This book traces the evolution of the classic film from the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker, captured and raised by Comanche, ‘rescued’ by Whites after living and raising children among the Indians for over twenty year. The sad story of Cynthia Ann’s return to ‘civilization’ is followed by the story of her son, Qua’nah, first a renegade among the Comanche, then a shrewd politician deftly negotiating his way between the declining Comanche and the ascending White Man. Cynthia Ann’s story is fictionalized by Alan Lemay in his novel The Searchers, which was read and turned into the classic film.
Only about one third of the book deals with John Ford and his film. The arc taking us from the ‘true story’ to the film version is the main event here.
The decline of the Comanche makes for very grim reading.
Frankel’s assessment of the film seems to be the latest installment of critical approach to The Searchers. Upon its original release, it was regarded as little more than a John Wayne Western. The French critics of the Cahiers du Cinema were really the first to elevate it to masterpiece status. Then came the backlash declaring the film to be racist in its depiction of Native Americans. The next pendulum swing seems to be apologist in rationalizing Ethan Edwards’ hatreds.
It seems that Frankel is voicing the latest and, to me at least, most satisfying view of this film: it is undeniably great, brilliant, breathtaking, etc. but at the same time confounding, ambiguous and unsettling. The same can be said of King Lear. Not bad company to be in.
- Love, Marilyn (Liz Garbus)
- Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi)
- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (John Madden)
- Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (Mike Lerner/Maxim Pozdorovkin)
- Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk)
- Key Largo (John Huston)
- The Crash Reel (Lucy Walker)
- Casting By (Tom Donahue)
- Letter From An Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls)
- Clear History (Greg Mottola)
1- It has been fun watching new documentaries every Monday night this summer on HBO. While these particular documentaries don’t exhibit the artistry someone like Errol Morris, they are still engaging. It is interesting for me to ponder what makes them different from narrative films. Both genres have a narrative arc, and while the players in documentaries are usual not professional actors, their ‘performances’ or shaped by the director’s camera choices and editing. Yet they are undeniably different. Is the only difference ‘fact’ versus ‘fiction’?
The best of the lot was The Crash Reel.
2- It is unsettling to see that the tenets of The Celluloid Closet are alive and well is such films as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
3- It often happens that a movie you enjoyed years before seems diminished when seen again. How pleasurable an experience it is, therefore, to see something again and realize that your negative assessment no longer applies. This was my experience recently with Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life. I had recently watched All That Heaven Allows and finally felt that I got what people were talking about when they speak of Sirk’s subversive cinema. I watched Imitation of Life about a year or so ago with the same friend I watched All That Heaven Allows (Hi, Betsy!). She loved it and I was climbing the walls. It came on one night last month on Turner Classic Movies and I decided to watch it again and was completely captivated. The ending is magnificently operatic with huge emotions unashamedly played out. You even get Mahalia Jackson for goodness sake!
4- The same experience did not happen, alas, with Letter From An Unknown Woman. Years ago I read an article by Andrew Sarris in which he recounted how, as a young critic, he roundly declared Lola Montes was the greatest film ever made. He eventually pulled back from that position but still has Max Ophüls in his top tier of Pantheon Directors. Like a diligent Sarris worshipper, I duly watched all the Ophüls I could, convincing myself I was having a transcendent experience. Reviewing Letter From An Unknown Woman and La Ronde forced me to admit that I find these films excruciatingly dull. I get that the camera movement is stunning, but I feel now that all those flashy tricks make his films too self-consciously arty and alienating. I welcome thoughts to the contrary!