Posts Tagged ‘The Searchers’

“It would seem that the respect for principle and the love of one’s neighbor have become dysfunctional in this country of ours…”
Marlon Brando’s unfinished Oscar Speech in 1973

You may have heard of the Bechdel Test or Rule where you judge a movie by three criteria:
1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

The test is to show how male-centric movies tend to be. I don’t know if there is an American Indian version of this, but forget about how they are represented—how many screenwriters or directors think in terms of writing for or casting American Indians? It was a convention in the old Hollywood westerns to cast white men in traditional Indian roles. (Not that most American Indians would have liked the roles they’d have to play any more than the black actors liked always playing the drug dealer.)

Sometime a name actor is cast in a role to help market the film and add clout to the role. Which is why the Italian Al Pacino plays a Cuban in Scarface. But in the case of John Ford’s The Searchers I not sure there was any reason German actor Henry Brandon was cast in the role of the Comanche Cheif Cicatriz/Scar—any reason beyond that’s how it was done back in the 50s. Much like the opening shot in The Seachers of Utah’s Monument Valley with the words “Texas” coming on the screen. Just an accepted convention of the times. (Like the mountains in another 50s film Some Like it Hot which is set in Florida. Just laughable to anyone who knows basic geography. )

Though to Ford’s credit he did hire many Navajo Indians in his films as extras and is said to have helped send them food and supplies in times of need.

I’m no expert in American Indian history, but I can’t imagine American Indians as a whole feeling like Hollywood movies in general fairly represent their culture. I do know that one of the most provocative moments in Academy Award history happened in 1973 when Marlon Brando refused to accept his Academy Award for his role in The Godfather and instead had Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache, give a talk protesting the treatment of American Indians by the film industry.  Her talk begins at the 55 second mark of the following video:

To read Brando’s full speech and to see  his follow-up response on The Dick Cavett Show check out this link at DestinationHollywood.com.

I do know that today WGA does include American Indian Committee as part of in part of its Diversity department. So if you’re an American Indian writer check that out. And if you’re a non-American Indian watch the following video featuring American Indian actors and consider them in the stories you write. (Again keeping in mind that 60% of American Indians live off the reservation in urban areas.)

P.S.  As an actress Sacheen Littlefeather had a role in Tom Laughlin’s The Trial Billy Jack (1974).

Scott W. Smith

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“Nothing’s ever the way it is supposed to be at all.”
Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd )
The Last Picture Show

We are living in the wild west. Right now, right here in the good ole United States of America.

Last night I watched the classic John Ford/John Wayne western The Searchers, and though the story is set in the wild west almost 150 years ago it only took ten minutes to connect it to current events here in the United States.

The plot of the movie kicks in the first few scenes when a young girl and her older sister are abducted in the wild west. Unfortunately,  just two weeks ago here in the Cedar Valley in Iowa two young girls (cousins) disappeared without a trace. Initially more than 350 people joined the volunteer search locally, eventually FBI divers were brought in search a nearby lake, but as of today there is no news of their whereabouts.

News of their abduction went national, only to replace this weekend with the headlines of the shooting in a movie theater in Colorado where 12 people were killed.

It’s a political season so the right blames the left, and the left blames the right. “It’s movies.” “It’s guns.” Of course, it’s not that simple. But I am fond of saying that movies reflect the culture that it helps produce. Rebel Without a Cause reflected a gang culture in LA in the 50s that resulted in tires being slashed in parts of the country where that was never a problem before the movie. John Travolta hops on a mechanical bull in Urban Cowboy reflecting a Texas trend and mechanical bulls pop in bars around the country.

When Paul Giamatti yells, “I’m not drinking any f___ing Merlot!” in the Oscar-winning film Sideways it was blamed for causing a “Sideways effect” where Merlot sales dipped.  Some wine expert said the movie actually helped get rid of lousy Merlots. But there is no question that the movie Sideways gave the red wine a black eye.

“Merlot acreage has been in steady decline ever since Sideways. Many were removed and planted to other crops in the San Joaquin Valley (where 60-65 percent of all California winegrapes are grown) while many along the coast were grafted to other varietals over the past few years.”
Nat DiBuduo, president and CEO of Allied Grape Growers
Merlot on the rebound  (Feb 2012 article by Bob Ecker)

The bottom line is movies & Tv shows are a major influence what we drive, value, buy, wear, eat & drink, etc.—some of those influences are good, and some of them are not.

After the shooting in Colorado, Warner Brothers pulled some of the trailers for its upcoming movie Gangster Squad, where several gunmen fire their machine guns into a movie crowd. USA Today reported the film’s September 7 release has been postponed and the film is “expected to be reshot and edited.”

Since I’ve been quoting Peter Bogdanovich the last couple of days, I thought you’d be interested in an article in The Hollywood Reporter yesterday titled, Legendary Director Peter Bogdanovich:What if Movies Are Part of the Problem?

