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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD (1971; 2006)

Thanks to TCM & the deluxe FORD AT FOX DVD package, Peter Bogdanovich got the rare opportunity to revisit & improve on his much admired 1971 documentary of the iconic director. It’s always been famous for a much excerpted interview with a comically unhelpful Ford. Now there are fresh interviews, mainly with directors (Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Walter Hill) and more movie clips. Plus, everything’s been freshly sourced from restored prints not available in ‘71. (Alas, the silent clips still look pretty drab.) There’s less boilerplate blather than these retrospectives usual have, but Bogdanovich’s choices from Ford’s rich C.V. is selective to the point of disingenuousness.* Too much is glossed over or simply missed. Best are the older (1971) interview clips with James Stewart, John Wayne & Henry Fonda, great storytellers all. Of the new interviews, the standout is Spielberg who takes us along on a memorably terrifying meeting with the old man. Then, near the end, a special prize, a bit of ‘stolen’ audio between Ford & Kate Hepburn, sharing stories and confidences shortly before his death. Less special is Martin Scorsese, huffing & puffing about Ward Bond blustering thru some phony business in THE SEARCHERS.** (No one doubts the Scorsese enthusiasm & knowledge, but the Scorsese discrimination is another matter.) And who put in the graveside scene from MY DARLING CLEMENTINE/’46? It’s post-production pick-up work ordered by Darryl Zanuck and helmed by Lloyd Bacon! (The scene gets by, but seen out of context, surrounded by real Ford graveside clips, it really sticks out.) Bogdanovich does earn a few demerit points for the camera set-up on his Ford interview. As the teenaged Spielberg learned from Ford, never place the horizon line plumb-center.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *We don’t see what a solid commercial Hollywood craftsman Ford was across many genres. More than 30 films between 1926's THREE BAD MEN and 1939's STAGECOACH, none of them Westerns. THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING/’35; WEE WILLIE WINKIE/’37; MOGAMBO/’53; THE HURRICANE/’37; all superb films of their type, all ‘jobs of work.' Plus, not a peep on race issues, a regular post-WWII subject for Ford.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAYII: **Check out the scenes in the kitchen or in the adjoining dining room from THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE/’62 for some tasty late Ford mise-en scène Scorsese might have referenced.

CONTEST: Name the films that match the directing credit title-cards in our poster to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of any NetFlix DVD. (Shh, we’re stuck on a couple ourselves.)

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