|Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939)|
Even if John Ford had not made his ten best movies (whichever they are), he'd still be the greatest. [Tag Gallagher]
In Young Mr. Lincoln, John Ford achieves the perfection of his art. Never were his matter and his method more aptly fitted, and never were his tendencies toward sprawl and overemphasis more rigorously controlled. It is a masterpiece of concision in which every element in every shot, every ratio, every movement, every shift of viewpoint seems dense with significance, yet it breathes an air of casual improvisation. While its surfaces paint, with relaxed humor and effortless nostalgic charm, an imaginary antebellum America, it sustains an underlying note of somber apprehension, all the more powerful for being held in check.
Ford finds a mood that avoids the clutter and ponderousness of most Hollywood history movies, a mood more of parable than of textbook chronicle. That preoccupation with history and its contradictions—the variance between actual human experience and the official version that will be constructed after the fact—that suffuses films as different as They Were Expendable (1945), Fort Apache (1948), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) resonates troublingly at the heart of this film, for all its apparent serenity. Nothing here is as uncomplicated as it seems designed to appear, which may be why the editors of Cahiers du cinéma, in a celebrated, if by now scarcely readable, special issue of 1970, brought the full force of their post-’68 Althusserian-Lacanian rhetoric to bear on the film in a scene-by-scene analysis, as if here the secret mechanisms of the American ideology itself might be decoded and exposed. In trying to pin down the meanings of Ford’s art, however, Cahiers du cinéma missed his mercurial—and, admittedly, sometimes infuriating––ability to be in two places at once. If Ford’s Lincoln exhibits at once a radiant sincerity and the devious subtlety of a trickster, he is to that extent the director’s mirror image. [Geoffrey O'Brien, 'Young Mr. Lincoln: Here in Waiting', The Criterion Collection, February 13, 2006]
Cahiers du cinéma’s 1969 analysis of Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), reprinted in Screenin 1972 in its first English translation, introduced symptomatic reading to British feminist film critics such as Pam Cook and Claire Johnston. Louis Althusser (1968, trans. 1970: 28-9) coined the term “symptomatic reading,” an interpretive strategy that searches not only for the structural dominants in a text but most importantly, for absences and omissions that are an indication of what the dominant ideology seeks to repress, contain or marginalize. Reading against the grain operates under the assumption that the text comprises a hierarchy of discourses in which one discourse – patriarchal ideology – asserts its dominance over others. Nevertheless, tensions between the dominant ideology and subordinate discourses produce ideological contradictions that the popular film cannot mask nor reconcile, try as it might. [Aspasia Kotsopoulos, 'Reading against the grain revisited', from Jump Cut, Issue 44, 2001]
While it is difficult to ascertain exactly how an ‘oblique’ analysis of film would proceed, the editors of Cahiers [du cinéma’s] essay on John Ford’s Young Mr Lincoln (1939) is a significant example of this type of criticism and stands as exemplary of the many important analyses of mainstream Hollywood films that were carried out in the pages of Cahiers and elsewhere. The analysis of Young Mr Lincoln is a close reading of this film, which belongs to the category that is in many ways the most difficult to endorse: films that remain within bourgeois ideology, but reveal its ambiguities and fissures (when subjected to a highly specialised mode of reading).The reading by the Editors of Cahiers uses principles of Marxism, semiology and credits Marxist and Freudian discourses, and includes fleeting references to Jean-Pierre Oudart, Althusser, Roland Barthes and Serge Daney, and Lacan. However, there is no sustained explanation as to precisely which principles drawn from these discourses they will deploy. While Peter Wollen, in his Afterword to the translation of the analysis of Young Mr Lincoln in Screen, declares that the text “owes its concepts to Jacques Lacan” [...], this text would seem to be exemplary of Žižek’s contention that a sustained and explicit consideration of Lacan was in fact missing from 60s and 70s film theory.
