Posts Tagged ‘ John Ford ’

John Ford – When Hollywood Was On Our Side

Everyone who knows me well knows I’m a tremendous fan of movie director John Ford.  This week, I rediscovered Ford’s Oscar-winning documentary, “The Battle of Midway”. The final scene, “Divine Services” is one of the most touching scenes I have ever seen in a motion picture.

I love Ford and his work for many reasons. First is his eye for photographic composition. That eye produced many an iconic scene and photograph that many other, including myself, seek to emulate. Second, was Ford’s ability to convey enduring traditional values into the script, values which are the bedrock of life, along with the humorous situations those values often evoke in daily life. In Ford’s work, the “heroes” are the ones who maintain and perpetuate those values, or those who may have lost their way and re-discover those values, such as Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers.  In fact, he often made a point of one’s duty to perpetuate those values. The villains are those who wish to take those values away.

The third thing I admire about Ford is his deep respect, reverence if you will, for the common person; the person who works hard, sacrifices, doesn’t win much nor earn much, but does an honest job to best of the ability without asking fo much in return. Just his or her freedom and basic respect.

Ford had a unique ability to pull all these elements together and tell a story and “Divine Services”  does all that. “Midway” was a true documentary. Ford was on the island when the battle started. He and two other U.S. Navy cameramen filmed on the cuff under fire with hand-held 16mm movie cameras. There’s no Hollywood production sets, no actors, no costume designers., no computer animation. One sees only people and events that were quite real.

When the movie was ready for release, Ford ran afoul of the censors who thought the American public wouldn’t be able to handle what they were seeing on screen. Ford arranged a private screening at the White House with Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt, who’s four sons were all serving in combat units. There oldest son, James, was with the Marines on Midway. The Roosevelts were profoundly touched by the movie. Seeing how his wife reacted to it, the President told Ford “Every mother in America should see this.”  Thus ended all battles with the censorship board.

Another message was sublimely sent to the public by showing James Roosevelt; the President’s son, wealthy and as well-connected as could be,  right there with the common Joes, facing the same danger, taking the same punishment. Ford drives the point with the narration and these two images that  “All men are created equal” just as the Founding Fathers once declared.

"Land Where My Fathers Died"

"Major Roosevelt"

So where is Hollywood these days? Not producing documentaries of this caliber about the current war, that’s for sure. Ford was the most acclaimed movie director ever. No single director has ever, before or since, received as many Academy Awards. But being top director didn’t prevent him from going in Harm’s Way to show the Roosevelts of Washington and the Smiths of Pine Bluff exactly what their sons were enduring, and more importantly, that they could win.

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