Sep 11, 2013

15th Sept 2013; John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

A film by John Ford

1940/USA/B&W/123 mins

15th September ;5.45pm

Perks Mini Theater

The Grapes of Wrath  was based on John Steinbeck's novel, arguably the most effective social document of the 1930s, and it was directed by a filmmaker who had done more than any other to document the Westward movement of American settlement, John Ford. 

When Steinbeck published his novel in 1939, it was acclaimed as a masterpiece, won the Pulitzer Prize, was snatched up by Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century-Fox and assigned to his top director, John Ford. It expressed the nation's rage about the Depression in poetic, Biblical terms, and its dialogue does a delicate little dance around words like "agitators" and "Reds"--who are, we are intended to understand, what the fat cats call anyone who stands up for the little man.

It is dialogue spoken by Henry Fonda, whose Tom Joad is one of the great American movie characters, so pure and simple and simply therein the role that he puts it over. Fonda was an actor with the rare ability to exist on the screen without seeming to reach or try, and he makes it clear even in his silences how he has been pondering Preacher's conversion from religion to union politics.

The photography is by the great innovator Gregg Toland, In "Grapes" he worked with astonishingly low levels of light; consider the many night scenes and the shots in the deserted Joad homestead. The power of Ford (1884-1973) was rooted in strong stories, classical technique and direct expression. There is a rigorous purity in his visual style that serves the subject well. "The Grapes of Wrath" contains not a single shot that seems careless or routine.

 The story, which seems to be about the resiliency and courage of "the people," is built on a foundation of fear: Fear of losing jobs, land, self-respect. To those who had felt that fear, who had gone hungry or been homeless, it would never become dated. And its sense of injustice is still relevant. The banks and land agents of the 1930s have been replaced by financial pyramids so huge and so chummy with the government that Enron, for example, had to tractor itself off its own land.


John Ford

1894 - 1973

John Ford is, arguably, The Great American Director. When Orson Welles, who repeatedly screened Ford's Stagecoach (1939) as a crash course in filmmaking before helming his first film, Citizen Kane (1941), was asked who his three favorite directors were, he answered, "John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford." Along with D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, the first-generation pioneers who created the narrative film in America, if not the world, Ford -- who came of age when movie production began shifting from its New York-New Jersey base to California in the second decade of the 20th Century -- ranks with William Wyler, Frank Capra and Howard Hawks as not only being among the greatest of American directors, but as an artist who helped define what America was on the silver screen. Ford's cinematic art is as much a part of Americana as a Frederic Remington painting of the Old West, a subject both lovingly portrayed in their respective media.

John Ford was born John Martin Feeney on February 1, 1894. John Ford has no peers in the annals of cinema. This is not to place him above criticism, merely above comparison. His faults were unique, as was his art, which he pursued with a single-minded and single-hearted stubbornness for sixty years and 112 films. Ford grew up with the American cinema. That he should have begun his career as an extra in the Ku Klux Klan sequences of The Birth of a Nation and ended it supervising the documentary Vietnam! Vietnam! conveys the remarkable breadth of his contribution to film, and the narrowness of its concerns.

Ford's subject was his life and his times. Immigrant, Catholic, Republican, he spoke for the generations that created the modern United States between the Civil and Great Wars. Like Walt Whitman, Ford chronicled the society of that half century, expansionist by design, mystical and religious by conviction, hierarchical by agreement; an association of equals within a structure of command, with practical, patriotic, and devout qualities. Ford portrayed the society Whitman celebrated as "something in the doings of man that corresponds with the broadcast doings of night and day." As befitted his status as America's premier director, in 1973, John Ford was the recipient of the first Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Film Institute. President Richard Nixon attended the event, presenting Ford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S.   (Source:Internet)

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