cleaning up so well (jones_casey) wrote,
cleaning up so well

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presiding over accidents

i have a great reluctance to compliment to any degree a work i've found to be excessively overrated, preferring not to provide ammunition to the enemy. there's a corresponding urge to go overboard with criticisms, to prove by the certainty of my faith that the ship isn't seaworthy.

that said, i watched the searchers (1956) because jonathan lethem is obsessed with it, to the point that he wrote an essay entitled "defending the searchers". (this is what i do, look for the works that the people i respect find interesting; i watched lynch's the straight story in part because of proximo's say-so (i would've watched it anyway as a completist), despite having an idea of where the venn diagram of our tastes in film do not overlap (a common factor in such films seems to be that they take place primarily outdoors), and was not surprised not to like it.) i see now why the essay, focused more on lethem's personal obsession with the film, is anchored by the need to defend it. it has its flaws. afi calls it the greatest western of all time? pshaw! i don't want to dwell on those flaws or its virtues (monument valley is breathtaking, to be sure). but i do want to mention my favorite part of the experience, which was provided by a minor character by the name of mose harper, an interesting lynchian character in a very straight-forward film. immediately upon hearing him speak, i recognized him: it was the gaunt old man who brings agent dale cooper a glass of warm milk as he returns to consciousness in the great northern lodge. and not only was it the same actor, but it was much the same character. the character in twin peaks even repeats mose's catchphrase: "thank you. thank you, kindly." what a surprise! and more than 30 years between the two performances.

and so, already seeing evidence that lynch and ford shared an affinity, i was not surprised to hear in peter bogdanovich's commentary to the film (i'd rather have had lethem's):

ford, of course, looked for accidents. i said to him once, "how did such-and-such a thing happen in a movie" -- he said [imitates ford] "oh, that was just a accident. most of the good things happen by accident." [describes an accident] ford looked for things like that (mistakes/unexpected elements) when he was making pictures. he didn't want things to be perfect. ... if a dog ran into the shot, or something like that, ford would get very annoyed if somebody tried to stop that sort of accident from happening. he looked for weather, accidents of weather, where something suddenly would change, as in "she wore a yellow ribbon", or a cloud would come by, or whatever. that's what he looked for, because he knew that was a sign of good luck, and usually that brought him a great shot. but he was very open to that, kind of accidental things that come from fate or destiny or just chance. i once asked orson welles did he agree with that, what ford said, 'most of the good things that happen in pictures happen by accident', which is quite a statement. and welles said, "yes. you could even say that a director is a man (sic) who presides over accidents." and certainly that would be true of the way john ford worked.

and speaking of the straight story, lynch reinforces the ford affinity, while richard farnsworth seems to contradict ford's alleged 'mistakes are great!' policy:

lynch: "harry dean has only one scene -- and what a scene! but richard farnsworth is in practically every scene. we're so lucky richard is in the picture. such a beautiful soul comes through in every look. . . . the script is rural, it's john ford territory, and it's about a guy john ford would have really liked. farnsworth worked with ford."

"i did stunts for ford," said farnsworth, a gently aging rustic at cannes in a cowboy hat. "he was good to stuntmen if they made an honest mistake. but if an actor didn't remember his lines or made a mistake, all hell broke loose. there's no comparison with david lynch as far as getting along with people."

and speaking of movies watched at the recommendation of others, movies which have been widely overrated, i did finally watch moon. it's entirely a showcase for the off-the-charts acting abilities of sam rockwell (how he was overlooked at the oscars and snubbed at the detroit film critics society awards i don't know), and for that reason worth watching. but the plot was beyond simplistic and derivative, and the exploration of the character and his situation disappointingly meagre. rockwell was given much more to work with in choke.

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