Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Film History Student Final Paper #3 - Jean-Luc Godard

Here is the third and last student final paper from my Film History class, 2014 Spring semester, at College of DuPage. 
Jean-Luc Godard: Truth, 24 Frames a Second

By Nate Chapman

            The French New Wave was one of the more important movements in the history of film, as it encouraged creativity and revitalized a movie industry that had grown complacent, and with that complacency, conservative and predictable. It used new, radical techniques like long shots and stressed existential themes. It also borrowed heavily from Italian Neorealism in that it tried to have the actors be realistic in their dialogue and actions. The story wasn’t always linear, nor was it necessarily the most important aspect of the film. In a phrase, the New Wave shook up the cinema status-quo. The leading figure, considered by many to be the instigator of the movement, was Jean-Luc Godard. Wealthy, young and bored, he found himself living in Paris amidst a number of young film critics and directors in an atmosphere that was ripe for innovation. With his first feature film Breathless, Godard set a precedent for a new, young generation of filmmakers and showed the older ones a new way to reach indifferent crowds. An early proponent of auteur theory alongside the original advocate, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard’s films have a distinct “Godard” feel to them that is shown through different editing techniques, and of course, a break from the typical Hollywood film formula. Still alive and well, Godard’s legacy left its mark on directors today; there is a reason he has been ranked the third greatest director of all time by a Sight & Sound poll.
            Jean-Luc Godard was born in 1930 in Paris to a wealthy family; his father was a Swiss physician and his mother came from a family of bankers who founded the Banque Paribas. When Godard was four, his family moved to Switzerland, where he would remain for a good portion of his early years; however, at the outbreak of the Second World War, Godard found himself in France and encountered some difficulty returning to Switzerland. Jean-Luc was never truly into film early on. In fact, it was not until he read Malraux’s Outline of a Psychology of Cinema that he found it to be an interest he would pursue. He moved to Paris in 1946 to study at the Lycée Buffon, a secondary school; here he mixed with members of high society. However, he failed his baccalaureate exams after two years and returned to Switzerland. After time in Geneva, he returned to the University of Paris to pursue a certificate in anthropology, but he didn’t show up for many classes; instead, he found himself involved with “the young group of film critics at the cine-clubs that started the New Wave” (Wikipedia, Godard). Here in the fifties begins Godard’s involvement with film, albeit criticism, as a career path.
            Jean-Luc Godard, living in Paris in the 1950’s, was a frequent attendee of local film clubs. The clubs would screen films and fuel discussions after the viewing, many of which reached deep philosophical levels: “At the Cinematheque I discovered a world which nobody had spoken to me about…they’d told us about Goethe, but not about Dreyer…we dreamed about films” (Wikipedia). Godard found success as a critic for the magazine Cahiers du cinema in the early fifties. In his articles he would come to praise directors like Otto Preminger and Howard Hawks and their “harsh melodramas”, and blast the “formalistic and overtly artful films of Welles, De Sica and Wyler”; the aspects of Italian Neorealism that focused on realism and veracity would find root in Godard’s films later on, much as American film noir refused to sugar coat their stories. In 1953, while working construction on a dam project in Switzerland, he had his first major attempt at filming: “with money from the job, he made a short film about the building of the dam called Opération béton (Operation Concrete)” (Godard Timeline). The film was sold to the dam administration and used for publicity. He continued with several more short films and became friends and associated with soon-to-be important young directors, mainly Truffaut. In 1955, in an important collaboration, Truffaut got Godard to help work on “an idea he had for a film based on the true-crime story of a petty criminal…who had shot a motorcycle policeman and whose girlfriend had turned him in to the police…” (Wikipedia). Nothing came of the project at the time, as no producers were interested (though he would come to revisit the project, to major success as we will soon find out). In 1958, Godard made his most prominent short, Charlotte et son Jules, shot entirely in his own hotel room. The film was notable for Godard’s first use of actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, who would become famous for Breathless.
            Come 1959, it would seem Jean-Luc Godard had had enough of reporting from the sidelines. Many of his friends and acquaintances were now well-known filmmakers themselves. Godard went to the Cannes Film Festival that year and requested from Francois Truffaut the rights to the story they had collaborated on previously. Godard secured funding for the film, though not much, and went about recruiting his cast for what would be his first feature-length film. Jean-Paul Belmondo was signed on first, but he didn’t have the star power Godard wanted for the film, so Godard sought out Jean Seberg, an American actress living in Paris. The stage was set for his first major film, the film that would usher in a new era in cinema.
