life experiences you've had? Wouldn't that be a perfectly plausible explanation for your differences of taste (Ford, Godard vs. von Trier, Reygadas) from others around you in the same generation and culture?

May 21, 2009 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Girish, your last posted comments effectively summarize the claim I was attempting to make -- but with your much greater precision and subtlety, as usual.

Back to Ford -- I agree with some who find his knockabout humor a persistently weak element in his films (I wish THE SEARCHERS didn't have its comic moments, though they are sort of taken away from us by subsequent sequences): that means for me DONOVAN'S REEF is beyond rescue. I can take Ford's sentimentality, but his physical comedy leaves me cold.

I was actually thinking that no one much thinks in terms of "major" and "minor" works anymore anyway (seems characteristic of the era of high auteurism), but came across this today, in Paul Brunick's short review of Lang's "Man Hunt" (out on DVD) in "Film Comment": "A minor work from a major director but eminently watchable." So the major/minor distinction may still be out there.

May 21, 2009 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Miguel -- sorry to be slow to respond, but the contradiction I saw in some of the posts (not just yours) was between assertions of the "transcendent" value of a film and the assertions here of a critic's affirmation of their personal taste. One the one hand, "City Girl" (just to pick a mentioned example) is being presented as great when it appeared, great now, and great for all time: it's a masterpiece. On the other hand, a strong willed critic (there seem to be unacknowledged echoes of Harold Bloom here) makes that affirmation, contrary to the public, box office, or critical establishment that has neglected the masterpiece. I'm not sure we can have both -- the film that is "obviously" or self-evidently great, and the critic whose personal taste asserts this to be the case (often in proud defiance of those too blind to see this "fact"). My point -- clarified by Girish -- was not to deny personal agency or the possibility of resistance, even though I'm perhaps taking a stronger stand than others that taste is contingent and culturally grounded (here a citation of Bourdieu would seem de rigueur).

May 21, 2009 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Unlike David Thomson, I do like Robin Wood as a critic on many things but not on Ford--he is not really attuned to him, but loves certain films (especially DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK) for reasons of his own that don't have as much to do with Ford, even when makes a great show of close reading of the film.

I remember that piece he wrote on late Ford very well. He put a very unfair burden on the films after LIBERTY VALANCE, saying that except for CHEYENNE AUTUMN they represented an "flight from his native company (in artistic terms it amounts to this)"--quote mean I think I am remembering this fairly accurately.

In other words, he feels he can dictate to an artist what is a viable subject for that artist. That's wrong. And that goes no matter what you think of any of the three films (DONOVAN'S REEF,
YOUNG CASSIDY--a Ford project he started but was unable to finish, and 7 WOMEN).

I happen to love two of these films and like YOUNG CASSIDY enough even as it is that I wish Ford had been able to see it through. I think they were all ideal projects for Ford in this last phase, as much as CHEYENNE AUTUMN was. But even if I didn't personally feel this way about them, it is presumptious to tell an artist what kind of works they should create.

May 21, 2009 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

That should have read "...flight from his native country..."

"Country" not "Company"

Sorry I didn't proofread it...

May 21, 2009 1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it perhaps that my English is not good enough not to be misunderstood, but alas, it is not my tongue so in this I'm certainly predetermined... So let's try again. Where did I say that my judgement was the good one (except, and always provisionally, for myself)? Where did I pretend it was "unique", "exclusive" or "free" from any set of influences? But if I had been born elsewhere, Girish, and on a different decade, and from different parents, and had read other books, studied a different career, seen other movies (and most of these I choose by myself), or none at all (I could be crazy about football/soccer...or bullfighting), would I be the one that I am, or just quite another person?. What I intended to say, and will repeat, is that, whatever David Thompson, Andrew Sarris, Noël Burch, Peter Bogdanovich, Manny Farber, Georges Sadoul, James Agee or my very much admired Robin Wood may have to say, I do not feel any reason to take their judgement or that of so many voting people in Sight & Sound as my standard. Probably a large majority of the few that have seen Dwan's "The River's Edge" don't think much of it, if at all, but that will not, can not prevent me from believing it is a great masterpiece. And much as an overwhelming crowd, over decades now, and foreseeably in the future, will consider "Citizen Kane" the best film ever made, I cannot help preferring by far several of the other films Welles directed and several of those made in the U.S. (and elsewhere) in the year 1941. That it is a minority position? OK, I know and don't mind at all, I don't expect to make everybody agree with me. But it is my opinion, maybe not mine alone, and I'm not going to relinquish it, nor see any reason to silence it. Not only I do not believe in "guilty pleasures" (except to the very puritannical) and feel no shame at all, but I don't think it is of any use to merely convey "consolidated" opinions which one does not share, and I don't mind if I disagree with the filmmakers themselves: despite Dreyer's dismissive comments, I think "Two Beings" is one of his greatest films, and I believe "Mogambo" is much better than "The Fugitive", which Ford singled out as one of his best, the same as I think it was sheer luck Hitchcock had to cast Kim Novak instead of Vera Miles in "Vertigo".
Miguel Marías

May 21, 2009 3:15 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Miguel: I'm in complete agreement with your comment! Nothing in it is at odds with what I said earlier.

One more word: about your motto that sparked this vigorous discussion--"No authority beyond oneself".

On the one hand, of course, this motto is false, since so much of what we are is determined by forces outside of us. BUT by saying that, I'm missing the point! The reason I like the idea of this motto is that it provides for me a certain poetic rallying cry, a little spark of inspiration with the help of which to resist, to act and polemicize on behalf of certain films or filmmakers that I'm passionate about. However small the eventual effects or resultant change, I think it's a worthy activity--and I like your motto because it rouses me, nudges me to get behind the cause of these films!

May 21, 2009 3:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I recently picked up a 2001 collection of essays on Ford called "John Ford Made Westerns: Filming the Legend in the Sound Era" ed. Gaylyn Studlar and Matthew Bernstein. (Indiana UP)

It has many interesting pieces including the one that Marc mentioned, "Shall We Gather at the River? The Late Films of John Ford" by Robin Wood. Also: "From Aesthete To Pappy: The Evolution of John Ford's Public Reputation" by Charles J. Maland; "Painting the Legend: Frederic Remington and the Western" by Ed Buscombe; and "John Ford and James Fenimore Cooper: Two Rode Together" by Barry Keith Grant, etc.

I know that there is a TON of Ford writing out there, but if you have some special personal favorites or know of any hidden gems, please feel free to suggest them.

Here's what I have on my book-shelves: the Tag Gallagher, McBride/Wilmington and JA Place full-length books on Ford (the last of which is just OK), plus: Jim Kitses' HORIZONS WEST, the Kitses/Rickman-edited THE WESTERN READER (Blake, I noticed your essay in here). And let's not forget Miguel's great "Ford's Depth" essay at Rouge. Also: Peter Wollen's "The Auteur Theory" in his book "Signs and Meaning in the Cinema". I'm sure I'm only scratching the surface of the sum total of good Ford writing here...

May 21, 2009 7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, there is certainly no small amount of good (and diversified!) writing about Ford, not always comprehensive (that's the edge of Gallagher over McBride & Wilmington's book on Cinema One, which they should have enlarged). Although I think Janey A. Place books are much better (both) than just OK, since there is also a lot of rubbish and repetitious plagiarism one should skip, I'd rather pinpoint two single items I consider essential, although neither, I'm afraid, available in English. One is the early review of "Two Rode Together" in "Cahiers" (129 or so) by a certain Philippe d'Hugues which I took for some time to be Jean-Marie Straub under a pseudonym (who reads it will know why). Another is Fabio Troncarelli's short but fascinating and quite original book "Le maschere della malinconia. John Ford tra Shakespeare e Hollywood" (Dedalo; Bari 1994) which nobody seems to have paid any attention to (not even in Italy). Then we could add Serge Daney's entry in the "Dictionnaire du cinéma" (Éditions Universitaires; Paris 1966), the collections published separately by Cinemateca Portuguesa and Filmoteca Española in the late '80s, what "Cinema e film" and "Cahiers" published on "7 Women" (including a brief interview with Ford by Axel Madsen around nrs. 180 to 186, someone borrowed and never returned them to me). And, in English, what Joseph W. Reed wrote about Ford (and Faulkner and Ives) in "Three American Originals" (Wesleyan 1984).
Miguel Marías

May 22, 2009 4:56 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for taking the time, Miguel! I puchased the Reed book on Ford, Faulkner and Ives after you recommended it to me a couple of years ago. It's terrific, and I'm not sure why it's not more widely known in cinephile circles. I'm sure I judged the Place book too hastily (didn't realize there were two)--I will definitely look at it again!

May 22, 2009 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, unless you have a different edition, the were two, "The Western Films of J.F." and "The Non-Western Films of J.F.", of which I prefer the later, perhaps because my favorite four Ford films are non-westerns. It did not take any time, it would have if I had tried to get the precise issues of "Cahiers" I mentioned. By the way, "Cahiers", at the time rather anti-Fordian, dismissed "The Searchers", not to mention "The Wings of Eagles".
Miguel Marías

May 22, 2009 9:17 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Miguel. I only have the former Place book, and put in a library request for the latter just a few minutes ago.

I forgot to say earlier that the Caughie-edited "Theories of Authorship" reader that Marc mentioned also contains a lot of Ford, viewed by a great variety of writers and (most interestingly) through a broad array of critical paradigms.

May 22, 2009 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

I wanted to say thanks for noticing my piece in THE WESTERN READER, Girish, and I guess I'd like to encourage you and anyone else to read it when you have time. It's purely my own subjective feeling--and I wouldn't pretend to make any objective of my own writing--but this piece, "Saloon Girls and Ranchers' Daughters: The Woman in the Western," is my personal favorite of anything I've written.
There are a lot of rasons for this but it's just very close to my heart.

There's a lot on John Ford in the piece so I guess it's appropriate to say so. This is especially true with regard to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, which was kind of my own key "lesson in cinema" in the few years after it came out, and especially the sequence that I focus on.

Thanks for linking Serge Daney's wonderful piece earlier--I hadn't read it before. Also I hadn't read Miguel's excellent, in depth piece in Rouge and want to say that now I have and really appreciated it. Miguel, you probably hopefully would already agree we have many affinities in how we perceive Ford--if inevitably not with every individual film of course--and this confirmed it for me. It's great knowing you are out there for him in the way that you are. And I am very moved seeing someone choose THE WINGS OF EAGLES as their personal favorite. It is a movie that means a lot to me too.

May 22, 2009 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Let's try that one part again and I will proofread next time!

It's purely my own subjective feeling--and I wouldn't pretend to make any objective opionion of my own writing--but this piece, "Saloon Girls and Ranchers' Daughters: The Woman in the Western," is my personal favorite of anything I've written.
There are a lot of reasons for this but it's just very close to my heart.

