Tal i com vaig dir penjo fnalmente el treball sobre Ford que he estat preparant aquests dies:
ABOUT FORD’S AUTHORIAL SIGNATURE
The aim of this essay is to consider the notion of authorship in two works of John Ford: The Searchers
(1956) and The Man who shoot Liberty Valance
(1962). I do not think that this could be a controversial question. There is a general consensus about the consideration of John Ford like an “auteur”. Even people, who disliked usually his works, agree with the fact that there was something like a world of his own. This is a remarkable fact, if we consider that John Ford never wrote a script and he did not control usually the editing of his films. However, it is easy to recognise any of his films as directed by John Ford. I am going to try to explain this easiness from several points of view. We are going to study the visual style, the narrative structure and the philosophical background of both films. I will finish with a personal confession which is not the product of rational analysis but I hope could add some light to my disquisition.The Visual style
There are some difficulties to compare both films. The older was shot in colour and widescreen. As in many other films the landscape of Monument Valley plays an important role. The second was not only shot in 35 mm. but also in black and white. Contrasting with other westerns of Ford, Liberty
is shot almost completely in studio and, owing to this reason, it could be seen as a claustrophobic film, something unusual in the work of Ford, who has been recognised usually as a master in the expressive use of Landscape. In spite of these facts, we can find some similarities between both films.
1. Absence of close-ups. Something strange, if we consider that we are speaking about films starred by people like John Wayne or James Stewart. Nevertheless, this point is maybe the main characteristic of his style. He disliked close-ups and preferred showing the characters in their social and narrative context. This point is also related with the fact that without the power of editing his films, he tried no to give options to the editor. There is also a relationship with the way in which his actors played and the kind of actors which he chose. Although someone can prefer James Dean or Paul Newman to John Wayne (I do not), I am unable to imagine any of the former in a Ford’s film. Indeed, he used to work with the same staff and both films share not only the presence of Wayne but also Vera Miles, John Qualen, who plays almost the same character, and many other faces whose name I do not know.
2. The camera is usually motionless. There is movement only inside the frame and is run by the actors. Ford moves only his camera in order to create some meaning. There are examples in both films. In The Searchers
, I remember the scene in the military post of the US Cavalry, when Ethan is looking for Debbie among the young whites, who have been rescued. The camera searches the face of Ethan to end in a close-up, which serves to show how Ethan, possessed by the hate, is beginning to consider the idea of killing Debbie. In Liberty
a similar movement towards Tom Doniphon can be found in the start of the flash-back which shows the spectator who actually killed Liberty Valance. These movements are repeated later towards the flower over Doniphon’s coffin and in the last scene towards Ransom, when the railroad assistant says that they would do everything for the man who killed liberty Valance.
3. The use of doorways. We have talked in class about how they become a privileged place, in the searchers
, to show the characters and to place the camera. A very clear example is the shot which opens and ends the film. In Liberty
there are many moments in which the characters are photographed in a doorway. I remember shots of Doniphon and Ellie, but is Pompei, the black man, friend and surely former slave of Doniphon, who appears very often in a door-way.
4. Some objects are treated like characters. They have a special meaning in the story and they are used simultaneously as a symbol and as a key to understand what is happening. In The Searchers
one of these objects is Ethan’s coat. In Liberty
the cactus-flower, which Doniphon offers to Ellie and that Ellie puts over the coffin after Doniphon’s death. Both objects are in relationship with frustrated love-stories.Narrative structure
Many of the opposites that define the work of John Ford, according the list which we saw in class, can be found in both films. For instance, the opposition between the garden and the desert, which is the core of Liberty
, also appears in the Searchers
. Although the film actually happens in a deserted landscape, their habitants are dreaming of changing that and they are hopping that some day the garden will replace the desert, as the speech of Ma Jorgensen shows. Central to both films is the opposition between nomads and settlers. In The Searchers
, the first are the Indians and the European are the settlers. In Liberty
, Valance is clearly a nomad who claims to reside, where he hangs his hat. The Indians are savages but Liberty
behaves himself in a more brutal way than the Comanches of the first film. Another pair of opposites to consider is the book and the gun, which is central to the film of 1962. In one side, we have Ransom, the man whose weapons are the books of Law, on the other side, the characters who believe that there is only one possible law in Shinbone: the law of the gun or the law or the whip. This opposition is not strange to the Searchers
, where obviously the Indians are illiterate (and also Martin) and only Ma Jorgensen seems able to read and write well. The opposition between married and unmarried concerns the fate of two principal characters: Martin in The Searchers
(who has to decide between settling and keeping in move, that is to say, between being the husband of Laurie or becoming someone like Ethan) and Doniphon, who associates his marriage with Ellie with building a House (that is to say, leaving his nomad way of life).