            Breathless was, as previously mentioned, the tale of a cool, indifferent young criminal and his American girlfriend. It convolutedly followed him over the course of a few days, from his murder of a policeman to his betrayal by the girl and his subsequent death. The film was envisioned as a documentary of sorts; it took many techniques from the previous Italian Neorealism movement. Godard filmed on location in Paris, used a hand-held camera to shoot the entire film, and used natural lighting. One famous scene involved Belmondo and Seberg meeting for the first time, walking down a boulevard in Paris. With the handheld camera in front of them as they stroll, the viewer gets a very realistic feel and an impression that you are right there with them. Godard also wrote lines of dialogue in a private book that no one else was allowed to look at. He would give his actors a few lines at a time and only allow a few rehearsals before attempting a take; this led to a more authentic and genuine feel to the dialogue of the movie. He also never got permission to film in any of the locations used. This meant they had to be in and out after a few takes, lest authorities come in and hamper his process. The film was also notable for its jump cuts, which were used “at every single break in the sentence to give his (Belmondo) language a rhythm and a flow” (Defining French New Wave).
The film was also a strong anti-Hollywood film in the fact that it eschewed typical Hollywood narrative structure of a strong character-driven story. Breathless jumped from frame to frame suddenly, and wasn’t perfectly linear. There is a strong, personal touch in the film as well, showing Godard as one of the early “auteurs”. “Truffaut states ‘Jean-Luc chose a violent end because by nature he was sadder than I…he was in the depths of despair when he made that film” (Defining French New Wave). The original story of Truffaut’s had a much happier ending, with Michel, Belmondo’s character, living at the end. Also, Godard, living in Paris at the time, probably felt a connection between himself and his character Michel, which makes the character that much more important to the viewer.
            The next major film of Jean-Luc Godard’s was Le Petit Soldat, or The Little Soldier. The second film in what many consider to be Godard’s cinematic period of filmmaking, it follows a French intelligence agency who is coerced into agreeing to assassinate a National Liberation Front of Algeria (FLN) agent. The FLN had been waging a war for the liberation of Algeria from France. The character eventually falls in love with a woman who had, at one point previously, helped the FLN. The two conspire to escape to Brazil together, but are of course captured. The main character escapes imprisonment and agrees to kill the FLN agent in exchange for safe passage to Brazil for him and his lover. However, French agents discover her connections to the FLN and torture her, eventually leading to her death.
            In order to truly understand why this film is so important, one must look at 1960 France. Algeria had had independence movements as early as 1954, during a time in which many African nations were shrugging off their imperial European “colonizers”. Algeria was to France as India was to Britain; it was the crown jewel of what had been a French empire. When open fighting did break out, it was analogous to today’s wars in the Middle East: insurgents drawn from the native population facing off against a modern army. The fighting was dirty on both sides, with assassination attempts and civilian bombings abound. At one point Frenchmen living in Algeria flooded to France after the killing and lynching of native loyalists. Another marked aspect of the war was the use of torture and illegal executions. France found itself in a moral dilemma and Charles De Gaulle decided to give up Algeria to its people in 1962. Le Petit Soldat came out in 1960, right in the middle of the Algerian War. The film was subsequently banned in France until 1963 due to the nature of its premise.
            Godard again shows himself to be an auteur with this film. He certainly overwhelms his studio and industry by making a film that everyone knew would be immediately controversial. An avowed Marxist, Godard shows his contempt for French imperial ambitions in Africa by making his main character someone who flees France to avoid the draft, out of fear for his life and out of disdain for the cause of the war. The entire plot of the film is based on an illegal assassination, something that French intelligence used many times over in the war despite it being expressly prohibited in the Geneva Convention. These anti-establishment, anti-status-quo themes found in the film are important, but there is another theme in the movie that helped stir the pot and get banned: the explicit torture scenes.
