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Ad        The Bourne Ultimatum

G    p. 10    15 August 2007























genre movies        UK










cinematic genres        USA










underground films        USA


























romcom / rom-com / romantic comedy        UK / USA


















romantic movies        UK










buddy movie        USA






civil rights movies        USA






slapstick        USA






full of great one-liners





9/11 films
















Nocturnal Animals

Official Trailer    2016






Video    Official Trailer [HD] - In Select Theaters November 18    21 oct. 2016


From writer/director Tom Ford

comes a haunting romantic thriller of shocking intimacy and gripping tension

that explores the thin lines between love and cruelty,

and revenge and redemption.


Academy Award nominees Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal star

as a divorced couple discovering dark truths about each other and themselves

in “Nocturnal Animals.”


















thrillers        UK



















thriller        USA










cops-and-robbers thriller        UK










kdinap thriller        UK










virus thriller        USA










wartime thriller        USA










psychological thriller








revenge plot thriller        UK










crime thriller
















crime movies        UK






heist film / movie        UK, USA








































James Bond / Bond film        UK / USA























































special-effects movie        USA


















B movie / B-movie        USA








suspense films        UK



arts-entertainment/films/features/the-ten-best-suspense-films-1687129.html - 19 May 2009





drama films        UK






newspaper drama        USA






period drama        UK






period drama        USA






wartime drama        UK






melodrama        UK






period melodrama





period and historical films        UK






Universal costume pictures        USA






rags-to-riches love story        UK






epic        UK












biopic        UK / USA


















action pictures / movies        UK






action and adventure        UK






car racing movie        USA






comic book movies        UK






superhero movies        UK






























USA > superhero movies > Marvel movies        UK / USA






















Tarzan movies        USA        1930s and ’40s






pirate movie        UK












disaster movie        UK












war films / movies        UK









Vietnam war films        UK






swashbuckling films        UK / USA








prison movie        UK






road movie        UK









science fiction film / sci-fi film        UK / USA










































dystopia        UK










science-fiction dystopias        USA


story.php?storyId=89424903 - April 2008








dystopian science-fiction film        USA










dystopian tale        USA










ecological dystopian thriller film > Soylent Green - 1973


Soylent Green is a 1973

American ecological dystopian thriller film

directed by Richard Fleischer

and starring Charlton Heston,

Leigh Taylor-Young

and Edward G. Robinson




















Blue planet …

Jake Sully (left) and Neteyam

in Avatar: Way of the Water.


Photograph: 20th Century Studios



‘Storytelling has become the art of world building’:

Avatar and the rise of the paracosm


James Cameron’s sequel to his 2009 fantasy epic

continues cinema’s love of imaginary worlds formed in childhood

that have produced some of film’s most bankable blockbusters


Fri 4 Nov 2022    08.00 GMT















fantasy        UK










fantasy epic        UK










monsters        UK

















USA > western        UK / USA

























































20th century > USA > depiction of Native Americans

in Hollywood films        USA










spaghetti western        UK












spoof western        UK / USA












political farce        UK










romance        UK













gay western / gay romance        UK / USA














gay / queer cinema        USA


















musicals        UK










1940s musicals        USA


















whodunnit        UK




















screwball comedy        UK / USA
























Jewish American films        USA



























mockumentary        UK












spoof documentary        UK










documentary        FR










documentary        UK






































animated documentary        USA

























documentary        USA



















fly-on-the-wall documentary        UK










music documentaries        UK












cinema verite / direct cinema        USA








documentary maker        UK












1900-1907 > UK > Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon films


















Aldeburgh documentary festival        UK










Sheffield Doc/Fest        UK

















cinema vérité        USA










protest films        UK










autobiographical film        USA

















arthouse movies        UK






Hollywood movie





sexually explicit film





porn        UK






softcore porn film / soft-core films        USA






blue movie / film        UK






hot movie





snuff movie        UK











Corpus of news articles


Arts > Film / Movies > Genres




Camera, laptop, action:

the new golden age of documentary


From Kevin MacDonald's examination

of the YouTube phenomenon

to a cab ride with Osama bin Laden's former bodyguard,

cheap technology is allowing film-makers

to stretch the form as never before


Sunday 7 November 2010

The Observer

Sean O'Hagan

This article appeared on p12

of the The New Review section of the Observer

on Sunday 7 November 2010.