At first glance, therefore, the Young Mr Lincoln article might seem to exemplify a move towards Lacanian psychoanalysis. Furthermore, upon first glance, it appears to be a step towards a consideration of narrative content. As such, it might seem to undermine a contention of this thesis: that the content of popular film was systematically precluded by considerations of film and ideology during the 60s and 70s. In this article, the Editorial Collective treat the text of the film in many ways like a work of literature, analysing it sequence by sequence, with scarcely a mention of its materiality. It could be argued that here is an example of textual analysis that confounds the assertion that subject matter was neglected in favour of form and materiality in analyses of film and ideology. While an extensive examination of the content of Young Mr Lincoln, or signifié, to use the Editors’ turn of phrase, appears to consume the bulk of this article, it must be noted that it is the film’s form which is ostensibly the impetus for the discussion of its content. [Kate Greenwood, Confronting the limits: Renditions of the Real in the Edge of the Construct Film, PhD Thesis, The University of Adelaide, December 2006: 63-64]
It's been a slightly quieter week than usual here at Film Studies For Free, as its voracious readers may have noticed.
A good reason for that is that this blog's author has merrily begun a new university year, teaching ... (drum roll) ... Film Theory!
This shiny, new, non-virtual, pedagogical order will continue to slow up FSFF's production a little, it's true, but it will also inspire the direction that some of its entries will take in the coming weeks and months.
For example, as next week's teaching focus is John Ford's 1939 film Young Mr, Lincoln, and the ideological film readings that it inspired, or provoked, here's a little list of online and openly accessible scholarly books, articles and videos on the inspirational and/or provocative work of that very director.
- Charles Barr, 'About the John Ford Archive', Paper at Archives and Auteurs Conference, University of Stirling, September 2-4, 2009'
- Charles Barr, 'Irish Brother Feeney: Francis Ford in John Ford’s films', Senses of Cinema, Issue 55, 2010
- David Bordwell, 'John Ford, silent man', Observations on Film Art, June 28, 2010
- Seán Crosson, "‘They can't wipe us out, they can't lick us. We'll go on forever pa, ‘cause we're the people' - Misrepresenting death in Jim Sheridan's In America (2003)", Estudios Irlandeses: Journal of Irish Studies, Issue 3, (2008)
- Seán Crosson, 'Vanishing Point: An examination of some consequences of globalization for contemporary Irish film', E-Keltoi, Vol. 2, 2003
- Toni D'Angela, 'Interview with Tag Gallagher about John Ford', La Furia Umana, No. 3, Winter 2010
- Wheeler Winston Dixon, 'Andrew V. McLaglen: Last of the Hollywood Professionals', Senses of Cinema, Issue 50, 2009
- Ruurd Dykstra, 'The Search for Spectators: VistaVision and Technicolor in The Searchers', Kino: The Western Undergraduate Journal of Film Studies, 1.1, 2010
- Arthur M. Eckstein, 'Darkening Ethan: John Ford's "The Searchers" (1956) from Novel to Screenplay to Screen', originally published in Cinema Journal, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Autumn, 1998), pp. 3-24
- Martin Flanagan, 'Re-Making Time: Chronotopes of the West in Lone Star (1996) and The Searchers (1956', Reconstruction, 7.3, 2007
- Richard Franklin, 'John Ford', Senses of Cinema, July 2002
- Tag Gallagher, John Ford, the Man and His Films, 2007
- Tag Gallagher, 'Brother Feeney: Francis Ford" Senses of Cinema, Issue 53, 2009
- Tag Gallagher, 'Passage: John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln', Senses of Cinema, Issue 39, 2006
- Tag Gallagher, 'Ford Till '47', Senses of Cinema, Issue 31, 2004
