The Eyes Had It
Regarding “The Man Who Shot Great Movies,” by Kenneth Turan (July 3).
John Ford once said, “The main thing about directing is: photograph the people’s eyes.”
Those lucky enough to watch all or most of the Ford films showcased in the retrospective “John Ford’s Century” will share in the evolution, over the course of half a century of filmmaking, of Ford’s ever-changing ideas and attitudes about society and its members. However, one masterful constant remains throughout, and from a man with poor eyesight, we gain vision.
We always see the people’s eyes. We see through the windows of their humanity. We see ourselves.
GREGORY B. TROTTER
With the recent revival of interest in the Western film genre, the homage to John Ford couldn’t have been more timely.
The excruciatingly dull Lawrence Kasdan-Kevin Costner oater “Wyatt Earp” merely serves as a reminder of just what a great filmmaker Ford was. Countless directors have vainly attempted to duplicate his concise style over years, only to be buried in the cinematic sagebrush.
What made Ford the master of American movies was his unmatched ability with the camera to move the story of a film along, as well as his equally superb skill in bringing out the best possible performance from his actors. Ford may not always have been a sweetheart, but he never served his performers wrong, judging from his finished products.
The ultimate proof of the master’s abilities is showcased in the thrilling climax of “The Searchers,” his 1956 masterpiece, as it is virtually impossible to avoid getting goose bumps when John Wayne swoops Natalie Wood up into his arms and gently intones to her, “Let’s go home, Debbie.”
Truly, this is art as sketched by a master.
I enjoyed Kenneth Turan’s article on John Ford. Almost 60 years ago, I worked as assistant film editor on his “Steamboat ‘Round the Bend.” The film editor was Jack Murray, who often worked with Ford.
As Turan relates, Ford did not look at dailies. After viewing the previous day’s work, Murray would go on the set to report to Ford. After shooting was completed, Murray continued to assemble the first cut without a visit from Ford until he was ready to show the film to Ford.
What impressed me most about Ford was his amazing memory. During the screening he obviously had total recall of every detail of every setup that he had staged weeks earlier. He asked for a close-up here, an over-the-shoulder shot there, etc., etc. Only after another screening or two did Ford come to our cutting room for the final touches.
JOHN E. POMMER
John Ford himself once remarked--after watching one of his 1941 films--"I looked at it and threw up.” Actually, there are a lot of us out here in the hinterlands who’ve looked at trash such as the loathsome “The Searchers” (1956) and “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964) and wanted very much to throw up but refrained purely out of respect for the theater owners and staff.
Ford’s Westerns weren’t the only ones filled with anti-Indian venom, but he was certainly in the forefront of the attack. And let’s not forget the anti-Negro (operative term at the time) strain running through his 1930s non-Westerns.
Like everyone else discoursing about Ford, Turan tells us “what a masterly eye he had for composition,” “how he painted scenes in his head.” Too bad he couldn’t have concentrated more on the words in the scripts, instead of virtually discarding them.
When a director takes this arrogant an attitude--concentrating more time on placement of the camera and actors than on what the characters are saying and doing--be sure we’ve got trouble right here in River City.
Fact is, Ford may have been a competent director--and, on occasion, more than that--but contrary to his own belief and the feeling of his disciples, he wasn’t God, in front of, behind or away from the camera.
DAVID R. MOSS