Jan 132011
 

the man with his pipe and his dreams and the rock formations sitting aside the landscape he scowls into the face of his workers saying that this belongs there and that belongs here. the american flag draped over the side of the building, with his own words bellowing through the megaphone he holds closely to his lips, staining the device with his poisonous breath. the day is called and the actors shuffle off towards their trailers. the director is not finished. he retires to his office and plans the next day. more horses, more flags, more indians, more fonda, more wayne, more more more.
he is not overwhelming. in fact, he is humble. the landscape is a character, perhaps the lead. the stars bicker and fight helplessly against the impeccable beauty of the wyoming skyline. clouds and dirt are featured players.
john ford takes the complexity of war and the manic order of the army and allows us all to sit idly while we casually observe the madness of war. yes, cowboys and indian. absolutely shirley temple and a happy ending in matrimony. but, where is the hero? john wayne of course. he stood up for his men. he did not want to see them slaughtered, but overstepped his boundaries in the chain of command. he saved lives and allowed hope to continue through the matrimony of our destined lovers.
in fact, henry fonda is the mad man. he kills and is killed for personal insult. obsessed with his ego and the chain of command, he is a true army man. uniforms must be perfect. hair styled and dances observed precisely. he collides with the more basic family law of his men where his chain of command is no longer relevant.
just as he collides with the helpless nomads of the apaches, willing to settle for peace if fonda can keep his corrupt underling, meachem, from entering their reservation. instead, seated as a japanese emperor on the battlefield, he is threatened and insulted and brings death to his own men and the apaches, more so his own men.
a remarkable achievement. ford captures the complexity of war and the humanity of violence on a grand scale, always careful to put the landscape above all else. the characters kills each other and fight and spit and cheat, but long after they are gone, the wondrous stays, laughing at the pithy madness of the animals that fought and died for no good reason.
fort apache.

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