May 22, 2009 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

"opinion..."

OK, I give up.

May 22, 2009 3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Blake, I'm having that same always welcome impression of sharing a few things with someone, not only on Ford. However, it is a pity not everything is on the web, because sometimes books are mentioned that may have pieces of the utmost interest. I'll have to get The Western Reader (the kind of thing I fear having partly read) and Theories of Authorship (a subject, frankly, of which I star to feel a bit tired). Then there is the problem of languages. Most of what I have written is in Spanish, of course, and my best-written pieces (whatever their value) as well. And about Ford I have been writing lots for over 40 years, sometimes very long pieces. What
little I have in English is rather recent (I was better when younger), and in MY English. True cinephiles should learn as many languages as possible, almost every week I regret not learning Japanese and Russian.
Miguel Marías

May 22, 2009 9:04 PM  
Blogger Vanwall said...

I've noticed Ford's "Cavalry Regulations" aspect as vehicles to move the story forward in a number of his films - I won't get into minor or major classification for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, but I will add a definite minor Ford that uses "The Book" aspect at least as good as any of his other films: Sergeant Rutledge. He even uses the wounded man speech again - talking to a private about reaching corporal in a few years.

At one point, the discussion while on horseback is whether Sgt. Rutledge will have his handcuffs removed right away if the Apaches attack, and Lt. Cantrell explains how he can't remove them too soon, it would be against regulations, or "The Book" - latter after Sgt. Rutledge has been free to fight,and could've escaped but returns to be shackled, he asks Lt. Cantrell to cuff him, "Like The Book says." - making sure Lt. Cantrell isn't breaking any regulations to save him from what is probably a death sentence court-martial.

And speaking of that, the back and forth between the former ex-Confederate Army officers and their Union counterparts over the Army Manual used for the rules and regs in the courtroom, is slyly critical of any pompous attitudes displayed. Rules and regs aren't any bar to respect - and even tho the black soldiers are shown to be brave and hardworking, and looked upon as valued soldiers even by the higher officers - everyone follows the regulations down to the last dot.

May 23, 2009 9:24 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

All very good points about it. I'm just not sure I would want to hang "minor" on SERGEANT RUTLEDGE.

My own feeling is that the film is about five-sixths of a masterpiece--meaning the first five-sixths. It has many brilliant things in it, the staging and lighting in the courtroom, but even more the exterior Monument Valley flashbacks, of which the scene of Rutledge with the dying Moffatt and their exchange is a peak of the film for me.

But after Rutledge's own tremendous speech at the end of his testimony on the witness stand, surely the high moment of Woody Strode's career, Rutledge himself seems almost to disappear into the margins of the film. He never has another line of dialogue, nor does anything himself. Instead, Lt. Cantrell solves the case Perry Mason style and to me this kind of trivializes a film that is mostly way beyond such conventionalities.

So a disappointing final half hour or whatever it is, but it's still an outstanding work overall.

May 24, 2009 2:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Blake, I'm sorry to disagree about the ending of "Sergeat Rutledge". Not only I do not find that film "minor" at all (the continuing almost-dismissal of both this film and "Cheyenne Autumn" really bothers me), but what you call its "disappointing" part does not take half an hour, since the last 25 minutes of the film include the flashback where "Captain Buffalo" is sung by his men to Rutledge, with the wonderful shot of Woody Strode standing tall and proud (which may be too "statuesque", but I've seen no similar hero treatment given to a black man anywhere else, and for once and in 1960! it seems to me quite right), which I'm almost sure influenced Pedro Costa's treatment of Ventura in "Juventude em Marcha". It also includes Constance Towers (called by the way "Mary Beecher", which for me carries echoes of Harriet Beecher Stowe, in a contrast I take to be deliberate on Ford's part) as she ends testifying in defence of Rutledge, harshly criticizing Jeffrey Hunter, to the court's and the audience's scandal. If during the last ten minutes the forcibly silent Rutledge has not much to do (I'm grateful to Ford for not including close-ups of him every 45seconds, as would have done Stanley Kramer or Fred Zinnemmann in their worst days), I believe that is a sound dramatic choice, because his innocence is beyond Rutledge's reach, rather resting on the ability of Hunter, as his defence attorney, to discover on the spot the hidden truth (in a very Fordian way, of which there are mighty examples in "Young Mr. Lincoln" and even before), and which also include the accusation of racism against the prosecutor. I certainly would miss this court scene, among the best I've seen, and both suspenseful and raucously comical (Willis Bouchey, Judson Pratt, Jack Pennick, the officers' wives). Rutledge reappears in the shot before last, leading his men and saluting with a smile Towers and Hunter embracing. And the last shots, with "Buffalo Soldier" on the soundtrack, show the negro cavalrymen in shilouette, as usually does in Ford's westerns the U.S. Cavalry.
Miguel Marías

May 24, 2009 9:36 AM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

I hadn't timed that last part, so thanks for the correction. But the fact it seems longer than it is to me kind of supports my point. Of course, I wouldn't want meaningless closeups of Rutledge either, Miguel. And I don't really mind this denouement all that much, but it's just not what I would ideally hope for in this film. I do love the film and have seen it many times and will see it many more. I said right off I was uncomfortable with it being thought of as minor because I emphatically do not consider it that way. I just think that relative to some Ford films it's flawed in the way I said.

In YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, Lincoln is the protagonist and everything he does--including in the courtroom--is important. In SERGEANT RUTLEDGE I feel it should be Rutledge himself and when the film is at its best he is, but Ford seems in that last reel that he is more comfortable to let us believe Cantrell is the hero of the film. I don't think this takes away from the film too much you know.

When I find some flaw in a major Ford film, it's relative. Most directors would be lucky to make even one film this good. Not just artistically, but on the subject of race, too, it is way ahead of others of the period.

I've loved CHEYENNE AUTUMN and been depressed at the way it's been treated (much worse than SERGEANT RUTLEDGE by most critics). I thought Toshi Fujiwara's UNDERCURRENT article was a great step up and a much more thoughtful and deeply considered view of it.

May 24, 2009 12:23 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel,
Intrigued by your comment about an article in Cahiers bearing the signs of being written by Jean-Marie Straub under a psuedonym, I checked it out (it's in issue 127). (Apologies for all for jumping from Ford to Sraub, but then Straub, when asked about his own work, more often than not replies with reference to Ford...)

It is quite uncanny: if ever Straub had written a pseudonymous piece, this would have to be it. (Alas, he never seems to have turned his hand to criticism, pseudonymously or not, at least none that was ever published.)

As you now no doubt know, the author, Philippe d'Hugues (b. 1931, two years before Straub)is not only still alive and apparently active but, in a small irony, was, like Truffaut, associated throughout the 1960s and 70s at least with the far-right-wing press, something that was anathema to Straub. Which raises an interesting question: how can the far left and the far right both love Ford? How could we mistake d'Hugues for Straub?

May 24, 2009 12:33 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

I might add, Miguel, that your list at the end of "Ford's Depth" is pretty similar to mine, given that the order of films is not exactly the same of course. There's a few I rate higher not on your list, and a few you rate higher that wouldn't quite make the first 30 or 35 for me. SERGEANT RUTLEDGE is in just about the same place. I actually think a Ford film can stand a few flaws, and even greater films of his than this one have them. And sometimes there can be two ways of looking at something. For example, the "Captain Buffalo" song sequence, while beautiful and purest Ford, does start to remove Rutledge as the human presence he was in the courtroom scene and put him in a mythological realm. He has become almost more a figure than a character here. Maybe that's what Ford wanted--and maybe he wanted the balance between these two things in these different parts of the film. I do like the final image of the film you mentioned, and especially do like that Ford found another cavalry film, with that familiar iconography, to take this subject to--that was always one of its great strengths.

May 24, 2009 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

I want to qualify something in my two previous just a little, because when Miguel said 25 minutes, it actually jarred my memory. I did once time it to 25 minutes AFTER Rutledge's witness stand scene, and it was after that I reconciled my view of the film--and I will pretty much stand by five-sixths of a masterpiece, thinking about it now, because given the length of the movie, five-sixths would include scenes in the last 25 minutes. No need to say again that I respond to the "Captain Buffalo" song, and, Miguel, of course the Willis Bouchey/Judson Pratt comedy is welcome as it is throughout, but this would be here no matter what else was going on. The crosses and coat denouement feels very long to me, and I must say too that I've always felt some ambivalence about Carlton Young's racist diatribe as the prosecutor.
While the actual rapist/murderer's confession (though I've seen it criticized) is fine with me--it's simply drama and even Cantrell's hitting him, which would never happen in a real courtroom, is for dramatic effect, I feel that a skillful prosecutor like Young's character would know his officers trying the case and would know that whatever racism was there, it wouldn't play well for him to make that kind of direct racist appeal to them. That leaves his own racism, which I do believe is there, but it has been handled well subtextually throughout the film, and more effectively so. Really, the moment where his white gloved hand points to Rutledge's black head is more effective than that whole speech. The speech just strains credibility even with suspension of disbelief in a way Cantrell slapping the guilty man does not. I'll add this--Ford rarely errs in the way he casts his stock company people, and I won't say he does with Carlton Young either. Young's fine voice and aristocratic bearing arguably lend themselves well to a smug, haughty character like this one. But I think Young comes over even better when these same qualities are in some way played against, and he plays a sympathetic character, like the one-armed confederate officer in THE HORSE SOLDIERS or the protagonist of "The Colter Craven Story." For me, he is a richer presence that way. Somewhere in between, of course, he does have one of the most famous lines in all of Ford.

Again, Miguel, Ford films I love can stand a little critique I believe. I don't think your own arguments as I've read them have been so much for absolute perfection as for the deep Fordian beauties that permeate his whole body of work and are in some way present in most of the films.

May 24, 2009 2:04 PM  
Blogger Vanwall said...

Blake and Miguel - I mis-spoke somewhat about Sergeant Rutledge, sorry. It's not minor for me, but it seems to be among many another's opinion, and I have never really understood that. I have a special fondness for much of it, having grown up in Arizona where it's ostensibly set, and it catches the alone-ness of the desert, especially the night scene at the station in the beginning.

I think the courtroom scenes are indispensable to illuminate the motivations of Lt. Cantrell's pursuit of Sgt. Rutledge. Cantrell knew deep down inside that there was something wrong about the whole scenario of the murder that made him believe Rutledge was innocent, and I see the chase as less of a conventional one, and more of a path of enlightenment for Lt. Cantrell and Sgt. Rutledge.

Besides, the film had Juano Hernandez in another amazing incarnation, and I'd watch it just for that.