            For the movie’s time, the scenes depicting torture were wildly violent. One scene has an interrogator lighting a book of matches on fire and burns the main character’s palms with them. In order to obtain realism, “the actor actually endured, for a brief moment, the torture” (Godard’s Truthful Torture Scene). The actor, and thus character, are forcefully held under water for extended periods of time; he is even electrically shocked as well. The French interrogators appear resigned to this method of questioning, as if it was the only choice they had left and were devoid of morality; another swing by Godard at the French authorities. In all, it was no wonder the film was banned at the time. Torture scenes would not be shown as graphically as this until movies like Marathon Man. The entire project was Godard’s own vision; there is no way any studio, French especially, would have allowed those scenes and themes in a French movie at the time: thus, Godard’s force of personality bent them to his own creative will.
            Godard continued making films throughout the sixties, including a homage to American musicals, another anti-war movie, and even a science fiction film. Many of his films had political themes based in the current events going on in France and the rest of the world. His film La Chinoise featured a group of students and a number of their left-wing ideas. Coming out in 1967, it immediately preceded the May 1968 events involving the student rebellions and the collapse of the Republic. It was another film of Godard’s that expressly showed his Marxist leanings.
            Following the late 1960’s, Jean-Luc Godard moved into what has been labeled his “Revolutionary” or “Radical” period. Films from this era showed Godard’s intense interest in Maoist ideology and featured collaboration with Jean-Pierre Gorin, a young Maoist student. Many of his films from this time were considered extreme, even compared to the Hollywood New Wave films coming out at the time. “Save for small groups of committed militants…most audiences found the combination of recondite ideological hectoring and austere formal rigor all but unwatchable” (Criterion). Godard and his partner Gorin decided to return to a more populist political perspective, moving away from their radical ideas. Come Tout Va Bien.
            Tout Va Bien, or Everything Is Fine (All’s Well in the United States), was another political film (yes, another) of Godard’s, coming to theaters in 1972. Godard’s purpose for the film was “to consider the class struggle in France four years on from 1968” (Criterion). It took place in France and centers on a sausage factory under strike. An American reporter played by Jane Fonda is caught up in the strike and becomes radicalized and joins the movement. Fonda, a radical feminist at the time, was the perfect female socialist to play the part in the not-so-subtly Marxist film. Godard took another page from the Neorealism book and hired unemployed, no-name actors to play the factory workers; one way in which he injects a sense of the class-conflict rebounding throughout France at the time into the film. The entire film is based on Fonda’s character and her husband being radicalized over the course of a few nights stuck in the factory, after witnessing the “horrors” of capitalism and its effects on the lower classes. The film even ends with a riot of the workers! If this isn’t classic radical Godard, nothing is.
            The film did contain a number of innovative filming techniques. The factory set was actually a cross-sectioned building, allowing the camera to zoom in on one room, then zoom back out and be able to see activity in all rooms, before centering on another. The actors break the fourth wall several times throughout the film as well, talking directly to the camera. There were also a number of long takes and uses montage editing to portray the excitement and chaos of the strike and later riot. The film is important in the Jean-Luc Godard timeline as it was a major “critical and commercial disaster” according to critic Colin MacCabe. Audiences weren’t as enchanted with the extreme Fonda character as Godard hoped. The American premiere didn’t fare much better. The film forced Jean-Luc to recognize that his films weren’t having the political impact he had hoped they were.
            Godard made a few more tame political movies later in the seventies, but eventually returned to a more traditional format and mass-appealing source material. In 1987 Godard filmed King Lear, about as clear cut of source material as one can get. Histoire(s) du cinema, completed in 1998, was an extremely long “examination of the history of the concept of cinema and how it relates to the 20th century” (Wikipedia). In some ways it was a return to his roots as a critic.
            Jean-Luc Godard is still alive and well today, his most recent film being a short called The Three Disasters. He is and always has been an auteur, of the theory developed by his close friend Francois Truffaut, in the sense that his films were always his own. They were creative and framed many of his own political and personal beliefs and ideologies. Pursuing this auteur idea is what lead him to Breathless, the film that would start it all. Many consider him to be a living legend, and in many ways this is true. Without Godard, there would be no Woody Allen, no Scorsese, or Tarantino. The edgy films we know and love today all are possible because of Jean-Luc Godard and his breaking of the mold with Breathless, over fifty years ago.

