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John Ford, like Jekyll and Hyde


mrroberts
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What a contradiction in personality John Ford was. When you watch his films there is often great tenderness and sentimentality and yet he was often the meanest s.o.b. walking the earth (if half of what you read is true). His relationship with John Wayne, how do you explain it? He apparently slugged Henry Fonda on the set of Mister Roberts and almost fought with James Cagney. He regularly cursed and berated people, but had a long list of people who made many films with him. I am just trying to figure the man out, can anyone enlighten me ? And by the way, I do love many of John Ford's films, his legacy speaks for itself.

 

Edited by: mrroberts on Dec 5, 2010 7:54 PM

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MrRoberts,

 

There's no denying that Pappy was a difficult man to work for and with. I found Scott Eyman's biography, Print the Legend, to be worth reading and for helping to understand why so many actors continued to work with Pappy despite his bad, bad behavior to most of them.

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Like lz I found "Print the Legend" a very worthwhile read. Joe McBride's "Searching for John Ford" ia a major in depth bio and maybe more then you want to know about the man. But another excellent read. A few others you might look into are: Dan Ford's book on his grandfather "Pappy, The Life of John Ford" and Lindsay Anderson's "About John Ford".......

 

Edited by: fredbaetz on Dec 5, 2010 8:40 PM

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Not to mention the way he treated his older brother Francis. Then you have his relationship to Maureen O'Hara...

 

Another great book on Ford: Tag Gallagher's John Ford: The Man and His Films. This is more for those interested in analysis of Ford's work but it features a lot of biographical information which is pertinent to the subject.

 

Gallagher has posted the entire revised edition for free on his website: http://home.sprynet.com/~tag/tag/

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I certainly feel like the music stopped and I don't have a chair.

Everyone speaks about what a great director Ford is, and I just don't get it.

 

I love THE QUIET MAN, but once watched it with filmmaker friends of mine who ripped it apart scene by scene. I didn't know what the heck they were talking about.

 

Viewing the film 10 years later, I then saw exactly what they saw. Ford seemed to invariably make the wrong choice of close-up, medium and long shots to tell the story for the viewer's subliminal intimacy. It was more glaringly noticeable since I wasn't discovering the story for the first time, I was familiar with it.

 

I then watched STAGECOACH and noticed exactly the same poor choices. It really hurts my emotional involvement for his films.

 

Could this be the editor's choice rather than the director's?

 

I also realize as an artist matures they choose more unusual techniques, rather than the typical or beginner's path. Could this be it? Could Ford's framing choices be more difficult & advanced and I'm just looking at things with a "beginner's" eye?

 

I'd really love to hear Ford's fans explain this to me. I want to like Ford's films, I just am distracted by his seemingly weird compositions of scenes.

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*TikiSoo*, I'm relatively new to John Ford myself and I appreciate the honesty of your concerns about him since there are, in fact, a host of Fordian enthusiasts on this board who might jump all over this. I hope they come over here and address your concerns. I don't want to make you jump through hoops but it would help if you could be more specific about what you mean by "wrong choices." Examples, perhaps. I ask you because I saw recently *Fort Apache* for the first time and thought the camera was great, not that many close ups really, and lots of long shots that presented interesting tableaus and a real feeling for the setting. You mentioned *Stagecoach*. There is a scene inside the moving coach when the camera gives us a series of close ups, the peculiar thing being, however, the music, which would seem more given to an action scene. I liked the effect of that. I'm wondering if you might be referring to something like that. Thank you.

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TikiSoo,

 

Like lafitte, I do hope you will give us some examples.

 

One of the things I adore about Ford's films is the fact that they are deeply layered. There is the film you think you are watching but as you watch the films again over time, you realize that if you start peeling away those layers, the films have much deeper depth than originally realized on the first screening.

 

*Liberty Valance*, *The Searchers* and *She Wore a Yellow Ribbon* are just three that come to mind.

 

And *Stagecoach* on the big screen is a revelation.

 

It's why I keep coming back to Fords' films over and over again.

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*There is a scene inside the moving coach when the camera gives us a series of close ups, the peculiar thing being, however, the music, which would seem more given to an action scene. I liked the effect of that. I'm wondering if you might be referring to something like that.*

 

Lafitte,

 

I thought you might enjoy this info that I wrote about the music after a screening of *Stagecoach* that I attended at the Academy last year. I hadn't seen *Stagecoach* on the big screen in about 25 years:

 

Lastly, composer Louis Gruenberg was originally hired to do the score but Ford was dissatisfied with it and hired a series of composers to write a new score incorporating traditional American ballads. Gruenberg retained his credit in the film. When the film won best score, those accepting the award included Richard Hageman, Frank Harling, John Leipold and Leo Shuken, but not Louis Gruenberg.

