Who is he?
Legendary Hollywood film director, producer and writer whose working life spanned the 1910s and the 1970s and consisted of over a hundred feature films, most of them belonging to the Western genre. Ford served in the US Navy during the Second World War when he made propagandist and instructional documentaries. He holds the unparalleled record of winning four Academy Awards for Best Film Direction and won two more for his documentaries.
What are his films about?
Many of the Westerns directed by Ford detail the travails and exploits of American pioneers, creating an anthology of fictional accounts of how the West was won and erecting a picture of America as a country forged from the sacrifices of its founding fathers. In these films, the narrative and the historical — the human and the political — dimensions reside alongside, sometimes within the same shot. His later films attempt to make up for the racial stereotyping of his early works, presenting African and Native Americans in a more positive light.
Ford’s films are most typical of American classicist cinema, with their seamless but emotionally attuned continuity editing, cinematography that does not call attention to itself, an understated use of music and a general sincerity of emotion. When shooting on location, characters are often composed against the horizon, with mass movements happening in the background and character interaction in the foreground. Many of the shots in his films employ all three planes of the image.
Why is he of interest?
Perhaps the most influential Hollywood filmmaker from the studio era after Alfred Hitchcock, Ford has had a direct impact on directors of Westerns ever since such as Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Akira Kurosawa. His cinema has been the stepping stone for the next and perhaps the last generation of classicists, including filmmakers of New Hollywood such as Steven Spielberg and Peter Bogdanovich.
Where to discover him?
The Searchers (1956), arguably the most controversial, discomforting and influential of all of Ford’s films, follows Ethan Hunt (John Wayne), a Civil War veteran, on a quest to avenge his slain family and rescue his niece from an Apache settlement. Ford’s film is a hypnotic but often disconcerting chronicle of the transition of the West from wilderness to domesticity, an existential tragedy in which Man must pave way for his own obsolescence.