Works Cited

Wikipedia: Jean Seberg, Jean-Luc Godard, Breathless, The Little Soldier, French New Wave, All’s Well

Biographical Timeline http://www.carleton.edu/curricular/MEDA/classes/media110/Friesema/intro.html

Criterion: Tout va bien revisited        

Godard’s Truthful Torture Scene

The New Wave: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette by James Monaco

Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless: Defining the French New Wave

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Film History Student Final Paper #2 - Ingmar Bergman

Here is the second Student Final Paper from my Spring 2014 semester class of Film History at the College of DuPage. Enjoy!
By Scott Alexander
     I have grown up interested in the process of film and how the cooperating parts put them together. Looking at the style in films, I could always notice trends used by certain directors in almost all their works. This trend in the director’s personal creative vision is known as Auteur Theory. For me, Wes Anderson is the epitome of reoccurring schemes, themes, and overall tone every time I pop in one of his films. I just fell in love with his work and wanted more and more. Now, being in film history and learning about the pioneers that have paved the way for people like Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, or even Wes Anderson, it’s amazing to see how each one has grabbed a piece of each other’s style, and made it their own. Like Wes Anderson, the first time I watched Ingmar Berman, I was sold and wanted more.

     When I was 12-years-old, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Sweden. I arrived in Stockholm and gazed at the scenery unable to take my eyes off everything that created the culture. From that point on, I have always had an affinity for anything Swedish. So when I learned of Bergman in class, my ears perked up and soaked in as much as possible.

     Born Ernst Ingmar Bergman on July 14th, 1918, in Uppsala, Sweden, one of the countries larger cities. He grew up in a strict parented household where religion was a constant sight and topic of conversation. “Bergman’s interest in theatre and film began early: At the age of nine, he traded a set of tin soldiers for a magic lantern, a possession that altered the course of his life. Within a year, he had created, by playing with this toy, a private world in which he felt completely at home, he recalled. He fashioned his own scenery, marionettes, and lighting effects and gave puppet productions of Strindberg plays in which he spoke all the parts” (Rothstein). By 1937, Bergman was attending the Stockholm University College with a focus on art and literature. During these years he became a film geek and participated heavily in the student theatre. Although he would go on not to graduate, his writing took off as he wrote several plays and even an opera. “In 1942, he was given the chance to direct one of his own scripts, Caspar’s Death. The play was seen by members of Svensk Filmindustri, which then offered Bergman a position working on scripts” (Vermiyle). In 1944, Bergman began seeing success in his work. He wrote the screenplay for Torment/Frenzy (1944), a film directed by Alf Sjöberg, who gave Bergman the role of assistant director on the film. This would go on to ignite Bergman to greater triumphs that saw him directing his own works of art.

     Bergman became a global figure with his film, Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). “It explores the frightening insight that it is possible for two people to love each other even when they find it impossible to live together. It also contains a bit of nostalgia, looking back at my own life and my relationship with my daughter, full of great confusion and sorrow” (Bergman). In that quote Bergman refers to nostalgia, and the role his own life experiences play into the film. That, to me, is the foundation of Bergman. The way he could grasp old memories and release them through performances so audience could relate was simply magical.