 

The jaunty theme of Stagecoach can be briefly heard at the beginning of *She Wore a Yellow Ribbon*.

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>One of the things I adore about Ford's films is the fact that they are deeply layered. There is the film you think you are watching but as you watch the films again over time, you realize that if you start peeling away those layers, the films have much deeper depth than originally realized on the first screening.

 

I'm already finding that out :) . It sure seems to his credit that he was able to do that. His first concern was selling the product, which can sometimes be identified with simplicity, and yet to be able to incorporate a little depth at the same time was probably not that easy.

 

Very interesting about the music too, thanks.

=

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> {quote:title=TikiSoo wrote:}{quote}

> I love THE QUIET MAN, but once watched it with filmmaker friends of mine who ripped it apart scene by scene. I didn't know what the heck they were talking about.

>

> Viewing the film 10 years later, I then saw exactly what they saw. Ford seemed to invariably make the wrong choice of close-up, medium and long shots to tell the story for the viewer's subliminal intimacy. It was more glaringly noticeable since I wasn't discovering the story for the first time, I was familiar with it.

>

> I then watched STAGECOACH and noticed exactly the same poor choices. It really hurts my emotional involvement for his films.

>

> Could this be the editor's choice rather than the director's?

>

> I also realize as an artist matures they choose more unusual techniques, rather than the typical or beginner's path. Could this be it? Could Ford's framing choices be more difficult & advanced and I'm just looking at things with a "beginner's" eye?

>

> I'd really love to hear Ford's fans explain this to me. I want to like Ford's films, I just am distracted by his seemingly weird compositions of scenes.

 

Since modern films are almost nothing but close-ups, superfluous camera movement and slow-motion effects -- and I suspect that your "filmmaker friends" are likely exponents of that sort of incoherent rubbish -- whatever they might say about the simplicity of Ford's style, his certainty that close-ups are emotional and expository trump-cards whose power is not to be diluted or squandered through overuse, and a reluctance to move the camera when the subject is stationary (and no slow-motion, of course), I'd say that your buddies are simply and utterly unqualified to pass judgment on Ford's work.

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> {quote:title=Sprocket_Man wrote:}{quote}

>I'd say that your buddies are simply and utterly unqualified to pass judgment on Ford's work.

 

Both are successful award winning filmmakers in the DOCUMENTARY field, they don't even make modern films as you describe. They studied film for years, after all it's their chosen field, and went to credible colleges focusing on film studies.

 

All I said is they pointed odd things out to me as the Ford film progressed, and in subsequent viewings I noticed it too, on my own and I'm no "professional". Does this make _me_ unqualified to make comments?

 

I am very humbly asking if anyone else has noticed Ford's odd mix of wide shots/medium shots/close ups and if this was intentional. I am sometimes jarred by it, it just doesn't seem to fit to ME. But what do I know?

I promise to take notes next Ford film I watch to give real examples, since it's all a blur to me now. This board is full of Ford fans who know his films scene by scene and I'm hoping to be enlightened.

 

I do exactly know what you mean about the uber close ups, jiggly camera, over used zoom effects a lot of modern filmmakers (esp commercials) use. I hate it too. We've even talked about the wholly inappropriate camera taking a side view of Lithgow as he talks on Essentials Jr.

 

Please don't assume I have no taste or experience as a film viewer.

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TikiSoo, I always enjoy your posts and respect your opinion. The next time I watch a John Ford film I'm going to pay particular attention to his choice of shots.

 

As you know, there are many ardent and articulate Ford fans on these boards. I still have many of his works left to see. There are a couple of other problems I sometimes have with his films. Sometimes the musical cues are too obvious for my taste, as in They Were Expendable. He counts too much on a Pavlovian response to patriotic or popular songs.

 

Along the same lines, some people love Victor McLaglen's stage drunk/stage Irish antics in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Ford has a real taste for this kind of acting, but others--that would be me--have a distaste for it. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence mixes over the top, out of control overacting by some of the supporting players, as in the convention scene, with very subtle acting in other scenes. The last film festival showed a fragment of a silent Ford film that had the most outlandish melodramatic playing I've ever seen. What's remarkable is how far Ford came from this style in his best work.

