I was first introduced to John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in my junior year of high school, when it was required viewing for my American Studies class. Despite my initial aversion to watching it, an old-timey hokey western to my 16-year-old mind, I grew to appreciate this film’s stature as an analogy and representation of American history, for this film grapples with two American archetypes that have immensely influenced how Americans are culturally perceived: the rugged cowboy and the idealistic reformer. These two figures, portrayed by John Wayne and James Stewart, respectively, clash repeatedly in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and the film convincingly challenges the viewer through the complexity of their dynamic. While the film clearly endorses the reformer’s stress on education and law as positive agents of change in the West, ultimately it is through an act of violence and deceit that progress comes to the western town of Shinbone, suggesting that the path forward is not always straight and narrow.
Tag: John Ford
Much like Henry Ford’s innovation of the assembly line revolutionized mass production, the Hollywood studio system reliably churned out hits for the masses during its Golden Age. Desolate acres of California desert were transformed into a conglomeration of studio back lots. Until the late 1950s, studios produced escapism films favored by American audiences as a method of distraction from the looming realities of war. As the mood began to change on the home front, as did the creative process of filmmakers. The reliable Hollywood formula was reconfigured and now consisted of global productions with international casts, on location filming, and ambiguous plots.
The Man From Laramie – 1955 – dir. Anthony Mann
Prominent among the James Stewart films most often shown on television in the 1960s and ’70s were the five westerns that he made with director Anthony Mann. Despite this exposure, Mann, though something of a successor to John Ford in the genre of more psychologically complex westerns, is arguably not as well known today. Perhaps this is because he was considered more of a craftsman than an actor’s director, but in the western films Stewart made with him, the actor emerged as more understated, and showed audiences a whole new facet of his personality.
by Paul Monticone
“See, death is the only ending I know. A movie doesn’t end; it has a stopping place. That story, those people don’t die then: they live on and have terrible lives if it’s a happy ending, or if it’s a sad ending, they may survive it and recover and have happy lives. So death is the only ending and I deal with death as an ending. The people I have die are usually the wrong people, the ones you don’t expect to die. That’s the way it seems when people die.” (Robert Altman, 1992)
Altman’s quote, initially describing his resistance to narrative closure before digressing into the sort of modest wisdom that marked all of his interviews, sprung to mind on November 2oth. To anyone who takes American film seriously, the passing of Robert Altman was the sort of news that makes the world seem a little smaller and dimmer. Whether one thinks Altman the greatest American filmmaker since John Ford or a self-indulgent provocateur, the vitality and exuberance of each of his films is beyond dispute, to such an extent that the death of a frail, old man, who had just made the perfect swan song, Prairie Home Companion, came as something of a shock. The prodigious output of the indestructible Hollywood rebel had inexorably stopped, and a world without future Altman films is still hard – if not downright depressing – to imagine. To quantify what it is that we’ve lost, we can look to the works he left us, and his films of the 1970s – a decade of filmmaking that many identify with Altman – is the most obvious point of departure.