May 24, 2009 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Timothy, of course I investigated and sure, I found out who Philippe d'Hughes was then and what he's doing nowadays, and all the research he has made in between. But I have read no other review of "Two Rode Together" which so early recognized its greatness; most of his argument sounded quite Straubian, with even quotations from Corneille! So it is certainly very curious indeed. Perhaps on some things even the most opposite people can sometimes agree, as well as really close people can disagree on others.
Blake, I'm not trying to plead for "Sergeant Rutledge" as one of the very best Ford films, there are too many which are great, and quite a few are greater. Much less would I pretend that the film is perfect, I'm not interested in perfection, and one can find flaws in even the best. But it struck me
that you found "Perrymasonesque" rather than "Fordian" Lt. Cantrell's way of solving the "whodonit" issue, perhaps a common resource in both James Warner Bellah & Willis Goldbeck's flashback-structured and quite theatrical screenplays for "Sergeant Rutledge" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". And in a trial an attorney, even risking contempt of court, disbarring and lack of verosimilitude, has much more liberty than any witness and particularly the defendant. Once he has been cross-examined, what else could Rutledge do? Even if he had known the identity of the killer, who would have believed him?, being the defendant and black, when doubts are cast even on Cantrell's suspicions. Also, and this may be a commercial-economic bias, Woody Strode is NOT the star of the picture (he comes fourth, even Billie Burke precedes him!), and the protagonist in terms of structure, point of view and screen-time is certainly Jeffrey Hunter. Ford gives him the title and that truly epic, "bigger than life" treatment that Hunter never gets. I find Carleton Young performance quite shrewd, only his own rethoric stress on the whiteness of the dead boy Caldwell suspect and of the victim makes him have a slip of his tongue and change from "that man" to "that negro" when referring to Rutledge, thus allowing Cantrell to make a brief and clear-cut statement against racism which I find very brave for 1960. I rather think the film is not as good as the best by Ford perhaps because it wants clearly to get a message across - that's also the limit of "Cheyenne Autumn" - and because the narrative is not as simple and free as it usually is.
Miguel Marías

May 24, 2009 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Blake, I forgot to mention that I found Toshi Fujiwara's piece on "Cheyenne Autumn" in UNDERCURRENT the best I've read on that much-maligned film. He rightly underlines Sister Deborah (Carroll Baker was magnificent with Ford, there and in "The Civil War") explanation: "I want them to know that I'm with them", which I believe maybe both the motivation and the slight limitation of "Sergeant Rutledge" and "Cheyenne Autumn". Perhaps he was tired of being misunderstood: you know the truth about Col. Thursday in "Fort Apache" and about "The Man Who Shot Liberty Vaalance" because FORD shows it, regardless of what any character says.
Miguel Marías

May 24, 2009 7:00 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Hmmm, I think Carleton Young's prosecuter said "...That Negro!"
with very conscious deliberation and it never sounded like a slip of the tongue to me. So we disagree about that--but of course Ford wanted Cantrell to reply to it in the way he did and that's why it's there.

(And sorry I misspelled his first name before--I hate to mispell).

Don't take me quite so seriously on the "Perry Mason" statement--it's just a reference to the way Cantrell solves the mystery in the courtroom and reveals the guilty man. That doesn't mean the film films like a PERRY MASON episode to me or doesn't feel Fordian, because it does. More than LIBERTY VALANCE type scripting, it's definitely reminiscent of the YOUNG MR. LINCOLN denouement as you noted before.

Speaking of which, it's important to remember that the strongest part of a film need not always be its climax. I rank YOUNG MR. LINCOLN very near the top (higher than you, I believe), but in truth, it is the first ten minutes that puts it there for me--and maybe for most people. For me, there is not a film in which that much lyricism and devastaing emotion were accomplished so quickly as there. The rest of the film couldn't be like that, and it shouldn't be, but it's all a logical development of the whole and all works beautifully for me.

Yes, there's something of a "message movie" in SERGEANT RUTLEDGE, but a very sophisticated one, always done artfully, and that doesn't limit it much for me. It's maybe less true of CHEYENNE AUTUMN, even if there's a reason to say so--a more complex film, and it's the complexities that were overlooked through the years (but of course, as Toshi Fujiwara's article shows, through the years is not forever--and that's why it's important to keep getting back to these films and not just succumb to what is supposed to be the received wisdom about them). CHEYENNE AUTUMN isn't perfect either, by any means
--and it's maybe an even better example that a facile perfection is not the most important thing about a film.

And just a word to Vanwall to say that yes, Juano Hernandez rules! This performance here certainly confirms that if the films had been there, he, like Strode, could have fit in beautifully as a Ford stock company player. Of course, there is more black presence in Ford than most classical directors, but not as much, historically as there was in the real West. It's quite sad that later, lesser Westerns have corrected this but are so hard to bear after all the great ones, few of which, before SERGEANT RUTLEDGE, dealt with black/white racial realities on the frontier (though there are some notable exceptions of course).

Not to get too off track, Vanwall, but my personal favorite Hernandez is Art Hazard in YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN. I'm sure you've seen that one.

And thanks for bringing SERGEANT RUTLEDGE into play here for what I felt was some worthwhile discussion of it.

May 24, 2009 7:25 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Oh, one more thing, Miguel--about Strode's billing. Couldn't they have at least given him a separate panel, say following Hunter, Towers and Burke and it would have said "and Woody Strode as Sergeant Rutledge" or something like that? Just putting his name first among the supporting players always annoyed me more than anything in the film itself.!

May 24, 2009 7:32 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

Thanks, Girish, for setting off this great discussion (hello Blake! good to read you again). Miguel, your second comment in this thread is essentially what I was trying put forth as a "defense" of (I put it in quotes because I don't believe you were trying to mount an offensive against) Tag Gallagher. I value very much the attitude that you (and Gallagher, and Rosenbaum, and others) have of disregarding standard catalogs and canons -- writing instead, without concessions, in a "major" key about films often considered "minor". Some critics/historians seem overly ready and willing to forget whole swathes of a filmmakers output.

You bring up a good point, Miguel, that the "major/minor" distinction is often even a sign without a referant (the Academy? the box office? film historians?: we often don't know to whom or what a film is "major" or "minor"). Perhaps then it's actually the lack of a distinction then. What gets me is that often the "major" "minor" cataloging often presents itself as immuteable. But when I look at, for instance, the William K. Everson archive and read his old program notes, I'm reassured that there are always those who give due attention to films rather than propriety.

Anyhow, in the course of this discussion several films have been mentioned that are to me are some of the richest films in the history of cinema, courageously epochal with no thanks given in return: SALUTE!, BROKEN LULLABY, THE RIVERS EDGE (Costa recommended this one to me only about a year ago).

It might sound purely contrarian, but I find TOBACCO ROAD a "major" film in two senses: that it lead the way for mutant films like TWO RODE TOGETHER, and that there are few films (of any director) where the articulation is more diverse and boldy contrasted. It's an area where aesthetic values might be different from what's considered "classic" or "major" (something Adrian M. has written about). TOBACCO is a major film FOR contrast; like Jerry Lewis (the beginning of LADIES' MAN), Monteiro (all of them), some Godard films (SOIGNE TA DROITE). In TOBACCO, that aesthetic value is pushed to the extent of taboo (a possible theory: sexually the film could not deal with the taboos of Caldwell's play, so Ford did it with the taboos of portraying the poor, their violence and the violence done to them; taboos of comedy and social conciousness, cf Brecht). And it's not as if character and soul are sacraficed in the film...I don't think. Is TOBACCO ROAD important to anyone else here? I noticed Kevin Lee's video commentary on the film... maybe opinion is going over to TOBACCO's side?

A few other Fords that have been neglected over the years: SUBMARINE PATROL (one of his best comedies), THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING, BLACK WATCH. Lots of Nicholas Ray has been done wrong too (WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES, THE LUSTY MEN...I don't understand why BIGGER THAN LIFE is only considered a consensus "major" by people outside of the States and not, mainly, inside.)

Cahiers critic and filmmaker Jean-Claude Biette had a simple and neat way of casually reversing forced received-wisdoms of Ford heirarchies with the example that, for him, MARY OF SCOTLAND is "a good bad Ford" whereas THE LOST PATROL is "a bad good Ford". Maculine pronoun aside, Cézanne well reminds: "An honest man has his code of laws in his blood."

May 24, 2009 9:14 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

Miguel you also mentioned taking up Raya Martin today. Obviously the "security fences" of the market haven't been entirely demolished and most of these "major/minor" exertions are inextricable from the marketplace. Not one of Raya's films have screened even once here in Los Angeles. Costa's films, only one single screening of each. And when the recent "Late Hawks" program came to Los Angeles and was put on by the good Ian Birnie of LACMA, he introduced the films and could not hide his exasperation with the Los Angeles Times over thier article about the event, an article peppered with the words "flops" and "disappointments", thus setting it up, at best, as an item for Hawks specialists only. As if HATARI! was a "flop" (it wasn't, but who cares anyway?), a "disappointment" or for specialists at all! LAND OF THE PHARAOHS was actually booed by a few people -- and applauded by others.

Regarding Straub and this piece possibly written by him under the pseudonym "Philippe d'Hugues" on TWO RODE TOGETHER: it seems unlikely, no? Given that
a) Philippe d'Hugues is clearly his own person, and was at that time (does anyone take pseudonyms from people they know?) and b) Straub has always said, and I've seen no evidence that made me think he's fibbing, that he and Huillet did not discover Ford for themselves until after they started to make films. The TWO RODE TOGETHER article is 1962, and Straub's first film is 1963, MACHORKA MUFF. My impression is that they saw their first Fords around the time of NOT RECONCILED, '64 or '65. Gallagher might know which Fords and exactly when.

Caboose, Straub had indeed had his hand in film criticism. He even told Roud that at first he didn't want to make films, only write about them. Straub wrote 3 articles as a critic that were published in Radio Cinéma Télévision:

•Jean-Marie Straub, « L’œuvre de Rossellini a-t-elle une signification chrétienne ? », Radio Cinéma Télévision, n°265, 13 février 1955
• Jean-Marie Straub, « Clouzot flétrit le spectateur. Hitchcock exalte le public », Radio Cinéma Télévision, n°268, 6 mars 1955, p.37
•Jean-Marie Straub, Daniel Kostoveski, « Qui est Nicolas Ray ? », Radio Cinéma Télévision, n°269, 13 mars 1955, p.2

There are exceprts from Straub/Kostoveski's Nicholas Ray article in English in Bernard Eisenschitz's Nicholas Ray: An American Journey. Straub also makes reference in an interview to a critical piece he wrote that was rejected by Bazin. Sorry, I don't know any of the particulars on that. I also consider Straub's piece on Dreyer a piece of film criticism ("Ferocious", CdC no.207, 1968 -- which I have up on my blog). For reference, here's a website that has a comprehensive list of Straub and Huillet's published writings: http://www.cinematheque.ch/F/progr_straub.htm. There are over 30 entries (and this isn't including interviews)! Some of these are just notes, poems, fragments, and contributions to surveys. Some of them appear to be full fledged pieces of criticism. There are two for instance on Peter Nestler's work. There's also one brief but roaring piece not on this list that appears in the booklet of the Portugeuse dvd of OU GIT VOTRE SOURIRE ENFOUI?; it's a historical materialist and aesthetic journey through the industrial revolution and its discontents. A collection/translation of all this stuff would be bursting!