“One of the most horrible movies ever made was Fritz Lang’s M, about a child murderer. But he didn’t show the murder of the child. The child is playing with a rubber ball and a balloon. When the killer takes her behind the bushes, we see the ball roll out from the bushes. And then he cuts to the balloon flying up into the sky. Everybody who sees it feels a different kind of chill up their back, a horrible feeling. So this argument that you have to have violence shown in gory details is not true. It’s much more artistic to show it in a different way.

Today, there’s a general numbing of the audience. There’s too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible. Back in the ’70s, I asked Orson Welles what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, ‘We’re brutalizing the audience. We’re going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum.’ The respect for human life seems to be eroding.”
Peter Bogdanovich

Of course, other than Gangster Squad, the only other movie I think of that involves a gunman shooting a moviegoers is Bogdanovich’s film Targets, in which is a gunman opens fire at a drive-in theater.

As I watched The Searchers last night I also listened to the commentary which happened to be given by Bogdanovich. He pointed out one scene of hope in the film, “Where [director John] Ford sort of lets the mother tell the theme of the picture”:

“Some day this country’s going to be a fine, good places to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.”

Perhaps that was the hope in the 1860s after the Civil War when the movie takes place. Just a little time was needed to heal the wounds of division. Perhaps that was John Ford’s hope when he made The Searchers in the mid 1950s. Just a little more time. But over the last 150 years since the Civil War we’ve put a lot of bones in the ground, and I’m not sure that time is the answer.

When I attended film school at the University of Miami in ’81-’82 there was an average of a murder a day in Miami metro. When our film professor showed us A Clockwork Orange (1971), he joked, “Welcome to Miami.”  The next year Brian De Palma’s Scarface came out that reflected the violent culture of Miami at that time. That film’s almost a cartoon today.

“Writing off a tragedy like the Dark Knight massacre as an instance of simple ‘insanity,’ while technically correct, may miss one dimension of what’s really going on. For what has gradually decayed, in our society of screens, isn’t sanity. It’s empathy.”
Owen Gieibman
Why does pop culture inspire people to kill? EW.com

With the passing of time we seem to becoming increasingly violent. With the passing of time movies seem to becoming increasingly violent.

But there is a movie that comes to mind that’s always been one of my favorites, and one that at least wrestles with the violent culture that we live in—Grand Canyon. Early in the film Simon (Danny Glover) is a tow-truck driver trying to haul a broken down Lexus out of the ‘hood and tells a gang member with a gun:

“Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this.”
Simon (Danny Glover)
Grand Canyon

That film, written by Lawrence and Meg Kasdan and released in 1991, showed that Los Angeles—complete with drive-by shootings—isn’t that far removed from the wild west. But neither is Miami, or even small towns in Iowa today.

“The world ain’t supposed to work like this.” Little girls should be able to ride their bikes without be abducted, and people should be able to go to a movie theater without being shot.

Scott W. Smith

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Over the weekend I saw the movie Taken and it made me think back to a few films that feature a son or daughter who disappears—The Searchers with John Wayne, Ransom with Mel Gibson, and Hardcore with George C. Scott. 

Hardcore was written by Paul Schrader who also wrote Taxi Driver, Ragging Bull, and The Mosquito Coast. Born and raised in a Dutch Reformed community in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he didn’t see a movie until he was 17. Since Hardcore is about a daughter who runs away and gets caught up in the porn industry, Schrader’s religious upbringing may seem an odd fit as the writer of the screenplay. But if you read the book Schrader on Schrader & Other Writings (edited by Kevin Jackson) you understand better where he is coming from.

Though film has been called a Catholic medium because of its use of symbolism and emphasis on guilt and works (as well as its understanding of sin & redemption), Schrader is one of the few modern giants of cinema with a Protestant background. (Protestants, especially evangelicals, tend to favor didacticism—instructional—methods which doesn’t play as well on film. )

Schrader’s understanding of what’s known at the doctrine of total depravity allows him to tap into characters such as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Schrader is also considered one of the greatest intellectuals in Hollywood and though he later walked away from the religious beliefs of his youth, he credits Calvin College with teaching him to think. (And a few years ago he returned to his alma mater  to speak, so maube they’ve made their peace.) 

“There’s also a delicious line in Hardcore that’s actually taken from one of my uncles, which is at the beginning, at the Christmas part. The kids are sitting around watching some innocuous TV special and the uncle walks in and turns off the set—this is something that actually happened to me—and he says, ‘Do you know who makes television? All the kids who couldn’t get along here go out to Hollywood and make TV and send it back here. Well, I didn’t like them when they were here and I don’t like them now they’re out there.’ And this struck me as absolutely true, That’s what we all do, you know; misfits from small towns across America go out to Hollywood, make TV and movies and pump it back into our parents homes and try to make them feel guilty.”
                                                       Paul Schrader
                                                       Schrader on Schrader
                                                       page 149 


Schrader’s website is paulschrader.com


Scott W. Smith

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