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In 1971, Peter Bogdanovich was, perhaps, America's most promising young filmmaker, having directed the remarkable "Targets" (1968) and "The Last Picture Show" (1971) earning him an Academy Award nomination for the latter. At this point, he chose to make a documentary about legendary film director John Ford. The result was a documentary that drew excellent reviews, following a screening at the 1971 New York Film Festival and a television broadcast. It was later withdrawn from circulation because of legal rights. It was only in early 2006 that Bogdanovich - who was reportedly never totally happy with the 1971 version - went back and revamped the documentary to his satisfaction. He recorded totally new interviews with Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg and incorporated a rare audio recording of Ford and his rumored 'significant other' Katharine Hepburn. He has integrated these new elements alongside the strongest sections from the first version - including extended ... Written by
Well. Old John was 76 when Peter B. fired up the cameras out in Monument Valley in '70. 76 in those days was more or less what we see in an 80- or 85-year-old now. They don't feel all that wonderful here and there. Their internal organs aren't hitting on all eight cylinders. Their joints ache. It's hard to care for all that long about what one used to care about. (He died two years later.)
So while this is a movie -about- John Ford, his own comments seem to reflect his stresses of the moment, and he's not all that worked up about telling -- or selling -- his own story. (This -is-, after all a man whose record speaks for itself: "The Informer," "Stagecoach," "The Grapes of Wrath," "My Darling Clementine," "Fort Apache," "Rio Grande," "Mr. Roberts," etc.)
Bogdanovich is clearly abused during his interview with The (unappreciative) Great Man, but what he makes of it -- and the other interviews -- is pret-near as good as many of the Great Man's own films.
We get to see the -man- through the eyes of icons like Stewart, Fonda, O'Hara and Wayne -- who worked directly with him -- from the '70 shoots. We get to see the significance of the man's -work- through the eyes of Eastwood, Scorcese, Hill, Spielberg, Lucas and Bogdanovich, arguably six of the most qualified observers one could hope to assemble.
Moreover, Bogdanovich selects cinematic evidence of the man's remarkable sense of how to present the story on a theater screen: Ward Bond cutting loose with John Wayne. Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter amid the tree branches in a snow storm. Richard Widmark and Jimmy Stewart on the stream's edge in a five-minute two-shot that's plain astonishing.
Spielberg makes the point that Ford knew and employed the rituals of American culture. Scorcese was surely watching closely when he did. Lucas makes the point that Ford knew how to seize the moment cinematically and stamp it indelibly upon our memories. Think of Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp rocking on the porch with Linda Darnell in "...Clementine." Ford Knew Film. This is proof. Thanks, Pete. Thanks, -John-.
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