Sorry for the length here!

May 24, 2009 9:15 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

PS- Sorry too for my numerous grammatical and spelling errors! And kudos to Fujiwara and the Ford issue of UNDERCURRENT!

May 24, 2009 9:51 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Andy, thanks for all the bibliographical info on Straub. I haven't followed through on it yet, but confess that I wasn't aware of it all. What I have seen until now has definitely fallen into the 'fragment' category. Nothing I've seen has been on the level of a full-fledged, thought-out critical argument (like the d'Hugues piece), so I'm looking forward to discovering perhaps that I have been missing out all along. And I have long wondered whether the Straub text Bazin rejected still exists somewhere... By the way, neither Miguel nor I believe that the d'Hugues piece actually was Straub, simply that it sounds uncannily like something he could have written - all the way, as Miguel remarks, to the quoting of Corneille.

Miguel, I don't want to belabour the point, but it seems to me that there is a difference between both Nicolas Sarkozy and I liking La Princesse de Clèves (that's a joke, only one of us does...) and a fierce right-winger writing a fairly substantial piece of criticism that we could well imagine a fierce left winger writing. (If you had told me that Straub had written that piece, after reading it I wold have bet my last penny on it.) Somehow, among other things, this seems to me to tie into the discussion on this thread about our opinions being our own....but I'm not entirely sure what the connection is, or what this little enigma tells us. I just think it is more important than 'oh well, they both like Ford, and maybe strawberry ice cream too'. Am I making too much of this?

May 24, 2009 11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blake, sorry if I overreacted to the Perry Mason allusion; I'm quite fed up with people saying late Ford, Lang, Renoir, Hawks... looks like TV, and I think the "mystery" at "Rutledge" is far more complex than any of the episodes I've seen and most of Earle Stanley Gardner's novels.
I love very much "Young Mr. Lincoln", but I find it has some "holes" and perhaps a bit too much of hagiography for my taste.
It is perhaps a pity that Ford was too old and "Sergeant Rutledge" not a success: I could well imagine a new Cavalry trilogy with Juano Hernandez - who Vanwall has deservedly pointed out, and whose attitude during the last part of the trial I should have remarked -Strode and some other very good people Ford surely would have found. I would have enjoyed it a lot.
And Blake, I heartily agree that the billing is highly unfair. I certainly had not a hand in it, and probably Ford could do nothing. But aside from the color of your skin, there are classes too, and in Hollywood a supporting player is a supporting player.
Andy, let's not go back to the Gallagher issue, I replied to your "defence" but my post got lost in cyberspace so I thought I'd better let it go... Well, people will think I LOVE ANYTHING FORD DID (which is ALMOST true), but I also consider "Tobacco Road" a highly interesting Ford, in several ways, and I like a lot your allusion here to Jerry Lewis (I find Stepin Fetchit in Ford's films of the '30s and in "The Sun Shines Bright" prefigures Jerry). I think "TR" occupies a position similar to that of "The Diary of a Chambermaid" in Renoir's work, announcing, respectively, the "dissonances" of "Two Rode Together" or the great "battle of Dodge City" bitter farce in "Cheyenne Autumn", and "Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier". There is always a nutty leperchaun streak in Ford which plays against the tempations of academicism and respectability. As for "Mary of Scotland", and apart from what Eisenstein copied from it in "Ivan the Terrible", it deserves re-viewing only for Ford's treatment of Katharine Hepburn and by the performance of John Carradine. Of course, one cannot do much against barriers like not releasing some films or dismissing them on paper whenever they are shown. Save perhaps spreading the desire to see them.
Finally, I said I did think at one time that Philippe d'Hughes could be a "cover name" for Straub (who was by then an exile), but that I had learned it was not so. The fact remains it is uncanny how Straub-like that text seems, even if there is too few by Straub in writing (I recall also something basic & magnificent about Lubitsch in the Cahiers Langlois/Lubitsch issue) to identify his style, which might in any case be "cultivated Frenchman". I hate to refer to myself, but in the article on "Rouge" I suggest certain features of Ford's greatness which can attract people of quite different ideological stances (supposing P. d'Hugues has not changed since the '60s, and that his alleged right-wing associations were more than that; a lot of people have been charged with being fascists which were not even slightly conservative, and I see nothing right-wings in that review).
Miguel Marías

May 25, 2009 6:13 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Therein lies the challenge, if indeed it is a legitimate challenge. Is there anything that *could*, despite appearances, be described as right-wing in the d'Hugues article on Ford of 1962? (Apologies to those who haven't read it.)

There's an interesting precedent in a sense: the Histoire du cinéma published by Bardèche and Brasillach in 1935. It was the first fairly comprehensive 'world' film history (it would be a long time before the developing world and 'minor' national cinemas were admitted to world film history, and in may people's minds still haven't been - how is it possible to cultivate a taste for 'minor' auteurs or 'minor' works by 'major' auteurs while restricting oneself to Hollywood and Paris? - but that's another story.)

Brasillach in particular became a notorious fascist and was executed after the war for collaboration. The first of many revised editions under German Occupation in 1943 (Bardèche continued on alone after the war) made some of their fascist leanings clear. But it was Sadoul, I think, the communist critic (now that I think of it maybe it wasn't Sadoul...), who argued that this latent fascism was apparent in the first edition in 1935 in its vision of world film history as one of 'blood and soil'.

So, to d'Hugues: isn't the one thing that makes the article unlike Straub and so much like the far right-wing its insistence on Ford's fierce individualism? Those are the few paragraphs that one can't imagine Straub writing, to keep up this now somewhat silly false attribution, and that we might say are the right-wing contribution to the literature on Ford. (It's perhaps purely coincidental, and arguably without meaning, but d'Hugues also begins his article with a discussion of which 'nation' Ford belongs to [Irish, American, etc.] - concluding of course that this nation, in Ford's case, is cinema - the new site of a displaced right-wing nationalism in the right-wing French film criticism of the 1950s and 60s, in which I include Truffaut.)

May 25, 2009 7:41 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Actually d'Hugues uses the word 'patrie' (fatherland) in the first sentence of the article, arguably a right-wing term, and not 'nation'.

May 25, 2009 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Timothy, I would be a bit more careful with evidence and assumptions of this kind. "Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé..." goes the "Marseillaise", which therefore, according to you, is a fascist hymn, as was no doubt the French Revolution too? Of course, I know, it was the revolt of bourgeoisie against aristocracy, but then it was before the Industrial Revolution, before Marx, and so on.
The term "nation" is quite recent and widely discussed, and in no way automatically left wing or democratic. It is used in old Yugoslavia and in Spain by all kind of "nationalism" which are quite fascist, whatever they may pretend.
I personally feel no patriotism at all, but to leave the notion of "patrie" (or "fatherland", which sound more German-like) to the right-wing (and then the flag, and how many other things) is to give them too much in term of feelings and emotional icons no to strenghten their force. In the case of people with mixed allegiances (like inmigrants or their offspring, or exiles), one can speculate about their percentage of Americanism or Irishness (most of Ford's films are about America, but there is a group devoted to Ireland). I feel that Straub would have something to say, too, about his changing birthplace (French, German, French), having to flee France, then living in Germany, then in Italy. I feel "Lothringen!" deal more with such issues, and "Nicht verönht" as well, than d'Hugues' review of "Two Rode Together" (which also deals, like "The Searchers", with a white woman which has lived with the Comanche or Apache and is rejected at their return to so called civilization).
I have not CduC 127 here, but I do not recall anything really right-wing about it. And in any case Georges Sadoul does not seem to me a valid authority on who was or was not right-wing. As usually is the case, he often aplied the motto "either you are with me or against me".
Miguel Marías

May 25, 2009 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, I hate having the impression of housebreaking as some sort of squatter into your blog.
Timothy, I'm afraid we're recklessly dragging a M. Philippe d'Hugues which, from what I have read, had in his youth some contacts or personal friendship with people or magazines supposedly right-wing, at least for people at their left, but who by now may have changed a lot (like so many people have) and be quite politically far from where he was (or was supposed to be) almost half a century ago! Mind he's not a character of fiction, but someone with probably a family, who seems to have a job and to be working, mainly about early French films. And I don't see that your political stances necessarily pervades every thing you do. Being right- or left-wing does not prevent anyone from writing something quite good about a film nor does enable him or her.
Miguel Marías

May 25, 2009 10:25 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Yes, it occurred to me that I may not be acting entirely fairly towards Mr d'Hugues, who is a real living person. I do not know his work or his present-day political allegiances. I was, perhaps insensitively, taking his essay as a kind of case study for critical analysis - is there any sign in it of his widely-reputed right-wing political beliefs of the time in which it was written? This is a fairly common critical approach, you have to admit. It's been done with Ford films a million times. In that respect, my out-loud musings stand, in the context of a blog where people can openly speculate about matters they might not replicate in print and despite your misgivings, some of which I accept and some I don't, but there's not much point in in debating which.

May 25, 2009 11:26 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Heavens no, Miguel--the opposite, in fact. The very purpose of this blog is less to record my own thoughts than to provide a comfortable and congenial environment for others to record theirs.

Miguel, you mentioned that many of your favorite pieces were written over a long period of time and in Spanish. Have you considered self-translating the ones you like best into English for the Net? I suspect online magazines like Rouge or Moving Image Source (or many others) would be eager to have them--and they would be appreciated by the scores of cinephiles to whom they would become instantly accessible. Although it would require some significant labor on your part, I suspect...

May 25, 2009 11:29 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, I would just like to say that your example of the Marseillaise is a bit misleading in that it mixes apples and oranges. No stable concept of 'right-wing' existed when it was written. In addition, it would take some research and maybe talking with a few native speakers of a certain age, but I think it might be possible to demonstrate that the word 'patrie', in certain contexts at least, had right-wing overtomes in mid-20th-century France.

May 25, 2009 11:38 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

The official slogan of the collaborationist French Vichy government under German Occupation was 'Travail, Famille, Patrie' - 'Work, Family, Fatherland'. I don't know how else to translate it here.

May 25, 2009 11:51 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

Andy, As a follow-up to your comment about the critical piece by Straub that was rejected by Bazin: There's a reference to this by Luc Moullet in a 1993 interview (included in the monograph LUC MOULLET LE CONTRABANDIER) that clarifies that this was a 1954 piece covering the Venice film festival. That's all that Moullet says about it, except to add that it was rejected "for the same reason" that a 1956 article of his own, on Mizoguchi, was rejected by Bazin. Moullet doesn't spell out the reason, but he implies that it had something to do with both him and Straub being regarded as young upstarts by the Cahiers staffers. He adds that he and Straub were friends at the time and that Truffaut sometimes got the two of them mixed up.

