17. John Ford
THE SEARCHERS, STAGECOACH, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY
Though one of the most prolific and important filmmakers in Hollywood history, John Ford’s legacy for many, including myself, is all about Sunday afternoons and grandfathers. I used to watch movies with my grandpa growing up. Grandpa loved movies and, though he wasn’t a very educated man, he knew what he liked and he had good taste. Without fail, Sunday afternoons would mean some old John Ford movie was on the television and if I wanted to spend time with Grandpa, that’s where I’d have to do it. It was here that I saw great films like My Darling Clementine (1946), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and The Quiet Man (1952). These are movies I never would have sought out if left to my own devices but sitting next to Grandpa on the sofa those Sundays, I got an everyman’s film school. The characters in Ford movies are, like Grandpa and Ford himself, the everyman; people trying to get by and do what’s right by them. I could see why Grandpa liked these movies and much later wondered if they didn’t somehow shape his personality when he was a young man. Later, when I began taking films more seriously, and could appreciate Ford’s amazing use of scenery and vistas and the true epic nature of some of the things he was doing, I saw something much deeper about the movies than I did as a child. These movies are about America and what America meant in the first half of the 20th Century. Ford was a guy who couldn’t change with the times, which is reflected in the funereal pall that’s cast over his 1962 film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It depicted the end of the Western hero and that particular take of what America was. Men of action were giving way to men of education, something that Grandpa could easily relate to. A few years ago, my grandparents came to visit from their retirement home in Florida. Mom and Grandma had to run a few errands which left me the task of entertaining Grandpa. By this point, Grandpa was in the grip of Alzheimer’s and would routinely zone out and fall asleep. Since conversing was out of the question, I went to my DVDs and grabbed the only Ford film I owned, his best, 1956’s The Searchers. Expecting Grandpa to fall asleep a few minutes in, I put it on and just began watching. To my surprise and delight, Grandpa stayed awake the entire time and was as focused on the film as he’d been about anything for a number of years. When the film ended, Grandpa looked over at me and said, “That’s a good movie.” The Searchers was the last film I ever watched with my grandpa as he passed away a year ago, but for the two hours we watched it, we were both able to forget where we were and go back to Sunday afternoons. This is the power of John Ford’s cinema, to bring together generations of movie fans, regardless of what else is going on and tell them an engaging, fun adventure about people just trying to do what’s right by them.
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