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January 09, 2013

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Tom Block

This is the third or fourth time I've seen "Cheyenne Autumn" held up as proof of Ford's non-racism. Is "Fort Apache", where Cochise is an honorable man betrayed by the military and the Indian agent belongs to "the dirtiest, most corrupt political group in our history", really that hard to read? And if Tarantino hates John Ford so much, why does he quote "The Searchers" in "Kill Bill, Vol. 2"?

Tarantino's welcome to open his ignorant yap just as soon as he makes a flick as good as Ford's *seventh* best movie...

David Ehrenstein

Ford's final film is "Seven Women" a masterpiece of melodrama whose attitudes towards race(the bad guys are Mongol looters and rapist played by such disparate actors as Mike Mazurki and Woody Strode) is far from "polite."

Ford's most racist film is "The Searchers."

Quentin Tarantino is a fraud, not worthy of tending Ford's Honeywagon.

D Cairns

The Searchers strikes me as a very interesting, nuanced, at times uncomfortable film, with ideas of race in play throughout in often surprising ways. The way Ethan is eaten up by hatred of the Indians is clearly shown as destructive to him and to society. On the other hand, there's a fear of miscegenation and the idea that white women can become sub-human and non-white by contact with their Indian captors. And yet at the end this is rejected. So if that's Ford's most racist film, he was still a progressive by the standards of his time.

Tom Block

You have to do some serious cherry-picking to call The Searchers racist. You can point at Marty kicking Look down the hill, but then you also have to explain Marty's anger and the mournful tone when she turns up dead--even Ethan's taken aback by it. (It also always comes as a surprise how wrenching the moment is when Laurie starts spouting Ethan-like crap about Debbie--she's a vision of ugliness in her wedding dress. But even her speech is prompted by Marty saying he has to follow Ethan.)

That all said, one thing I've never been clear on is how much American audiences in the '50s actually translated attitudes toward movie Indians to real-life black people. Did they see the connection, or care about it? Intruder in the Dust was one thing, but did the average moviegoer sitting through Devil's Doorway or Broken Arrow bother to translate what he was looking at? There's a way of accepting the idea "Ethan realized Debbie is worth saving" without any thought of the black civil rights movement; it would've been no skin off even a KKKer's nose since it didn't overtly advocate for black rights.

David Ehrenstein

Not at all, Tom. The entire film is about John Wayne searching for his niece, Natalie Wood, IN ORDER TO KILL HER. And why does he want to kill her? because she has had carnal knowledge of a non-white.

Fans of the film, especially marty Scorsese, have been fascinated by what "Debbie's" life with "Scar" might have been like. In fact arty rafted a scene in "Taxi Driver" in which Harvey Keitel's pimp gets downright romantic with his udnerage hooker Jodie Foster tht Marty calls "The Scar scene."

Wayne's treatment of "half-breed" Jeffrey hunter is alos interesting.

At least to those of us who aren't white and have survived the past 60 or so years.

David Ehrenstein

"I've never been clear on is how much American audiences in the '50s actually translated attitudes toward movie Indians to real-life black people. Did they see the connection, or care about it"

"The Searchers" was made in the immediate wake of Brown v. Board of Education.

YOU DO THE MATH!!!!!!

Zach

I get the sense this is an explanation of Glenn's disdain for the "know-somethingish" element among certain sectors of the film world.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Um, David, you did notice that Ethan's conviction that carnal knowledge of a non-white makes a woman worthy of death is quite clearly presented as psychotic, right? Or do you also think that Orson Welles would happily accept twenty thousand dollars to make a dot stop moving?

C. Jerry Kutner

TWO RODE TOGETHER answers the racism in THE SEARCHERS. The Spanish woman has been living with the Indians, but she is not considered "ruined" - at least not by James Stewart's character who ends up with her.

Tom Block

Oh, good lord, *The Searchers* "answers the racism of The Searchers".

David, what the hell do you think it means when Ethan DOESN'T kill Debbie--chooses instead to swoop her away to a place called "home"?