In addition to these general oppositions, which concern all the cinematography of John Ford, I would like to remark some common points between both films:
1. In both films there is a triangular structure, which serves to define the relationship between the main characters. In The Searchers
, we find the triangle between Scare, E. Edwards and M. Pawley. In Liberty the triangle is formed by Valance, Doniphon and Stodard. Valance and Scare are basically violent characters whose behaviour is usually barbaric. In contrast to the “bad” boys, we can find Pawley and Stodard, who played more peaceful and ethical characters. The characters portrayed by John Wayne are always in between. They have a close relationship with Ransom and Martin (in both films he tries to be a peculiar kind of teacher to them) but, at last, he has to keep away of them (and of the civilisation). He has a hostile relationship with the violent characters; Valance and Scare are his enemies, but each one of them is also his doppelganger. Like Scare he takes scalps and is fully possessed by a feeling of revenge. Something similar happens in the relationship between Valance and Doniphon. Both are excellent gunners and share (and repeat) the same conception of law. After the killing of Valance, Doniphon gets drunk and behaves as if he were the late Valance.
2. In both films, there are marginal characters which are, at last, essential to the community, who has marginalised them. In The Searchers
, this is the role of Moses a half fool tramp, who is always able to find the sleuth of the Comanches. In Liberty
this role is portrayed by Pompei, the black man who is always taking care of Doniphon. The man who, from the doorway protects him and Stodard in the Restaurant, the same who defends the community the day of the pools (always in the door, without trespassing it, because it is forbidden to a negro). The accomplice of Doniphon finally in his murder …..
3. There is in both films a frustrated love story in relationship with the characters played by John Wayne. In both cases the spectators are helped by a silent witness, whose action serves to attract our attention to this issue. In the former film, the silent witness is the reverend in the second the ex-Marshall Appleyard.
4. There is a moment in both films when the lead character is the community itself- These are moments of affirmation and self-knowledge of the community. In The Searchers
, this moment is the dance at the wedding-party, in Liberty
the polls day, when the peaceful citizens begin to defeat Valance.
5. I think that both films are openly pessimistic but it is characteristic of John Ford’s way that he did not lose the opportunity to introduce some comedy. A comical character in The Searchers
is Charley McCorrick, in Liberty, the Marshall Apleyard or even the journalist Peabody (although there is also greatness and dignity in him)
6. There are flash-backs in both films, what is not very common in the film-makers of Ford’s generation (Hawks, Walsh or King Vidor).Philosophical and historical Background
It was P. Bodganovich, in his film Directed by John Ford
, who defined the work of John Ford as a mosaic that reflects the History of America. A singular, personal and sometimes contradictory view of this History, which differs from the official and from the alternatives originated in the sixties. Many of these films were Westerns. Western as a genre has a philosophical background: it is always confronted with the capital question of the modern political philosophy: the social contract and the foundations of civilization that is to say, with the relationship between individual desires and social duty and responsibility. Hobbes believed that communitarian life was unnatural to the human race, but also beneficial to the humankind. Political, social, life is convenient but also disgusting. I think that the characters played by John Wayne express this confrontation. He helps to establish the society, removing the people who are no suitable to follow the rules, but he feels himself as also unsuitable. Furthermore, political life means peace, suppression of violence. But maybe the eradication of violence is impossible without some kind of violence in the beginning. Someone is required to do the dirty job, to take the scalp of Scare or to kill Valance in a cold blood murder, but he can’t be rewarded for these shameful actions. He has to keep away from the civilized and peaceful people
There is no History, whiteout Mythology. Often History is only Mythology. This is the main thesis of Liberty, Print the legend. Mythology could be necessary because, the truth about the original and foundational deeds is well worth to be hidden. The message of Liberty
is absolutely clear and I think we can understand The Searchers
from this point of view. Maybe Ethan will be remembered as a hero, (not by his deeds, always useless, but by his determination, a valuable example to people who are always suffering the temptation of leaving his new land and coming back) but we have seen in the film, that the hero and the monster could live together in the same soul.A personal, final consideration
There is something which I have not said yet and it is maybe the most important. John Ford was a great storyteller. I do not know if the best, but one of the better. The Searchers
are perfect narrations. Ford is able to give us in each moment the information necessary to keep our interest alive. I believe that I would require more than 1500 words to explain this and maybe I would not be able at all. Anyway I have seen both films a lot of times, since I saw first Liberty
, when I was eleven. I feel still full of admiration for them, but I feel some envy of the people who can watch the film first having the opportunity of being seduced by his talent, living what I experienced many years ago
Etiquetes de comentaris: cine, Filosofia, Ford, Hobbes, Stewart, Wayne