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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 It was later withdrawn from circulation because of legal rights.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
Bogdanovich's documentary tries to analyze Ford's work, and provide anecdotal insights of the great director.
Made the same year Peter Bogdanovich created his masterpiece, "The Last Picture Show," one might expect great things from this somewhat unconventional documentary on John Ford. After all, how wrong can one go with interview footage of John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, and the director himself? And if that's not enough "star power," consider that no less than Orson Welles narrates. But things often go horribly wrong in this uneven, inconsistent work that's more of a random, love-letter to the director, than an insightful peek into his world.
Rather than tell the story of his life, Bogdonavich focuses on the work of John Ford. In fact, he relies heavily on film footage. It isn't all the typical sound-bite clip one comes to expect from documentaries, but often long scenes, or sequences of scenes. This works well sometimes, but all too often, the clip is simply longer than it needs to be. It makes its point, and then keeps going, and going, and going. This wouldn't be so bad if Bogdanovich, a former film critic, put more commentary into the scenes, but he usually doesn't.
Then there is the interview footage, the real reason to watch. There are some wonderful anecdotes and insights here, but they are too often constructed in disjointed, dare I say, amateurish ways.
Indeed, the whole film is inconsistent. It lacks focus, and shifts rather uneasily from one way of looking at things to another. Taken as isolated pieces, such as the the way it surveys the historical scope of Ford's work, it's wonderful, but as a whole, it's potential is never realized.
If anyone is to get anything out of this, one would probably have to possess some familiarity with the work of Ford. As a fan of the great director, I certainly found this worthwhile, but too sloppy. Those unfamiliar with Ford's work will probably find nothing of interest here, and their time would be better spent watching the actual works of Ford, than this work about Ford.
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