C. Jerry Kutner

Agree with Tom Block that the racist attitudes of Ethan and Debbie in THE SEARCHERS are placed in perspective (answered) by the film itself.

C. Jerry Kutner

Excuse me, I meant Laurie, not Debbie.

David Ehrenstein

That Ethan doesn't kill Debbie is presented as a thoroughly irrational event. There is no reason for it other than Ford "choking" at the last minute perchance realizing that the moviegoing public wouldn't stand for John Wayne killing Natalie Wood (who had no fun at all during the shoot btw, particularly because of Ford.)

Compare and contrast with the ending of Demy's "Bay of the Angels"
and get back to me.

Oliver_C

What mainstream blockbusters were produced in response to Loving v. Virginia? To Lawrence v. Texas? To Scalia's insistence that Alabama should retain the right to outlaw onanism within its borders? Conspiratorial minds want to know.

David Ehrenstein

"The Spanish woman has been living with the Indians, but she is not considered "ruined" - at least not by James Stewart's character who ends up with her."

She's "Spanish" therefore pre-ruined.

"What mainstream blockbusters were produced in response to Loving v. Virginia? To Lawrence v. Texas? To Scalia's insistence that Alabama should retain the right to outlaw onanism within its borders? Conspiratorial minds want to know."

When did Sidney Poitier marry Joanna Shimkus. When "Loving" arrived he was the biggest star in America -- whcih greatly enjoyed "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" precisely because there was no sex.

When Petula Clark touched Harry Belafonte's ARM on a TV special of the period the CBS switchboard lit up with demands for both their deaths.

As for "Lawrenc v. Texas" I trut you're familiar with "Cruising."

Oliver_C

I *was* familiar with 'Cruising', at least until Friedkin got his color-retiming-and-needlessly-revisioning hands on the 2007 DVD release, but I digress...

Don R. Lewis

Wasn't David Ehrenstein once a knowledgeable and respected film critic? Jesus man, you've lost your freeking mind. You're like the weirder Ray Carney.

THE SEARCHERS is probably the best example of a man (Ford) dealing with his feelings OF racism. He starts off wanting to kill Debbie and Scar once he finds them but (in my estimation) realizes he's wasted his life obsessed with a fanatical, hateful dream. The world has passed him by on this pointless, close minded quest. The film starts of racist but Ethan comes to terms with these issues much as I imagine Ford did.Even if I'm reading too far into Ford's perspective, I think Ethan has come to grips with the error in his thinking.

That being said, Ford's quotes above are hilarious. Like the homophobe at the bar who says "I don't hate gays! I have a gay friend!" But again, much of that is a sign of the times I think. When's the last time someone was accused of being racist and responded with "you're damn right I am!"

Also- does it surprise people that QT isn't a Ford "fan?" It's not his wheelhouse at all. He's very similar to the geek faction out there who love film but only THEIR idea of film. It's shortsighted but hey, no one likes everyone. I am annoyed that he throws Ford under the wagon but quotes him in KILL BILL (as noted above) and also in INGLORIOUS BASTEREDS.

skelly

"TWO RODE TOGETHER answers the racism in THE SEARCHERS. The Spanish woman has been living with the Indians, but she is not considered "ruined" - at least not by James Stewart's character who ends up with her."

Yes but TWO RODE TOGETHER (also written by Frank Nugent) is still full of fascinating thematic contradictions. While the Mexican born Elena (Linda Cristal) is ultimately redeemable, the white boy turned Comanche brave (David Kent as Running Wolf) is beyond reintegration into polite society. There's also an argument that Richard Widmark’s and James Stewart’s characters condone the frontier (kangaroo court) justice lynching resulting from the cold blooded murder of a naïve old woman who in the midst of her good intentions had lost her wits.

arvin j.

"The entire film is about John Wayne searching for his niece, Natalie Wood, IN ORDER TO KILL HER. And why does he want to kill her? because she has had carnal knowledge of a non-white."

