Written in 2007 for Criterion, as the commentary for a DVD extra. — J.R.
“As a critic, I already thought of myself as a filmmaker” Godard said in 1962. “Today I still consider myself a critic, and in a sense, I’m even more of one than before. Instead of criticism, I make a film, but that includes a critical dimension. I consider myself an essayist, producing essays in the form of novels or novels in the form of essays: only instead of writing, I film them.”
Three years before he said this, Godard made the first shot in his first feature, appearing just before the title, the explicit declaration of a film critic: “This film is dedicated to Monogram Pictures.”
Why Monogram? Godard never reviewed anything from that studio, which lasted from 1931 to 1953 and mainly produced cheap westerns and series like the Bowery Boys. But shooting on the fly and without sync sound, he wanted to express an alliance to an aesthetic related to impoverished budgets. So this wasn’t any sort of fan’s homage, as it would have been if it had come from one of the American movie brats; it was a critical statement of aims and boundaries.… Read more »
From DVD Beaver (posted December 2007). — J.R.
The first John Ford film I can remember seeing, probably encountered around the time I was in first grade, was archetypal: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). Apart from its uncommonly vibrant colors, this had just about everything a Ford movie was supposed to have: cavalry changes, drunken brawls, Monument Valley, and such standbys as John Wayne, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, and Ford’s older brother Francis; only Maureen O’Hara and Ward Bond were missing.
Ford was one of the very first auteurs I was aware of, along with Cecil B. De Mille, Walt Disney, and Alfred Hitchcock, and what made him especially distinctive was that he was apparently less restricted than the others to a single genre. De Mille made spectaculars, Disney did cartoons, and Hitchcock specialized in thrillers, but a Ford movie could be a western, a war movie, or something else.
The ten relatively neglected Ford movies I’ve singled out here include a few that still can’t be found on DVD. I might well have selected some others if I’d seen them more recently (I’m currently looking forward to re-seeing the 1945 They Were Expendable, for instance), but I’d none the less argue that all of these are well worth hunting down.… Read more »