- Tag Gallagher, 'Ford Rises from the Dead. Again', Senses of Cinema, Issue 26, 2003
- Tag Gallagher, 'Going My Way', Screening the Past, December 2001
- Ross Gibson, 'The Searchers - Dismantled', Rouge, Issue 7, 2004
- Shigehiko Hasumi, 'John Ford, or The Eloquence of Gesture', Rouge, 2005
- James Hawko, 'John Ford's The Horse Soldiers', Senses of Cinema, Issue 37, 2005
- Arlene Hui, 'The Racial Frontier in John Ford’s The Searchers', Revista Complutense de Historia de América, 2004, vol. 30, 187-207
- Peter Lehman, '"Tonight Your Director Is John Ford":The Strange Journey of Stagecoach from Screen to Radio', Play it Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes', Edited by Andrew J. Horton and Stuart Y. McDougal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998)
- Julia Leyda, 'Home on the Range: Space, Nation, and Mobility in John Ford’s The Searchers', The Japanese Journal of American Studies, No. 13 (2002)
- Cornelis Martin Renes, 'The Quiet Man and Angela’s Ashes: Hollywood Representations of Irish Emigration as Male Quest Narrative', Estudios Irlandeses , Number 2, 2007, pp. 93-106
- Gary Morris, 'The Searcher: On Ethan Edwards and John Ford's Masterpiece', Bright Lights Film Journal, Issue 58, 2007
- John T. Nelson, 'The Berkhofer Duality Revealed in the Western Films of John Ford and John Wayne', Madison Historical Review, Vol. 4, November 2007
- Geoffrey O'Brien, 'Young Mr. Lincoln: Here in Waiting', The Criterion Collection, February 13, 2006
- Timothy P. O'Neill, 'Two Concepts of Liberty Valance: John Ford, Isaiah Berlin, and Tragic Choice on the Frontier', Creighton Law Review, Vol. 37, 2004
- Jeffrey C. Prater, John Ford's Cavalry Trilogy: Myth or Reality?, Masters Thesis, Faculty of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, June 1989
- Art Redding, 'Built Ford Tough: John Ford and the Persistence of the American Western', La Furia Umana, No. 3, Winter 2010
- Sam Rohdie, 'Four essays [on Painlevé, Jennings, Vigo, and Ford], Screening the Past, 25, 2009
- Norman Rosenberg, 'Young Mr. Lincoln: The Lawyer as Super-Hero', Legal Studies Forum, Volume 15, Number 3 (1991)
- Jonathan Rosenbaum, ‘"The Doddering Relics of a Lost Cause":John Ford's The Sun Shines Bright', Rouge, No. 7, 2004
- Bill Routt, 'Ford At Fox: Part One', Screening the Past, 23, 2008
- Bill Routt, 'Ford At Fox: Part Two (a)', Screening the Past, 24, 2008
- Bill Routt, 'Ford At Fox: Part Two (b)', Screening the Past, 25, 2009
- Bill Routt, 'Ford At Fox: Part Two (c)', Screening the Past, 27, 2010
- Bill Routt, 'Ford At Fox: Part Three (a)', Screening the Past, 28, 2010
- Sean Ryder, 'Representing Ireland: Literary Adaptation and Irish Cinema', Barcelona English Language and Literature Studies 9, 1998, 119-130
- Thomas Schatz, 'Stagecoach and Hollywood's A-Western Renaissance', in John Ford's Stagecoach, ed. Barry Keith Grant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) [long extract]
- Tom Schneller, '[Review of] Kathryn Kalinak. How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford', The Journal of film music, Volume 2, numbers 2-4, Winter 2009, 279-82
- Nicoleta Stanca, 'Hollywood Gender Representations of Irish America in the 20th Century: Maureen O’Hara and Pierce Brosnan', The Annals of Ovidius University Constanta - Philology (20/2009)
- Temenuga Trifonova, 'John Ford’s Funeral Oration: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance', Senses of Cinema, Issue 45, 2007
- Phil Wagner, 'John Ford Made … Monsters? The Grotesque Tradition in Ford’s Work', Senses of Cinema, Issue 48, 2008
- Saige Walton, '[Review of] Jim Kitses,'Horizons West: Directing the Western from John Ford to Clint Eastwood', Senses of Cinema, Issue 38, 2006
Video essay by Kevin B. Lee on Tobacco Road (1941, dir. John Ford), #905 (46) in the Shooting Down Pictures project.