How is this in any way a valid claim for THE SEARCHERS as racist? Yes, this is the plot, but Ford time and again takes an entirely critical eye towards Ethan's attitudes and violent impulses. THE SEARCHERS is about turning the racist myth of the western inside out; you don't achieve this by casting some typical heavy, you put good ole' Duke in there for the audience to gleefully identify with (at the outset at least) and then slowly expose the grotesqueness of his psychology, and the utter isolation that it ultimately produces.

Tom Block

>That Ethan doesn't kill Debbie is presented as a thoroughly irrational event. There is no reason for it other than Ford "choking" at the last minute

How's this for a reason, David: IT'S IN THE SCRIPT. For better or worse, Ford cut the line “You sure do favor your mother” right before Ethan changes his mind, but even without the line I wouldn't call his decision "irrational". (THAT'S a word I save for people who ignore evidence that's right in front of their eyes, like, for instance, you're doing here. It seems unthinkable now but before finding this blog I'd actually forgotten how insanely tenacious you can be...)

David Ehrenstein

"Wasn't David Ehrenstein once a knowledgeable and respected film critic?"

I still am, but here I'm Rodney Dangerfield

"Jesus man, you've lost your freeking mind. You're like the weirder Ray Carney."

I haven't stolen copes of Ford's or Quentin's or John Cassavetes or Mark Rappaport's films so I have no diea what you're talking about.

"How's this for a reason, David: IT'S IN THE SCRIPT."

Well DUH! Ihave no doubt Ford read it in pre-production

"For better or worse, Ford cut the line “You sure do favor your mother” right before Ethan changes his mind"

Interesting. I'm surprised he didn't fuck Debbie -- then kill her.

"before finding this blog I'd actually forgotten how insanely tenacious you can be..."

Call me Tenacious D.E.

Jason Michelitch

Scar's piercing blue eyes seem to me to point towards a somewhat more complicated treatment of race in that film than anyone here has put forth so far.

Jeff McMahon

Mr. Ehrenstein, I'm not familiar with your work outside of this blog, but here you're a buffoonish troll.

Just for example, Lawrence v. Texas was 2003 and Cruising (made 'in response to it') was 1980.

Don R. Lewis

Jason- because Hollywood wouldn't hire non-white actors typically?

Jason Michelitch

Certainly that's one aspect. But Ford chooses to make those blue eyes visually central in so many shots, and they're such a particularly electric blue that they seem to me to hold a subtext all their own. It doesn't have to be as direct an interpretation as Scar being the product of interracial union (most likely a white rape of an Indian woman), but something along those lines thematically.

george

"As everyone knows Whites feel no guilt about America's racist history whatsoever. All they care about is the appearance of politesse - the slimy veneer of 'good manners.'" -- David Ehrenstein, 2007.

And I thought Tarantino liked to make ridiculous, over-the-top comments!

Anyone who thinks "The Searchers" is racist is living in his own private world, and not on planet Earth.

David Ehrenstein

OK, how about Brokeback Mountain? That was 2005.

http://www.laweekly.com/2005-12-29/film-tv/horsefeathers

WORKS FOR ME!

Don R. Lewis

Jason- I was being a smart ass, I can't help myself. Sorry dude.

I actually agree with Mr. Ehrenstein's comment about racism, it's a sad fact. Racist people don't even realize they're being racist which is a huge issue and makes the topic difficult to broach. I bet Ford doesn't even think he might have racist traits or thoughts. He did mention how he's not racist because he has a black servant. Reminds me of the "Porch Monkey" discussion in CLERKS 2. Yes, I can go Ford to Kevin Smith in one move. Anyway...

I agree with virtually nothing else Mr. Ehrenstein says.

Jason Michelitch

Don,

No worries on smart assery. I'm a too-regular practitioner myself, even if yours did whiff past me and prompt a more serious response.

Re: racism, I definitely didn't mean to imply that The Searchers and Ford aren't racist, just that they aren't just racist...I think Ford's relationship to and interaction with race through his films is fairly complex, with marks on both sides. But, yeah, the "my best friend is my servant" bit was, uh...hmm...oof!

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