Archive for December 23rd, 2010

Yesterday, after finally getting back in the studio after running errands, I flipped on the tube and caught the end of the classic John Ford film The Searchers.  On the day that the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit opened, it was fitting that they were showing what is probably John Wayne’s finest performance, as the damaged and hate-filled hero Ethan Edwards.  Beautifully shot film with layers and layers of content. 

 The reason I mention this this morning is the image shown here, the final shot of the film.  Ethan has finished his quest to find and retrieve his kidnapped niece and has deposited her with what remains of her family.  He stands apart, the darkness of the interior walls forming a frame that highlights his alienation and isolation.  He is a living ghost.

It is an image that never fails to move me, bringing forward a strong emotional reaction to it, even if only seeing it in a passing clip for a mere second or two. It captures perfectly the tenor and content of the whole story in a single iconic image.  Ethan holds his damaged arm representing his emotional scars as well and he slowly turns and walks away towards the desert as the door shuts behind, bringing the story to an end in darkness.  Just perfect.

I remember seeing a documentary on John Ford that equated his filmmaking to painting in that he looked at the compositions with a painter’s eye, letting the background become part of the storytelling process.  You can see it in most of his films.  There are shots that are so beautifully composed that they evoke an immediate emotional response.  What you hope for as a painter. 

Even now as I sit here writing this, my eye wanders up that image and I am struck by it.  I will probably have that image with me for the rest of the day, at least.  That is powerful.

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