May 25, 2009 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, thanks for the hospitality. As for translating myself, I think I would be unable to do so. It would be very boresome and difficult, you SAY DIFFERENT THINGS in different languages. I'd rather rewrite myself in English, and then I would no other thing in whatever time I have left. I've been writing on film for now 43 years, and I was quite prolific. I would be unable even to collect or select them, had I a copy of everything I've written.
Timothy, or Caboose, I don't know how to call you, as you perfectly know, all words, apart from polysemic meaning, have (and get along the years, and in different places and contexts) varying connotations and denotations or overtones (I don't even recall if these terms are correct in English, but I'm sure you know from the French to what I'm referring to). Neither "patrie" nor "nation" remain untainted, but rather much abused words, kidnapped by different groups, which have given them whatever meaning that might serve their ends. I guess a Resistence member (not necessarily a Gaullist one) considered himself a "patriote" against a traitor "collaborationist" and against the German occupying forces. And the terms "left" and "right" do not strike me as particularly "stable" anytime, perhaps they were more clear when they designed the Commoners and the Lords in Parliaments than nowadays. Somebody who might be considered a leftist in the US (assuredly by someone at his/her right, or by himself) could easily be seen as a conservative and a bigot in Europe. And now that I have at last back in my hands CduC nº 127 and have re-read "Mais le vieillard est grand", I find it hard to describe it as a "right-wing" defence of Ford. It is explicitly (p.52) against racism, and he attributes to some critics the reproach of "trop bien servir sa patrie", referring to cinema; I know of a lot of filmmakers, not precisely right-wing, who deny country boundaries and prefer the internationalism of cinema. So, in that context, it has nothing to do with the slogans of the Front National (or Mussolini, or Hitler, or Franco here). That most Ford "heroes" are rather a-social individualists who frequently end alone (Ethan Edwards being the perfect example) seems not uncertain. It is a indeed a debatable matter whether Ford is or not interested by society, and there is certainly a lot of ambivalence in his depiction of it, as well in "Two Rode Together" as in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". But at the time (January 1962) criticism of Ford was merely tentative and was at a far less developed stage than it may be today. P.d'Hugues mentions Walsh and Lang (which could make of him a "MacMahonist", although not necessarily), but also Renoir and Godard, and seems rather skeptical about Cottafavi. But then, many people considered Godard right-wing at the time. As for Georges Sadoul as a reliable source, it would be enough to re-read what he had to say in his 1965"Dictionnaire des cinéastes" about Fuller, Sirk, Guitry, Preminger, Melville or Gance not to take him too seriously. I would not certainly describe as "leftist" P. d'Hugues' review, but nothing was very leftist in "Cahiers" at the time and I have no idea how far left may Straub have been around 1961.
Miguel Marías
Miguel Marías

May 25, 2009 2:15 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

I echo Darren's jubilation at your posting about a single, specific film, Girish. And an old one. In Technicolor. Directed by John Ford. My cup runneth over. As always when you give a film a close reading, you zoom in on a beautifully cogent point, the idea of the rituals of the cavalry, and the way they underpin the values of the characters. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is such a tender movie, one of the few classic Westerns where one feels the action sequences are decorating the periods of calm, and not the other way around.

Indeed one thing I find in many Ford films is an appreciation for the rhythms of the mundane. Ford establishes the warmth and safety of duty and routine so well, and often with great economy, as in the brief opening scenes of The Searchers. So when those routines are shattered (as they always are), you feel the loss.

I am working my way through the Fujiwara round-up--what a splendid project. Meanwhile, I am glad to see none other than Dan Sallitt showing some love for Wee Willie Winkie. Now there's a movie that has been unjustly maligned as minor. (Dan, if you have a link to any write-up you have ever done on the film, I would love to see it.) Also second the warm feelings for The Horse Soldiers. If someone asked me about a Ford film I would like to rescue from "minor" status, I would name The Informer.

There are a number of Ford films in the Fox set that I haven't see (The Iron Horse, The Prisoner of Shark Island, When Willie Comes Home). My favorites would include the Shirley Temple movie, The Grapes of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, How Green Was My Valley, and Drums Along the Mohawk.

May 25, 2009 2:37 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

P.S. I had so much to say that I neglected to cite Blake Lucas's essay on The Informer, which gladdened my heart. He noted other great things about it that I didn't touch upon when I wrote the film up a couple of years ago. And the screen caps are a defense in and of themselves.

May 25, 2009 2:46 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Miguel, just to note that I share your exasperation and feel the same way you do about commentators saying that late Ford, Renoir, Lang, Hawks, look like TV. In fact, I can think of few things that have been said that have annoyed me much more. But the subject of late (and last) film mastery and the nature of it is something that I believe is still widely misunderstood.

Sure, a supporting player is a supporting player, and I don't think Ford made the billing on the film anymore than we did--but Woody Strode had not made so many films, and no really big roles. A panel that said "and INTRODUCING
Woody Strode as Sergeant Rutledge" might have worked and wouldn't have made it seem like he was the star. By the way, I didn't actually say so, but I generally think Cantrell works well in the story as its hero--even though Rutledge is its true subject--and like the romance with Mary Beecher, and always like Jeffrey Hunter. My problem with the last part was not with him or with the character.

Andy, nice to hear your voice and know that you read UNDERCURRENT. Since I think you know I am more apt to champion a minor film (I'm the one who evoked SALUTE! and, in passing, THE BLACK WATCH), you'll know I am not trying to recover an old orthodoxy in my choice of films to write on (even Miguel doesn't like THE INFORMER I'm guessing) but follow my own heart, as I always have. A few people have said they will now give it another chance after reading my piece and that felt pretty good.

I like TOBACCO ROAD--one of the Ford films I wouldn't want to be
without. Of course everyone has to fall somewhere, and for me, at this point anyway, MARY OF SCOTLAND is the least of all his films, though I can't say "worst" about his films and won't say it's of no interest.

Nicholas Ray's THE LUSTY MEN is one of my three favorite films of all time so I appreciated your mentioning it.

And thinking of favorites, Miguel, I noticed in your Senses list (which I realize might well be different today) that there was a mention in your commentary below of THESE THOUSAND HILLS. It really moved me to see that someone else cares that much about it.

I had meant to chime in earlier also about your well-considered observation that the more languages we know the better, and this is my limitation, which I'm now regretting. You have done very well in English. My one piece in French (on Ford) was a translation done by a French translator, who did a really good job.

And also, the things one writes can be hard to keep for a writer and hard to find for a reader. Most of my own writing in the past was for Magill's Survey of Cinema and Cinema Annuals, and that includes a piece on Ford's THE LONG GRAY LINE that I wish people who like him could read. But I don't own these--they do, and that's my contract. So even the pieces among the over 100 I did that I think might be worth saving are beyond my control. It's my understanding they were once online without attribution to the writers. Chris Fujiwara read my piece on THE CARDINAL without knowing I wrote it until we were discussing the film and I told him I had written that piece. I also didn't archive anything I did for the LA READER and now wish I had.

It's OK, though, because hopefully anything I write now will hopefully be better, and it's best to look to the present and future.

May 25, 2009 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Girish, I too am sorry if I took it off on any tangents. I appreciate the space and flexibility you allow, and I'm sure everyone feels that way.

May 25, 2009 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Campase (hope I got that right--it's out of my sight line now)

-thank you so much for your comment on THE INFORMER piece and for sharing my feeling about wanting to encourage people back to a film that has come to be regarded as "minor."

I especially appreciated your comment about the screencaps because they were indeed intended to be the ultimate "defense" more than any words I wrote. I did choose all of them, but I don't know how to do this technically so provided Chris Fujiwara the timings from the DVD and let him make the final decision on actually placing them. But in every case it was what I wanted and especially so with the still at the head of the piece, which I wanted there although that composition is referred to later, and felt pretty strongly about it.

Anyway, thank you so much, and I also enjoyed your additional comments on Yellow Ribbon, especially the relationship of "calm" to "action." It's pretty well-known that it drives me crazy when people refer to the Western as an action genre (even though action is commonly one part of it), though I guess Ford might be the one director that consistently proves my point and never more than in Yellow Ribbon. Yet the fact this remains one of the most beloved films in the genre speaks volumes.

May 25, 2009 3:12 PM  
Blogger jesús cortés said...

Precisely in Spanish Nickel Odeon magazine, I guess it was nº 3 or 4 it´s one of Miguel´s finest pieces and it´s on "These thousand hills". For that magazine, that don´t exist yet, there are other Miguel´s great articles on Lang´s "Der tiger von Eschnapur / Das indische grabmal", Buñuel´s "The adventures of Robinson Crusoe" or "El gran calavera", Robert Montgomery´s "Ride the pink horse", and many more. His books on Leo McCarey and Manuel Mur Oti are luminous and dare to think in other terms about those filmmakers (the former, forever underrated, the latter unknown for every cinephile outside Spain I suppose).

May 25, 2009 3:21 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Blake, you are most welcome. Here is the link to what I wrote about The Informer a couple of years ago. Your writing brought a good many parts of the movie back to me.

May 25, 2009 5:00 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, I will make a final attempt. I'm not quite sure, first of all, why you keep returning to Sadoul's wilfull blindness with respect to certain filmmakers - Douglas Sirk didn't even earn a spot in his Dictionary of Filmmakers - which in the end is little different than David Thomson's wilfull blindness about John Ford. This in no way invalidates Sadoul's remark, which one can accept or dispute but not dismiss out of hand because Sadoul was an ideologue, that Bardèche and Brasillach's 1935 History was latently fascist because it saw cinema in terms of blood and soil. (If I'm even correct in attributing this observation to Sadoul.)

Second, there seems to be a fair degree of wilfull blindness in your determination not even to grasp what lies behind my comments about Philippe d'Hugues on Ford. Is it that odd or unconventional or contentitious to ask if, in a writer's style, thematic conerns and vocabularly, some aspect of his or her ideological world view might be shining through? Goodness gracious. I suggested that perhaps the themes of d'Hugues' piece on Ford (individualism, 'patrie') revealed a right-wing world view. One can dispute my conclusions, but my critical method, such as it is? It's commonplace.

May 25, 2009 5:19 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

Thanks for the further context on the Straub piece refused by Bazin, Jonathan. This all rings a bell but I can't find my references for the interview where Straub mentions it and may reveal more. At Venice '54 it seems Straub "chose to write on three films:
SANSHO DAYU -
EL RIO Y LA MUERTE -
REAR WINDOW."
--from this note here. Cinema in '54, not for minors!

Thanks for the kind words Blake. I think last time I saw you was at the LAFF screening of Rivette's NE TOUCHEZ PAS LA HACHE where we were going on overwhelmed by the mise en scene of the quadrille sequence. I believe one of us even made reference to MY DARLING CLEMENTINE!