     What made Bergman an auteur were his almost forbidden-like films that usually explored dark themes and the absence of God. Gunnel Lindblom said, “I came out of that movie house reeling like a drunkard, drugged speechless, with the film rushing through my bloodstream, pumping and thudding” (Ford, Ingmar Bergman). Many people have evoked this feeling over again by Bergman films. I believe this is not the subject matter or storyline particularly, but because it is Bergman and his sense of composition, or cinematography. For instance, if you gave two directors the same script to shoot, the film that was turned out by the other director would be nowhere near the influence of a Bergman film. He just had an intuition of how to juxtapose the camera to gain the maximum emotion he wanted to draw from the audience. Bergman would use the close-up like no one before him, where you could almost feel the performers’ emotions through the screen. “The relentless close-up of the face is a useful formal and thematic key to Bergman’s work. In these frequent, almost embarrassingly close and radically elongated moments the viewer can see, think and feel existential sureties in different states of crisis – as we watch subjects reduced to pure flesh, bones, mouth, nose, hair and eyes” (Ford, Ingmar Bergman). For example, Bergman uses the close-up brilliantly in Winter Light (1963). “Marta pours her heart out to him in the letter in a way that she could not do to his face. To present the letter reading, Bergman shows Marta reciting it in close-up, directly into the camera for more than six minutes, sincerely and emotionally pleading her case. (Breaking the “fourth wall” by directly gazing into the camera always induces a heightened sense of empathy, and it is effective here.) This is perhaps the most memorable scene in the film, because of its attempt at direct communication” (The Discussion of Film Expression).

     Like I mentioned before, religion is a constant theme Bergman tackled throughout his film career. The Seventh Seal (1957) could easily be defined as one of these films. Truly a masterpiece in many ways, it still stands as a landmark of film expression, since it delved cinematically into the ultimate questions of existence and death. “Bergman’s cinematic storytelling techniques are worth mentioning straightaway. Although the film is largely set out of doors, we are not at all presented with a naturalistic setting.  Instead the stark, high-contrast black-and-white cinematography creates a moody and expressionistic visual environment” (Berg). That is what jumps off the screen when experiencing a Bergman film. Almost like a play, each setting is a stage perfectly set-up and every element on screen presents a particular meaning.

     Ingmar Bergman was also a major influence on the art-house cinema movement. A film like the aforementioned The Seventh Seal helped launch the movement, which made perfect sense because of Bergman’s style and overall understanding of film. Another film that grew the art-house cinema movement was Fanny and Alexander (1982). This film, once again, addresses religion and the overall questions that life cannot answer. “The director spent the bulk of his career tackling the notion of a world without God (how liberating this is; how terrifying, too), only to arrive at the conclusion that we are all God, and that man makes God in his own image, for better or worse” (Brooks).

     It has been a true pleasure looking into the work of Ingmar Bergman over the past few weeks. His style has been an instant inspiration, and I enjoy learning anything I can from his legacy. The investigation needed to dig out information on Bergman has simply made him one of my favorite directors.


Berg, Cassidy. "Read Into It." 15 November 2010. Auteur Theory: Ingmar Bergman. 1 May 2014 <http://caberglitandmediastudies.blogspot.com/2010/11/auteur-theory-ingmar-bergman-re-post.html>.

Bergman, Ingmar. Images: My Life in Film. New York: Arcade, 2011.
Brooks, Xan. "Film Season." 19 October 2010. The Guardian. 1 May 2014 <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/20/fanny-alexander-bergman-arthouse>.

Ford, Hamish. "Ingmar Bergman." December 2002. Senses of Cinema. 1 May 2014 <http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/bergman/>.

—. "Ingmar Bergman." December 2002. Senses of Cinema. 1 May 2014 <http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/bergman/>.

Rothstein, Mervyn. "Ingmar Bergman." 31 July 2007. Wikipedia. 1 May 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingmar_Bergman>.

"The Discussion of Film Expression." 13 August 2013. The Film Sufi. 1 May 2014 <http://www.filmsufi.com/2013_08_01_archive.html>.