 

I do think that some of Ford's films--The Quiet Man and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon are good examples--imagine a kind of community. If you feel like you belong or would like to belong to such a community, you'll love these films even more. If you don't feel you would belong and don't much want to, you may find Ford's pastoralism to be a defect rather than a virtue.

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> {quote:title=TikiSoo wrote:}{quote}

> I am very humbly asking if anyone else has noticed Ford's odd mix of wide shots/medium shots/close ups and if this was intentional. I am sometimes jarred by it, it just doesn't seem to fit to ME. But what do I know?

> I promise to take notes next Ford film I watch to give real examples, since it's all a blur to me now. This board is full of Ford fans who know his films scene by scene and I'm hoping to be enlightened.

>

> I do exactly know what you mean about the uber close ups, jiggly camera, over used zoom effects a lot of modern filmmakers (esp commercials) use. I hate it too. We've even talked about the wholly inappropriate camera taking a side view of Lithgow as he talks on Essentials Jr.

>

> Please don't assume I have no taste or experience as a film viewer.

 

I'm not saying anything of the kind, only that your friends may have led you down a path that leads nowhere.

 

If you want to look at films whose directorial and editorial choices seem odd, if not downright unworkable, you need look no further than the work of the Archers, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Their films display the most peculiar rhythms that common sense -- the sort ingrained from thousands of hours of film-going with more conventional fare -- tell you shouldn't work, but do, and brilliantly (though, to be fair, much of British cinema of the 1930's-'60's is rhythmically different from U.S. product).

 

As you may imagine, Powell & Pressburger chose every angle and cut with an eye toward a very deliberate emotional effect and, I can assure you, that John Ford did no less.

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> {quote:title=Sprocket_Man wrote:}{quote}

> As you may imagine, Powell & Pressburger chose every angle and cut with an eye toward a very deliberate emotional effect and, I can assure you, that John Ford did no less.

 

Thank you, that's EXACTLY what I was hoping to hear.

P&P films are tough for me to watch, and I'm aware of this being the factor. I'm a RED SHOES hater, but I loved BLACK NARCISSUS. I'm always kind of "off kilter" watching P&P films, but it never occurred to me it might be editing choices. And I absolutely know what you mean about "rhythm" although I could never pinpoint it.

 

Ford's films strike me the same way. I have a tough time getting "into" the story, save THE QUIET MAN, which I like very much. It was watching this film, that I already like, where I noticed the odd choices of close/medium shots.

 

I want to appreciate Ford, since there obviously is a strong Ford following. I just don't think I quite understand him and maybe if I did, I'd appreciate his work MORE.

 

Next time one of his films is broadcast prime time, I'll watch it & take notes. Hopefully, some more enlightened viewers can educate me.

 

PS I certainly do that for Capra, whom so many detest because of the "corn" factor...they overlook his direction & technical brilliance. Luckily, I like corn.

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I agree with you about Capra. Among of my favorite Capra films are THE MATINEE IDOL (1928), THE MIRACLE WOMAN (1931), AMERICAN MADNESS (1932), THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1933) and BROADWAY BILL (1934). I like Ford too, but I've not noticed the odd editing choices when watching his films. I'll have to trot a few of them out again soon.

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> {quote:title=TikiSoo wrote:}{quote}

> P&P films are tough for me to watch, and I'm aware of this being the factor. I'm a RED SHOES hater, but I loved BLACK NARCISSUS. I'm always kind of "off kilter" watching P&P films, but it never occurred to me it might be editing choices. And I absolutely know what you mean about "rhythm" although I could never pinpoint it.

 

My favorite Archers film is A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. It's a really fascinating bit of fantasy-propaganda, intensely romantic and frequently moving. It's so effective (at least on me) that one overlooks the fact that the whole celestial "trial" of Peter Carter makes no sense logically.

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OK fellow film lovers....I looked through my Dec Now Playing to mark what to watch, what to record and see Wednesday Dec 22 is a John Ford cavalcade.

 

I can record one or two and watch them later. Please choose the best 2 for me:

 

FORT APACHE

SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON

RIO GRANDE

THE SEARCHERS

3 GODFATHERS

 

I've already seen the last two, but NEVER seen the first three. I'd like to see SWAYR because it seems Ford fans consider this his best, plus I love Maureen O'Hara. Suggestions? I'll be back afterwards for your expert comments.

 

What fun, I feel like I'm back in college with an assignment!

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*I'd like to see SWAYR because it seems Ford fans consider this his best, plus I love Maureen O'Hara. Suggestions? I'll be back afterwards for your expert comments.*

 

Tiki,

 

FYI, Maureen O'Hara is not in SWAYR but she is in *Rio Grande*. I would suggest tivoing/watching both of those.

