On John Ford: The Cavalry Trilogy

Fort Apache (1948)

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

Rio Grande (1950)

Directed by John Ford

I am frequently reminded that I may know quite a bit about movies, but I know very little about cinema. Which is to say, when it comes to film, it’s easy to enjoy, harder to appreciate.

That’s what brings me to John Ford. Years ago, when I fancied myself an aspiring cineaste, it was easy to bypass someone as old-school and mainstream as Ford, a director who mainly made westerns and war movies and who was most closely associated with John Wayne. Give me, I thought then, La Dolce Vita— or in a more modern context, Run Lola Run.

John Ford, were he around today, would find the sort of pretension I espoused in the above paragraph to be a great pile of horseshit.* I gave up on the cineaste idea, but I still treasure movies. And I still find myself a student of them.

If you’re a singer, or a songwriter, you can learn a great deal from standards, even as you may discount them. Inevitably, what’s you’ll find is that if you begin to study them closely, their simplicity vanishes. The pure economy of the form has obscured the complexity of the work.

And so it has always been with Ford. Sure, I probably bought a copy of The Searchers on DVD more than 10 years ago, but largely because I had read that it was iconic, that it was an integral part of American film and pop culture.

But there is a mountain’s worth of difference between obtaining a pop collectible for the sake of it and comprehending its sheer power. Again, this is as true in music as it is in film. You may have heard one particular song for 20 years and one night it may strike you as, in its own way, something perfect. You’ll unearth a depth you’ve never found before. And you’ll notice something in yourself that’s new.

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