Vermiyle, Jerry. "Ingmar Bergman." May 2001. Docstoc. 1 May 2014 <http://www.docstoc.com/docs/6182543/Ingmar_Bergman>.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Film History Student Final Paper #1 - John Ford

Once again I am publishing online final papers on auteur directors written by three of my students from my Film History class at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL, spring 2014 semester.  Part of my requirements is that the piece should be in a conversational tone.  Here's the first one!

By Jim Cook

John Ford was one of the greatest filmmakers of early film history. Active from the silent era all the way to the 1960’s, Ford had a fantastic career of over 140 films. He had his own unique style that has led to him being known as an auteur director.

John Ford was born in 1894 to Irish parents in America. Not much is known before Ford moved to California, but he moved there to start acting in 1914 to help out his brother (John Ford, Wikipedia). He began acting under the stage name Jack Ford and had roles in some of the first short silent films he directed. Having cut his teeth on 10 silent shorts in 1917, he went on to direct 52 other silent films between 1918 and 1927 (John Ford’s Filmography, Wikipedia). Unfortunately, many of these films were lost to time, and thus much of John Ford’s early influence with them. Ford then went on to start directing “Talkies” as they were called when they first debuted, because many people thought it would just be a fad, which is totally and completely crazy. The first “Talkie” he directed was called Napoleon’s Barber (John Ford, Biography.com). It came out sometime late in 1928 and is now a lost film, as no surviving full copy is in existence. Ford received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Picture for his 1931 film Arrowsmith. Ford’s first film to gain major critical praise, which also happened to net him a nomination again for Best Picture and the win for Best Director, was called The Informer, released in 1935. 

He continued his run of making great movies until he made one of the most influential films of all time, Stagecoach, in 1939. It is said to be one of the most imitated films in history, most notably for its dramatic stagecoach chase and horse jumping scene (John Ford, Wikipedia). It is also said Orson Welles used it as a major inspiration in preparation for making Citizen Kane. Stagecoach is also the Western that brought the genre back into popularity with the major studios of the time. This was the movie that first featured John Wayne as a lead in a western, launching him into stardom as well as being the first Ford movie shot on location in Monument Valley, marking the beginning of 7 westerns Ford would make in that locale (John Ford, Wikipedia). 

After Stagecoach had great success, Ford continued the trend of making great movies for the next little while. Drums Along the Mohawk, the first color film he directed, and Ford’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath were both successful box office hits, each one netting over one million dollars in their first years, respectively. Then Ford was tapped to direct the on screen adaptation of How Green Was My Valley. Although not popularly known today as a great John Ford film, it may have been the most critically successful of his movies at the time. The film was nominated for a whopping 10 Academy Awards and it ended up winning 5 of those categories. Ford got the Oscar for Best Director for his work on the movie, and it was able to gross more than double its budget, becoming very popular with the movie-going audience of the time. After this, World War II began and Ford joined the Navy to serve his country the best way he could. He mostly made propaganda documentaries, but is noted as a veteran of the Battle of Midway because he was hit with shrapnel while filming parts of the Japanese attack (John Ford, Biography.com). The footage from that would eventually be used in a wartime documentary called The Battle of Midway. 

After the war, Ford went back to the western genre. He made My Darling Clementine, a movie about Wyatt Earp. While it didn’t win any awards, it was a commercial success making over two million in its first year. Ford then went on to start the three part “Cavalry Trilogy” which included the films: Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande. While not as successful as Stagecoach, these 3 movies are John Ford classics, echoing his auteur style in nearly every way (The Directing Style of John Ford, Ryan at the Movies). After a few other movies, and a small stint in television, Ford directed the movie widely said to be his best, The Searchers. Starring John Wayne, the movie was shot once again in Ford’s favorite location for westerns, Monument Valley. Noted for its beautiful scale of on location sets, and the complicated character that was Ethan Edwards, it is widely regarded as the best western of all time, as well as one of the best movies in the history of cinema (John Ford, Wikipedia). Most of Ford’s auteuristic traits can be found in this movie. There is very little camera movement throughout the film, and all the actors in each scene tend to be in the scene through the shot so that camera movement is not necessary. He also likes to tie the beginning and end of the film together, this time using two very similar shots in order to accomplish this. They are both taken from doorways contrasting bright light with dark indoors. This was perhaps Ford’s last great film, but he continued directing until 1966. After a bout with cancer, John Ford passed away in August 1973, leaving behind him a legacy of being one of the great auteurs in the history of film.