 

*Fort Apache* is quite good as well, especially as it deals with myth and legend a subject that Ford will explore later in his career in a very different way in the wonderfully elegiac *The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.* Any chance you could tivo all three?

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TikiSoo:

 

Record the ones you haven't seen. "The Searchers" is considered to be a landmark Western. It's a keeper. If you're a fan of O'Hara, then go for "Rio Grande", as that's her first teaming with Wayne. I thoroughly enjoy "3 Godfathers" as well. Extremely sentimental, and a wonderful Christmas film.

 

Back to the conversation as to Ford's behavior: Another book that deals with it quite well is Harry Carey, Jr's _Company of Heroes_. Carey developed ulcers working with Ford, yet he loved the man.

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Hi, TikiSoo -- OK fellow film lovers....I looked through my Dec Now Playing to mark what to watch, what to record and see Wednesday Dec 22 is a John Ford cavalcade.

 

I can record one or two and watch them later. Please choose the best 2 for me:

 

FORT APACHE

SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON

RIO GRANDE

THE SEARCHERS

3 GODFATHERS

 

I've already seen the last two, but NEVER seen the first three. I'd like to see SWAYR because it seems Ford fans consider this his best, plus I love Maureen O'Hara. Suggestions?

 

I haven't seen 3 Godfathers, so I can't help you with that one. Maybe I'll watch that one this week.

 

As for the other four, it depends on what your mood would be.

 

Fort Apache is about power and it's the darkest of the four. It's one of the darkest of Ford, actually. The ending is one of Ford's best.

 

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is about aging and retirement. It's a "fatherly" film. I find the film to be slow and disappointing.

 

Rio Grande is about man and woman, marriage, and parenting. Since I enjoy the battle of love, this is my favorite of the "cavalry" trilogy.

 

The Searchers is an excellent "father-son" story with various underpinnings. It's my second favorite Ford film, behind The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

 

I'm not sure of what you speak about with Ford's directorial style and the close-ups. I was introduced to Ford on this board and I find his directing style to be highly unobtrusive. He's mostly a western painter. His visuals tend to be from a distance but his emotions are up close, and it's because he often uses gestures to express emotions. Ford won't have a character say, "I want you" or "I need you" or "I love you." There is a great fear to saying those words. So, instead, what Ford does is have the characters say those words with their gestures. They are wearing their words.

 

And it was Ford's films that made me see how good an actor John Wayne was. I only thought of Wayne as someone who barked at people. Well, he does do this with Ford, but he silently speaks just as much. It's a remarkable meshing of the two.

 

I'd call Ford a subtle director. The most showy he will be is with the Monument Valley visuals. The rest of the time, he's creatively subtle. I consider him to be the most emotional director I've encountered. That's what has shocked me and impressed me with Ford.

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Obviously watch the ones you haven't seen. I would lean towards the first two, Fort Apache and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. I believe SWAYR is my favorite Ford/Wayne picture. Another way of looking at this, can you later rent/borrow one of the three you haven't seen, they're all very good films.

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> {quote:title=TikiSoo wrote:}{quote}

> FORT APACHE

> SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON

> RIO GRANDE

> THE SEARCHERS

> 3 GODFATHERS

 

I think *The Searchers* and *Rio Grande* are the best two films. So, by all means, see *Rio Grande*, since you haven't seen it. For the other one, I'd say *Fort Apache*, even though I think it would have been a better film, if Fonda and Wayne had switched roles. SWAYR is too sentimental, and formulaic, to me, anyway.

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The story behind the career of John Ford can be focused around a man, who from the time he began his motion picture career, became something of an egomaniac; it was a situation characterized by both his work and the people who came to know him. Let?s face it, like it is in any business venture, a leader or boss at times has to be tough as nails and lead the small army of personnel working into fearing you, in order to get the job done. Right or wrong, Ford understood the nature of the movie business along the lines that everyone involved had to realize a movie was a high-risk gamble or product. In time, he didn?t care what people thought about him, despite the many times he treated cast and crew with an iron hand. It might have all been done in order to establish a sense of purpose to achieving what Ford hoped would turn into a good movie. Well, I guess from the vantage point of time and circumstance, he did achieve a greatness that few can ever argue about. It?s now a matter to decide whether we agree that his purpose to making some of the finest films of the 20th Century were worth the price of dealing with what some might consider was really a tyrant.

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