I can't help but marvel at how my perceptions have changed as I've grown older. The way I view the world, and the people in it, the way I feel about the food I eat, or the music I once enjoyed so much but now can't bear. And the films I once ignored.
And, if I'm honest, ignored is accurate – isn't it? I knew this body of work existed. As I'll come on to in a moment, it's played an important part in my life. And yet, for example, until a few days ago the name Victor McLaglen meant nothing to me.
My Grandad – no pretentious renaming to Grandfather here, thank you very much, he was and always will be Grandad – was a huge fan of John Wayne. When I was a child, he became utterly synonymous with the man. In my mind, he would move like John Wayne, look like John Wayne. And, yes, if I'm honest, talk like John Wayne. But he didn't – not really – that's all just a product of a child's imagination and capacity for molding ideas in crazy ways. But the image persisted. I must have passed the image on to my wife, because the same thought occurred to her upon meeting him for the first time.
He had an enormous collection of books and videos featuring Wayne. His love of films, Wayne, and the western as a genre, is undoubtedly responsible for his three son's love of film. Which, in turn, is unquestionably responsible for mine.
And so I find myself, almost 28 years old, in a position to review Warner Home Video's new John Ford and John Wayne / John Ford boxed sets. And, I realize, I don't actually know any of the films that either box contains.
I'm aware of them. Who isn't? She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, Stagecoach – these are all iconic westerns. John Ford is an iconic director. So why am I so ignorant?
I love film. All shapes and sizes, all genres and themes. I've always held a preference for horror – and I think I know why, but that's something to analyse another day – but I've never been monogamous. Why have I ignored Ford, and if I'm honest, the western?
The answer is: I don't know. And I'm genuinely ashamed. I can't excuse myself by claiming to have not had time, or for them to have been unavailable. I consider myself to be a 'film buff'. I'd even claim to go beyond that. But how can I stake such a claim if I'm ignorant of such an important part of cinema history? I can't.
What follows are my reviews of 13 of John Ford's films. Some of them may not be considered to be his greatest, but they are the films in the boxed sets. My journey may well extend further than these 13 films, but for now my planned route is: The Lost Patrol, The Informer, Mary of Scotland, Sergeant Rutledge, Cheyenne Autumn, Stagecoach, The Long Voyage Home, They Were Expendable, Fort Apache, 3 Godfathers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, and The Wings of Eagles.
I'm seeing most of these films for the first time. Those few that I have watched haven't been viewed in my adult life, and haven't been given the attention they deserve. My perceptions have changed: I might as well be seeing them afresh. The only Wayne films that I have watched properly are his later ones: True Grit, Big Jake, El Dorado, et al.
If my views seem to be naïve, ignorant, or are in any way offensive to you, I encourage you to comment. I'm trying to do this with an open mind, free from the preconceptions imposed by Ford's reputation.
Ultimately, I'm doing this for my Grandad. To my shame, these works aren't something I was ever able to discuss with him while he was alive. But at least I'll appreciate and understand his passion as a result. I'm also doing this for his three sons – my Dad: Antony, Ian, and Andrew. Ian and Andrew have opened my eyes to many films over the years that I may have otherwise ignored (The Incredible Shrinking Man comes to mind). But it's my Dad that has had, and continues to have, more of an impact on who I am than anything else in my life.
The 13 reviews, which you'll find grouped together on BlogCritics under the title 'Discovering John Ford', are my tribute to my Grandad. I hope he, his sons, and you, enjoy them.
In loving memory of Ernest Arthur Woolstencroft: 1929 – 2004.Powered by Sidelines