This is easily demonstrated by simply noting the things that he specifically did in nearly every film he ever directed, but most notably in his westerns. All of Ford’s movies were conceived visually in his head, never on a storyboard. The heroes in Ford’s movies often felt like outsiders to the established society and they often spoke louder with their actions than with their words (John Ford, Wikipedia). Ford didn’t like camera movement much, opting for static shots, most of which were long or medium shots, he avoided close-ups if possible (The Directing Style of John Ford, Ryan at the Movies). The only times he used tracking shots were during exciting moments in his movies. He liked to tie movies together at the beginning and end by using a vehicle of some sort, often a train or wagon arriving and then leaving. If in his movies a player was playing poker and had a hand of 2 eights and 2 aces, one of the aces being the ace of spades, this character was most certainly going to perish shortly because that hand was known as the “Death Hand.” He defined his westerns by shooting in Utah’s Monument Valley, even if it may not have been the appropriate setting for where the story was said to take place. His use of the Valley to shoot his westerns defined America’s vision of what the American Wild West was like, and many directors refuse to shoot there to this day for fear of ruining the vision Ford set with his beautiful static long shots of the area (John Ford, Biography.com). One of his most powerful shots from Monument Valley comes from the movie She Wore a Yellow Ribbon when the cavalry is shown riding away from an oncoming storm. Ford was also famous for his sparse use of film and his ability to cut within the camera so the production company was not able to ruin his vision of the film; at that time, the director was normally not present for the editing of the footage. John Ford also was not often ultra-specific to his actors on what to do with the scene; he often liked to let them play and act how they thought the scene should play out. Every now and then though, Ford would be very specific as to what he wanted, often showing actors the exact movements and subtle changes he wanted them to do. When this happened he would even do up to 30 takes if it took that long to get the scene shot the way he wanted. He was also known to be very tough and unforgiving to his actors, often publicly berating them in front of the crew. While many actors would have probably left the production, it is said that Ford had the unique ability to get the best out of every actor he had on set, often inspiring them just by being in their presence. John Ford is said to have influenced many directors. There is Ingmar Bergman, Frank Capra, Akira Kurosawa, Jean Renoir, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Orson Welles just to name a few, but the list goes on and on (John Ford, Wikipedia).

Since I’ve already told you a bit about Stagecoach and The Searchers, let’s talk about another western movie John Ford directed in 1962. I’m of course referring to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The movie featured Ford’s star western actor, John Wayne, along with another major star of the time, James Stewart. It was the first time Jimmy had worked with Ford and was somehow able to avoid conflict or berating from Ford for quite a while. This is another of Ford’s distinctive traits, always publicly berating his actors so that they would not get a big head, and so that they would remember they were just a part of what would help to make the movie. The movie was produced on a fairly small budget for its time, but made the money back almost three fold, in large part due to the fact that it was a John Ford film starring John Wayne and James Stewart. Many critics have noted it as Ford’s most thought-provoking western, and it is still gorgeous looking, even though it was shot completely on set in California to save money. It is also completely in black and white, even though color was fairly standard by 1962. It is said that Ford did this because he didn’t want his sets to look extra fake, and the lack of color helped to sell this (John Ford, Wikipedia).

John Ford is definitely up there with the best of them, and his contribution to film cannot be ignored in the slightest. He was able to work in any genre and apply his specific style to the movies he directed. He was also a man with a clear vision of how we wanted things and was not afraid to be mean to get that out of the people working around him. He was one of the best directors there ever was, and will remain one of the best there ever will be for a long time to come.

Works Cited
“The Directing Style of John Ford.” Ryan and the Movies. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014
“John Ford.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 May 2014
“John Ford Filmography.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 May 2014
“John Ford.” 2014. The Biography.com website. 01 May 2014.