May 25, 2009 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caboose, I'm sure that sometimes you can deduce (or see through), even if it is not openly expressed, whatever political or ideological position holds a critic. But from a single piece... and that's the only thing written by Philippe d'Hugues I've ever read. I feel, on the other hand, that it could be difficult to write, say, about "Man Without A Star" (quite a wonderful film, and not at all reactionary) without speaking of individualism. Most of King Vidor's films (and several of Renoir's such as "The Southerner") would make your speak of earth, maybe the films themselves dictate to a certain point what you talk about. So much for Sadoul's detection (after the fact) of Bardeche & Brasillach's "latent fascism" in their '35 edition of a History of Cinema I've read more than 40 years ago, transalted from I don't know which printing, and that I found pretty uninteresting. I did not find it useful, and never felt the impulse of buying it or re-reading it. Even Sadoul gave you better clues (he was fond of Borzage, for example). My French edition of the "Dictionnaire des cinéastes" has a Sirk entry, ridiculously contemptuous.
Blake, in Spain "These Thousand Hills" was rather highly regarded around 1962, when it opened belatedly. It remains for me one of the greatest westerns, and perhaps the best Fleischer, together with "The New Centurions", "Mandingo" and "Violent Saturday". I actually do like "The Informer", a large part of it very much, but I find too much the ending, the religious imagery puts me off.
Andy, I forgot to mention that there are lots of things in "Donovan's Reef" which also recall me Jerry Lewis (apart from being a Paramount picture and having among its writers Edmund Beloin).
Miguel Marías

May 25, 2009 6:46 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Miguel, latter-day reprintings and re-editions of Sadoul's dictionary are revised by anonymous editors who do not indicate the changes they have made (except in the case of the English edition translated by Peter Morris back in the early 70s, and never updated since, who made an effort to leave a trace of his changes and additions). I don't know what edition you're referring to in which language, but in all likelihood the Sirk entry you have was written by someone else. I can't put my hands on it now, but I once consulted Sadoul's original edition from 1965and Sirk and another American director, I can't remember who - Fuller? - were absent. So I seem to recall.

May 25, 2009 7:44 PM  
Blogger The Demarest said...

Among late Fords, I've always found that THE LAST HURRAH has been undervalued. Had all of Ford's strengths and weaknesses, plus that beautiful shot of Tracy's shadow coming down those long stairs.

I'd also recommend my colleague Scott Eyman's book on Ford, PRINT THE LEGEND.

May 25, 2009 10:16 PM  
Blogger Ted Fendt said...

Andy, in an interview between Thierry Lounas and Pedro Costa in 1999 that was published in Cahiers du cinema, Straub says that his first piece of criticism was a 60 page piece on Antonioni's Story of a Love Affair. Nobody, including Bazin, would publish it and he says that he subsequently burned it after he left France for Germany.

Here's the full quote:
"Le premier texte que j’ai écrit faisait soixante pages et portait sur Chronique d’un amour d’Antonioni. C’était sur le film sans être vraiment sur le film, cela partait de L’Adolescent de Dotoievski et de The End of the Affair de Graham Greene. Je l’ai montre a Bazin qui m’a dit qu’il n’était pas sur que le film supporte cette pyramide. Pour ma part, je trouvais que c’était un cinéma synthétique et nouveau, en particulier à propos de l’espace. Bazin m’a envoyé chez Marker, à Esprit, pour essayer de publier ce texte. Mais personne n’a voulu le publier. Apres, je suis parti en Allemagne et je l’ai brûlé. J’avais aussi écrit un texte sur Fenêtre sur cour que Doniol, Bazin et les autres avaient même mis en page. J’avais relu les épreuves et ensuite ils ont décidé que le numero spécial Hitchcock des Cahiers s’arrêterait au film précèdent, Le Crime était presque parfait. C’était uniquement une petite analyse des rapports spatiaux dans Fenêtre sur cour."

May 26, 2009 12:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caboose, I guess 1965 is "late" for Sadoul since he died in 1967, but I'm referring to the pocket edition where no collaborator is mentioned and therefore Sadoul is responsible. He could have omitted Sirk or Fuller - after all, most books of the kind did -, but there are small, dismissive and insulting notices with the single purpose of discouraging further research.
If there is one thing I hate in criticism (not to mention film) is to have the author nudging at me with his/her elbow, or winking to catch my complicity by way of certain allusions or words whose purpose is telling me "Im a progressive guy, I'm OK, I'm politically correct, I'm anti-racist, I'm ...". And I'm afraid this is a successful enough strategy, since lots of people judge by political allegiance, rather than what is actually said or shown. In Sadoul you often feel than if he praises an Hungarian or Soviet bore and belittles most American films is for that reason.
Ted, what a pity not to be able to read a long Straub piece about "Cronaca di un amore" or something on the use of space in "Rear Window". In the first case, whener you write a 60-page article you're lost, much as you search someone to publish you (I wrote a piece on Hitchcock movies as love stories and suspense as a way of dramatizing them of that lenghth and it took me some five years to see it printed).
The Demarest, I count "The Last Hurrah" as one of Ford's ten greatest films, and know some people who would put it even nearer to the top.
Campaspe, you mentioned you had yet three or four films to watch in the obtrusive/obnoxious Fox box. All of them are very good, much better than their current reputation.
Miguel Marías

May 26, 2009 3:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caboose, we need not be so careful. Contrary to my fears, after checking up as much as I've been able, Philippe d'Hugues seems not to have been a reckless youth that had once courted right-wing groups from which age could have distanced him. At 78, he seems actively involved in French nationalistic extreme-right groups, hopefully peaceful and whose action seems thankfully limited to the "cultural front". Most of what I have read (neither much not very personal, with no mention of Ford, his interests seem exclusively centered in French cinema since 1895, an particularly during the 2nd WW) is a fierce if unconvincing defence of such chimeric quests as the "purity" of the French tongue (and, by implication, race?), increasingly menaced by all kind of threats and corruptions. I imagine a group of old cronies may meet and evoke nostalgically the "good old times of the Vichy Régime" and the "glorious" Third Reich, and read their small-circulation reviews, but they may have young disciples too, maybe even connections with the likes of Le Pen, as they have in Italy with Bandiera Nera, on which radio station d'Hugues has lectured some times. I have not found any "negationist" statements about the Holocaust, but these groups seem to unashamedly glorify Bardeche, Brasillach, Rabatet, and the whole lot of anti-semitic French writers (some of them, alas, as talented as Céline or Drieu la Rochelle) which collaborated with Vichy and even the Germans.
All of which still poses some questions. Not so much that d'Hugues saw in Ford in 1961 things not many people had seen by then, which can be a result of his culture (he has won all sort of awards, including from the Academie Française, for his research and erudition as a film historian), he knew the classics (from Corneille and Shakespeare to Hugo) and was able to recognize the same traits in late Ford, but that I could have thought that Jean-Marie Straub could have written that review. Well, I don't know if I would have thought that nowadays (the idea occured to me in 1969), but I still find my fantasy was not so off the mark as it may seem.
Miguel Marías

May 26, 2009 7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, Girish, Corey, Blake and everybody else, I am aware that the strange case of Philippe d'Hugues seems to infirm my initial contention that one should not accept given opinion uncritically and should therefore stand and speak up for films or filmmakers one feels have been unjustly overlooked, neglected, maligned or misappreciated.
I remember that Jacques Ledoux, from the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, to celebrate the US Bicentennial (in 1976), conducted a survey from that standpoint about the best and the most misappreciated American films, which was duly collected in a wonderful book which I find, had it circulated widely, would have made a lot for the re-evaluation of many American films and directors. That does not mean, of course, that anything which goes against generally accepted values is right. It has to be argued, but it should not limit itself to supposedly acceptable standards, because it is a mystery why are some values almost generally shared (it always astonishes me how widely respected and even idolized is my dear uncle, Jess Franco, no doubt a very funny man, but for me the author of mostly very ugly, unerotic and boring pictures, with 5 or 6 passable exceptions) and others are not. So I must say that I respect d'Hugues right to say Bardeche & Brasillach were great historians or whatever -even if I disagree with him -, at least to the extent that he really thinks so, and is not merely defending and promoting his correligionaries and their historical biases.
Miguel Marías

May 26, 2009 9:16 AM  
Blogger Ted Fendt said...

Minor correction to my earlier post so as not to confuse anyone. It is an interview conducted by Lounas and Costa with Straub and Huillet in 1999 upon the release of Sicilia!.

May 26, 2009 9:26 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Fascinating, and highly dispiriting. It makes one ashamed to have thought that this was one of the best little pieces of film criticism one had encountered in a long time, albeit 47 years after the fact.

Ashamed because of the nagging doubt that somewhere in this short piece on one film by Ford lies a far-right-wing world view, or better (or worse) yet a key to this world view that one should have detected and rejected.

I'm back to my original question (apologies to all..), rephrased: is there perhaps something too loose and flabby about our profession when we can confuse the work of such a person with someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum? It's enough to make one want to take up cognitivist analysis or something....

(My verfication word to post this comment: dinde - turkey in French, and a word of derision in that language just as it is in English. 'What a dinde you are', I say to myself, 'for having liked the d'Hugues piece so much'.)

May 26, 2009 9:29 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Timothy: given the genesis of the politique, I would be more surprised if such confusions didn't occur. Here's a long-ago post I made to a_film_by on the subject:

http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/a_film_by/message/658

Campaspe - I don't think I've ever written on Wee Willie Winkie. And it's been too long since I've seen it.

May 26, 2009 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Just a quick insert in this fascinating discussion: it's my observation that conservative/right-wing film critics - especially those who are roughly over 50 and male - almost ALWAYS love John Ford. There's a conservative magazine in Australia called QUADRANT which was published, down the decades, various odes to Ford's humanism, his sense of tradition, his deep engagement in miltary history (military history seems the abiding conservative obsession!) ... whatever we may think of this association, Ford comes, for these critics, to stand for some kind of 'lost classicism' they really warm to ...

May 26, 2009 11:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Dan, Peter Graham's The New Wave, which you reference in your AFB post, was recently expanded and reissued in a paperback edition retitled The French New Wave. (Thanks to Tim for tipping me off to this some time ago.) It is now co-edited with Ginette Vincendeau, and has an introductory essay by her, plus a new translation of "Central Tendency" and an expanded bibliography.

May 26, 2009 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Mike Grost said...

