March 13, 2009

Monument Valley & John Ford

Great piece from Buzz Bissinger in Vanity Fair on John Ford, who directed some of the best films that forever changed the way the world saw westerns.

Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border, was an untamed frontier until Harry Goulding, together with his wife 'Mike' brought it to the attention of Hollywood. The piece traces Goulding's recognition of the value of his adopted home both geographically, and as a way to bring much needed employment to the native Navajos. The authenticity they brought to the shoot had its own moments; at one point, with no time for a rehearsal, 400 Navahos were to attack a wagon train while on horseback. As their leader approached the wagons and saw the rifle-bearing white men, he continued on through the cameras, all 400 of his men behind him.

Asked later what he had been doing, the Navajo leader explained that he was "going home to get his own rifle so it would be a fair fight".

The Goulding's essentially had the only settled place in the vast area, and their homestead served as a home base for Ford as he made classics like Stagecoach. Later, parts of such movies as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Back to the Future III and Forrest Gump would be filmed here. But this haunting, desolate area would give its biggest cinematic gift to the western.

If you're a Ford fan (and even if you're not; his imprint has been left on so many directors, you're probably watching more of his influence than you know), the parallels between the man and Monument Valley are notable. "Ford...edited in his head as he shot to further reduce the ability of producers and editors to screw with his films." The director who couldn't be controlled, in the land that couldn't be controlled.


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