People are racing to express their contempt for Erle Stanley Gardner, and his Perry Mason novels.
In 1960, most people were sure that since John Ford made Western movies, his films MUST be garbage. It took a long time for a more open-minded assessment to take place.
Are people extending the same open-mindedness to Gardner? Is it possible, that a careful reading of his best works might reveal merit?
Gardner was a brilliant plotter. Books like THE CASE OF THE EMPTY TIN or THE DA DRAWS A CIRCLE are noted for their fabulously complex plots. Gardner also had sympathy for an unusually wide group of humans. His books take a genuinely sympathetic view towards a huge array of working women, and are often considered among the most feminist mysteries of their era. Gardner was the lawyer for much of the Chinese community in S. California in the 1920's, and his books are full of sympathetic, non-stereotyped Chinese. In 1930, this was a left-wing political statement. Then there's his sleuth Sidney Zoom, who helped ordinary people battle rich exploiters in 1930's pulp magazines. Zoom sure seems g*a*y, even though the word is never used.

May 26, 2009 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike, I have nothing against E.S. Gardner, only that, after reading 80 or so of his novels, as with Agatha Christie's, you begin to guess who the murderer was. I seem to recall I liked him better when he signed as A.A. Fair.
Caboose, I don't think it matters much who really wrote the piece on "Two Rode Together". If it is good it remains good, even if you then lear he is a murderer, a woman-beater or a former Nazi spy.
Apart from which, I think one should judge criticism as well as films without need of investigating the past of the author, it would be like the FBI or the KGB or the HUAC. Right-wing people can be educated, cultivated and good writers, and have good taste in music, film or painting. As long as they do not disfigure or manipulate the works they comment to "bring water to their own mill", as we say in Spain, and politicians so often do, their ideological or political leanings can be irrelevant, or only of slight relevance. They may be even dangerous, but not always let their attitudes interfere with what they see and comment. Of course, I've read people here in the '60 who wrote they liked "Hatari!" because it demostrated the existence of God! Next time I saw it I checked that was that critic's pure fantasy, and realized two persons can love the same film for very different, even opposite reasons. Michel Mourlet may be right-wing, and Jacques Lourcelles has sometimes been treated as some sort of "untouchable", and both (like many people I know) are almost unable to appreciate most films made after 1960, which makes the cinematographically conservative. But the former has written very interesting things and the latter is much better than most "politically correct" critics I can think of.
Miguel Marías

May 26, 2009 2:43 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Campaspe - Thank you for the link. I hadn't not read this or been aware of it, and really enjoyed reading it. As you'll agree, we value many of the same things about the film (THE INFORMER) and observed some of the same things, as with (as you said) the "great visual beauty" especially in the use of light, McLaglen, even the links with M. And maybe disagreed somewhat about the women, though not about Angel/Foster scenes--a weak point but still redeemed by the beautiful lighting.

Adrian, no doubt "right wing"/conservative critics love Ford but surely you are aware that "left wing" progressives also do and embrace him just as much--I knew a guy who was a card-carrying Communist in the early 70s who said he was also telling his political friends that they did not appreciate "the radical thrust of Ford." Which is group is right? Neither. And that's exactly one of the things that is great about Ford--he is an artist and not there to make anyone comfortable in their political position. There are aspects of both both ideologies in his work, sometimes at play in the same time in challenging ways.

Mike G.--nothing against Earle Stanley Gardner. I haven't read one of his books. I was referring to the TV show and wasn't even criticizing that, just noting how the plots resolved by Mason solving the mysterys and revealing the murderer in the courtroom. My only point, and I believe Miguel would agree, is that a Ford film is very different and the similarity of that one aspect is superficial.

And Miguel, if I did read Spanish, I would love to read your piece on THESE THOUSAND HILLS, but alas I don't so can only hope you'll consider translating it sometime. I didn't think anyone had ever written anything substantial about it except me. If you read my piece in THE FILM JOURNAL, you'll know I agree it is one of the greatest Westerns. In fact, I consider it really an ideal film.

I'm quite confident that no Western like this one will ever be made again, because understanding of what the genre is has narrowed too much. But that's fine with me. There are other kinds of films we should look to now. There are surely more than enough great films already in any of the traditional genres.

If I think this is Fleischer's greatest film, we also agree on one other with VIOLENT SATURDAY. But of the rest I'd lean more to GIRL IN THE RED VELVET SWING as on a par with those. And these days would say BARABBAS and THE BOSTON STRANGLER.

THE LAST HURRAH. Surely this is one of Ford's masterpieces. Probably many of us agree. Easy to find the DVD for those who haven't seen it, I believe.

May 26, 2009 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

I think my typos in one paragraph were probably not a problem, and some computer glitch is keeping me from posting a full correction. But I probably should have said as regards left wing/right wing embrace of Ford not that "neither" group is right. They are both right at some times and some ways, and I responded to this guy about the "radical thrust of Ford" as having some real insight about him. But my greater point stands--Ford is not there to make you comfortable in your position, whatever it is. And you'd better get beyond it at some point if you're going to really attune yourself to his vision.

In general, I don't think we should go to films to validate our own view of things. That's not what art is about. In extreme cases it may offend us--for me, for example, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL--but in those cases there may be little or no complexity and whatever "art" is there may be in some way dubious.

May 26, 2009 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Now rereading the first one I see so many errors, beginning with the first line where it should have simply said "I hadn't read this..."

But honestly I think I am distracted because somehow I opened up my computer and everything had weiredly changed size just enough on the screen that a popup box comes up when I try to go back and I lose the page and cannot access things that I normally can.

So apologies if there is any seeming confusion of words there. I'll address myself to trying to find out what the problem is and just read posts of others in the meantime.

May 26, 2009 3:52 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

I dunno. Agaist the chorus of people telling me not to worry, to be happy, I have my doubts. It's one thing to like the same filmmaker as someone whose politics you detest. There's not much you can do about that, except stop liking the filmmaker. Naturally a mass medium like cinema is going to share vastly different audiences the world over, and naturally there will be movie-goer/consumers out there who like John Ford because of the shooet-em-ups. Of course there are situations which should give one pause - is anyone out there a bg fan of Viet Harlan? I haven't seen enough to say, maybe he's a great filmmaker. (His son Thomas Harlan, apparently no longer working, is a fantastic filmmaker - try to find his film 'Souvenance'. But I can like him with a clear conscience, he has spent his life opposed to everything that his father stood for.)

But the situation I find myself in is rather different. First, I like the same filmmaker as Mr d'Hugues for all the same reasons. I may like Wagner, but not because I believe he exalts the superiority of the German race.

Second, and more troubling, I don't just like the same filmmaker as Mr d'Hugues, or find him a perceptive and articulate critic on a topic that interests me (as Miguel remarks in justifying his liking for the work of certain right-wing film critics). As someone as interested in film criticism as an art form, if you will, as much as film itself (a situation shared by many contributors to this blog I'm sure), how can I hold Mr d'Hugues' work up as a model for myself and others? At the very least it doesn't quite fit my self-image to go around telling people that I've come upon the greatest critic who, by the way, is a rabid supporter of Le Pen. I'm left with the enigma (?) of how d'Hugues critical concerns can be mine too.

Hence my query: what value is there in what many of us do, write about film, when the results don't even let you tell the good guys from the bad guys?

May 26, 2009 6:37 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Because obviously, contrary to what someone suggested above, the article in question is not just a short text on a single John Ford film, it is an expression of a way of looking at the world, an exhortation to see the world the way the author sees it. All critical writing is.

May 26, 2009 6:59 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

Caboose, correct me if I'm way off (and I apologize for any pedagogical tone, which I have no right to use), but by the way you're posing these questions, it's almost as if being a right winger or a left winger was a question of immanence. Of course it is not and I'm sure you know that. Instead of despairing (a despair I'm well familiar with too!) over a political incongruity whose points are so distant from each other and far from concrete -- D'Hughes in '62, D'Hughes since '62, what he wrote and what he's done, an imagined affinity with Straub, Ford's film inbetween -- perhaps it would be less despairing to examine and delineate the political content of the TWO RODE TOGETHER article? Maybe you've already done this and have still come up with unsettling political stuff. I by the way haven't read the article, so I'd love to know what makes it Straubian, politically, or Le Penian, politically, or its general character at all. "Individualist" doesn't mean much without a lot of context. A high percentage of film critics are dogmatic individualists. Do we dismiss all of them?

Colonialist Le Pen was defeated at Dien Bien Phu and went on to Algeria to oversee torture.
Straub went into exile to avoid being drafted to Algeria and soon after made a film, MACHORKA MUFF, satarizing a post-war Nazi officer's ambitions for the erection of an "Academy of Military Memories" (looking in your direction Adrian). Among other things the film also rings the alarm (in documentary fashion; filming newspapers) about the rearmament of Germany.
Where does D'Hughes and his article and/or Ford's film fit (as it would temporally) between this? Anywhere? By now I'm really curious!

A not incidental side note: I was recently surprised to discover a very direct Straub/Huillet/Ford congruity: in the "Military Memories" corner-stone laying scene of MACHORKA MUFF, Straub's officer "Macho Macho" brags with satisfaction about the correcting of the military record to read higher casualties in his own army (higher by the thousands) during a specific battle of WWII. In Ford's CHESTY: A TRIBUTE TO A LEGEND, a documentary on "Chesty" Puller, the most decorated US Marine in history (Haiti, Peleliu, Guadalcanal, Korean War), "Chesty" proudly evokes the same sentiment: "My enlisted casualties were 57%, my officer casualties 72% and I am more than proud of it. Any operation I've been in, my officer casualties have exceeded the enlisted casualties by a considerable amount. I don't think that was due to my poor leadership but it proves that all Marine officers were doing their duty." (Dissolve to a mournful sunset)

So in Straub's very first film and Ford's very last, and you have the same thing, in history. History repeats and since "Chesty" the man, and Ford the man, preceded Straub and his "Macho Macho", I think the old Marx quote could be applied; "Chesty" is a living horrific tragedy (especially as seen by Ford; this film evokes as much tragedy as THE LONG GRAY LINE and it ends with a shot of a man as broken and burned up as PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND's Mudd returning home) and Straub's "Macho Macho" is a horrific farce.

In 2004, during the height of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and at the height of hatred for Bush II that turned out to be generally ineffectual (as oppossed to effectively halting and crushing!!), I saw Straub and Huillet speak at the Viennale in a panel. There was a part of the audience that was having trouble conceiving of Ford as anything but a right-wing militarist patriot. Huillet responded with this: ""Everything has a motive, in the military too. They are not devils or criminals. It's too easy to say Bush is crazy — to understand the thing is the only way to combat it, not to apologize for it. In Bush you know what you're dealing with, with progressives you don't always know." I think she was implying that Ford's films help in the matter of understanding.

May 26, 2009 9:41 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Andy, I think it might have been on the occasion of S + H's discussion of Ford you mention that Straub came out with the comment to the effect of "Ford's cinema is a cinema free of metaphor; at least I don't see any".

I'm trying to remember who I read who said the same thing about Jules Verne.... Think: how much art or literature today is free of (facile) metaphor? Maybe that's why Verne is quoted in epigraph to Georges Perec's La Vie mode d'emploi, 500 pages without a metaphor to be found....

Metaphor was also, by the way, Bazin's objection to editing vs. 'realist' mise en scène....

I'm stalling for time to avoid answering your many probing questions and interesting points. It's impossible to paraphrase or sum up the d'Hugues piece or analyse its politics on line. I no longer know what immanence means, or at least what you mean by it here. It's been years since I saw a Ford film. Sorry...

I'll be unplugging from the computer for a week or so tomorrow, this may be my last visit to Girish's blog for a while. Thanks all.

May 26, 2009 11:23 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

Sorry to miss you Caboose! By immanence I only meant "innate" (metaphysical implication included). As if being left or right was innate or inborn rather than dependent on specific contents, situations, actions. Anyhow......yes Straub said that "there are no metaphors in Ford" at Viennale '04, during the panel. I reported on that for FIPRESCI, on their website, and scribed Huillet's quote about Bush as precisely as I could.

Metaphor and Bazin...a fascinating subject. His piece on L'ESPOIR would seem to complicate matters. Another time, I suppose...

best,
a

May 27, 2009 4:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish, a real pity that Caboose departs for a week or so, and I feel almost guilty of having caused him chagrin by my mention of Philippe d'Hugues isolated and long-forgoten review of "Two Rode Together", when certainly he should not worry at all by this short of quite common thing: you can read in the newspaper or in a magazine something said or written by either an unknown person which turns out to be on opposite sides in a number of issues or by a person you'd think mercifully you had nothing in common with, and get the surprise of finding what he/she says quite sensible, and even that you could subscribe it. Contrary to Cabbose, that would neither depress not even worry me in the least. No one, either by color, country of birth, creed or ideas, is barred from being intelligent nor from being a fool. And people can be fools about films yet be very competent literature teachers, writers, economists, painters, engineers, or be bright and lucid in subjects pertaining to an area in which he is not profficient. People one may disagree with, or dislike, can suddenly be sensitive to a piece of music, a movie or a novel, and be articulate about it. For better or for worse, so are things in my experience. I do not need (but at all) to share Godard's or Straub's political thinking or ideas (sometimes I can find them quite absurd), anymore than I need to share Capra's, McCarey's or Ford's to enjoy and appreciate their films, and even learn from them, much in the same way that I don't need to share Faulkner's or Henry James' respective opinion of women or their preferred dishes or the writers they did most admire, to like their novels and tales. One of the things that Ford or Renoir, Dreyer or Rossellini, McCarey or Nicholas Ray, to take a few examples, are showing in their films, regardless of what they declared or kept stubborn silence about, amounts to that much. You have always find something to share, some point of understanding or agreement, that will allow to argue or discuss even with your potential enemies.
Miguel Marías

May 27, 2009 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to take so long, but I think some of the issues under discussion are not wholly devoid of interest. If we began to discuss politics, or the attitude European Union officers should hold towards inmigration, I fear I would openly and perhaps even unpolitely disagree with Monsieur d'Hugues, as I disagree with much of what friends of M. Mourlet, or even himself on his blog suggest or openly declare. But if we don't get into such issues, maybe we could have a very interesting talk about film, or even books or music, or the nature of love, memory and time, and the exercise would be profitable, as Serge Daney or John Mohune would have said, even enjoyable.
I do not believe, as Caboose seems to fear, that in that 47-year old single piece of criticism on Ford by d'Hugues "lies a far-right-wing world view", much less that such a short single text necessarily "is an expression of a way of looking at the world", and less yet "an exhortation to see the world the way the author sees it. All critical writing is." Thankfully, not all critics are so egotistical. I never try to make anyone see things as I do. And when I tell how I see the thing under discussion, namely, a concrete films, or the complete works of a filmmaker, it is possible thay I may give away some of the things I think, believe or hope, although not all and not always. Usually you don't boast of being gay or heterosexual, a democrat or an authoritarian, reasonable rich or tolerably poor, and in any case, you don't need to show who you are in every piece you write, which would be repetitive and would let you no space to say much about the films. Very young people, very unsure persons, or when in a state of emotional turmoil, can be excessively "confessional" when they write about a film. You may recognize it when re-reading years after the fact. But most probably no one else realized it (nor cuold care less about your feelings).
The remedy Caboose sees to the unsufferable strain of liking something that someone else whose politics he detests likes as well seems to me senseless: stop liking the filmmaker! Who is not guilty of being liked by either! That way you can get to have no filmmaker to appreciate "at ease".
I see no need (it would be quite an excess) to hold Monsieur d'Hugues as a model for anyone, even if I singled out his piece as an early insight into the tensions at play in late John Ford. So I think he can sleep at peace, and let people alone with their ideas or obsessions, as long as they do not hurl them on you, or try seduce you to their side. If any body of work is large and rich and complex enough, as Ford's certainly is, people can pick and choose something they like very much, from the '30s or the '50s, from the '60s or the '40s, even from the '20s or the '10s, from the westerns or the rest, and ignore or forget or minimize what they don't like so much or even dislike. Few will be interested in the whole picture and the whole career, and will perhaps not feel the urge to reconcile all of it into a single static and dogmatic vision. From 1917 to 1965 (since I haven't seen "Chesty") a man has to change, to mature, to get wiser, perhaps more bitter or skeptical. In any case, it would be a vision in time, which is after all what the cinema is.
Miguel Marías
The world for verification is angst!

May 27, 2009 10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not need to answer Andy, only mention I wholeheartedly agree with most of what you said. As for Blake, I'm not sure what I wrote about "These Thousand Hills" was substantial at all. Perhaps in another computer I'll find it, but not so far. If I do, I'll translate it. But I don't think you're missing much. Probably I'm missing more from not having read yours on "The Film Journal" (is it on line?). I searche (but did not find) your book on Ford in French.
By the way, Caboose, I feel part of the problem lies in your not having watched a Ford film in years. Then, how come Straub & Huillet "adapted" (I don't know how closely), precisely in "Lothringen!" (much nearer to us than "Two Rode Together" or d'Hugues review), of all people Maurice Barrès, reputedly the creator of the right-wing movement in France, and one of the idols of d'Hugues and his comrades (and of Borges, if I remember quite well). Would that made Straub a right-winger for you?
Miguel Marías

May 27, 2009 10:10 AM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Briefly, Miguel, The Film Journal is an online magazine, which apparently collapsed after that last issue which has a Richard Fleischer symposium--six articles including others by people posting here, as you'll see. I'm not sure of the link, and can't look for it now. Google it in and if you still have trouble let me know. The magazine is completely archived and that last issue (Fleischer) will come up first when you get it. Of course, I'd love for you to read it. So far, I've only written two online pieces, that one and the one for UNDERCURRENT.

The Ford piece was not a book, and sorry if I gave that impression without meaning to--it is a rather brief monograph originally written for the LA Reader when complete Ford retro played in L.A. for his centennial in 1994. When the Cannes Film Festival did there own early the following year, I heard they were showing 25 films and thought if they were taking any kind of essays for the films they might take me for one so sent the piece as a sample. They never did individual films, just four pieces collected in a booklet, but they liked mine and wanted that and translated it, so it's in that booklet which is probably hard to find now.

I must say that all the talk of d'Hugues on "Two Rode Together" really makes me wish I could read that piece, and hope it will go online in a translation someday. The discussion makes it sound as interesting as if Straub had actually written it!

May 27, 2009 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blake, once you mentioned The Film Journal was a closed down internet magazine (not as I had thot, a paper one) I recollected a series of very interesting pieces about Fleischer and there I found yours. I had read it, and did (and do) like it very much. It's almost a general overview of Fleischer's career, but the analysis of "These Thousand Hills" is much more substantial that anything I may have written about it, which I've been unable to find, although I have the vague impression I wrote something and included it in a list of best "westerns" in "Nickel Odeon" (presently under a mountain of books).
I found for Caboose a practical, present-day warning about the dangers of identifiying political positions by the use of one word. In his weblog or whatever "Carnet de route", of which only a minimal part deals with film, Michel Mourlet writes on May 26, 2009: "[...] si un même principe fondamental les anime qui est justement l'enjeu du combat: l'indépendence nationale, c'est à dire la liberté pour les citoyens d'une nation de choisir leur propre destin plutôt que de s'y trouver propulsés par le pouvoir anonyme d'administrations à majorité étrangère[...]". So much for the assignment of "patrie" to the right and "nation" to the left, when even "liberty", "independence" or "citizen" can be used by both.
Miguel Marías

May 28, 2009 6:36 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Miguel, I wouldn't feel guilty about having brought up the review--I think everyone (including Caboose) enjoyed and appreciated the discussion around it.

May 28, 2009 9:54 AM  
Blogger jesús cortés said...

Miguel, check this out:

http://vagos.wamba.com/archive/index.php/t-229453.html

I still think it´s a good piece.

May 28, 2009 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jesús, I had forgotten it (I usually remember much better films than what I write). And, Blake, since Jesús dug it out from some mysterious place and it's short enough, I'll translate it. But don't expect too much, yours is better.
By the way, Andy, or anyone else knows how the film about Chesty Puller can be found?. I've always been both curious and afraid, but haven't had the chance.
Miguel Marías

May 28, 2009 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Thanks for the good words, Miguel, and I will look forward to the translation of your piece whenever you do have time to do it.

If it's helpful, my e-mail address with my Undercurrent piece.

May 28, 2009 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Blake Lucas said...

Meant to say, Miguel, that I saw "Chesty" back when it was put together (but don't know where it can now be found). There's not a lot that Ford actually directed, though guess it can be considered his in some meaningful way. I don't think there's anything to be afraid of. Did you see "Vietnam! Vietnam!"?--nothing excruciating about it. They are both films that Ford in way supervised, and maybe less hands on than his earlier documentaries. Though the documentaries help fill out the picture of Ford, I don't really think that's where his genius lies. I should add that despite the existence of those last two documentaries, I can't think of anything but "7 Women" as his true "last film" in the full sense of those words.

May 28, 2009 8:07 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

hi everyone, I just wanted to say that Ford's CHESTY: A TRIBUTE TO A LEGEND is available, though not easy to find. There were various releases of the film on vhs in the late 80's, usually included in a compilation of documentaries about the US military. So, one has to sift ones way through used and out-of-print vhs sellers online, or if you're in the US, literally sift at your local video store that still stocks vhs, thrift store, hobby shop, even army/navy surplus store.

May 31, 2009 4:43 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I've been meaning to comment on this wonderful post for ages, but find myself spread very thin. But I would just like to second Darren's admiration for Four Sons - he pointed me to it several months ago when I was looking for Ford recommendations and it's now one of my favorite Fords and one of my favorite silent films, period.

Speaking of which, the July SFSFF has just announced its lineup, details at my blog and on the festival website.

June 02, 2009 6:54 AM  
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