It was published on guardian.co.uk

at 00.06 GMT on Sunday 7 November 2010.


"Right now, documentary film-making is like malaria," says Hussain Currimbhoy, curator of the Sheffield Doc/Fest, Britain's premier showcase for new documentaries from around the world. "It's a virus that's spreading fast and far and wide."

In the past week, the festival has screened 120 new documentaries – including shorts as well as feature-length films – from 26 countries. As well as fly-on-the wall documentaries about well-known figures, such as the American comedian Joan Rivers and the English playwright Alan Bennett, there were music documentaries about subjects as diverse as Elgar and Heaven 17, and biographical documentaries about the beat poet William Burroughs, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and a taxi driver who once worked as Osama Bin Laden's bodyguard.

This year, the festival also focused on low-budget films about everyday life and politics in the Middle East, made as Currimbhoy puts it "by people who really needed to tell their stories and can suddenly afford to do it on film". He seems genuinely excited, even by the films that have arrived on his desk unsolicited and not made it on to the festival programme.

"There is definitely a new energy out there. We are living in a moment when film-makers, and young film-makers in particular, are increasingly turning towards documentary as a way to make sense of the world they live in. They are more alert about, and suspicious of, the mainstream media and eager for a form that talks to them about real events in a real way, even if that form is often rough or even low-key. It's a very exciting and ground-breaking time for the documentary."

This view is echoed by the young British director Lucy Walker, whose latest film, Waste Land, opened to rave reviews across America two weeks ago (the film is out here in March). It tracks the artist Vik Muniz as he travels from Brooklyn to his native Brazil to undertake an unlikely creative collaboration with the "catadores" – garbage pickers – who scavenge a living on the world's biggest garbage dump in Rio. It is a film, says Walker, about "the transformative power of art" and one that utilises the grammar of fictional film-making to tell a real-life story that is as uplifting and redemptive as any fictional feelgood movie.

"I really do think we are living in a golden age of documentary film-making," says Walker, over the phone from Los Angeles, where she is currently on a frantic promotional schedule. "There is a frustration with traditional media and a hunger for documentaries that have the stamp of integrity. The week it opened, my film was number one at the box office in terms of what they call 'per-screen average attendance'. Of all the movies playing in America, a Portuguese-language documentary about the lives of people living on a garbage dump in South America had the highest per-screen average across America. That tells me that people are looking for bigger truths about the way we live now, truths they are not getting from Hollywood or the traditional media."

To a degree, this has always been the case, but today, with the coming of affordable high-end digital camera and laptop technology, it is possible to prep, shoot and edit your own film in a fraction of the time – and the budget – it would take to make a traditional film. In many ways, cheap technology has energised film-making for a fast-forward generation who have little time for the slowness of traditional script-based film-making. "I've been in development hell for four years for a fiction film that never got made," says Walker, bullishly. "I don't have that kind of time to waste. I want to get on and make films that I think need to be made."

The availability of cheap digital cameras and software has also meant that, for every campaigning film like Walker's more hard-hitting nuclear weapons documentary, Countdown to Zero (released in March next year), or Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, a riveting, clear-headed exposé of the ruthless financial tsars behind the 2008 global financial meltdown (due next February), there are a host of smaller, stranger documentaries being made, many of which seem to push the boundaries of the form almost to breaking point.

In Exit Though the Gift Shop, released earlier this year, Banksy, the world's most famous street artist and arch art-prankster of our time, plays havoc with notions of authorial "reliability" and takes the audience on an entertainingly self-referential rollercoaster ride that says more about the baroque pointlessness of contemporary youth culture than it perhaps intended.

One of the most ground-breaking documentaries of the year, though, is also one of the most complex, formally and emotionally. The Arbor (released last month) is a film about the short and brutal life of dramatist Andrea Dunbar (writer of the 1986 film, Rita, Sue and Bob Too), who died from alcoholism at the age of 29. Director Clio Barnard restages short extracts from Dunbar's work using actors on the estate in Bradford where Dunbar grew up. The director also uses actors to lip-synch to recorded testimony from Dunbar's friends, family and grownup children. This has proved problematic as well as distracting to some reviewers although, as the Guardian's film critic, Peter Bradshaw, noted, the end result is a kind of "hyper-real intensification of the pain in Dunbar's work and in her life". All human life, it seems, can now be reassembled, and sometimes even creatively reinvented, by contemporary documentary directors.

Many recent documentary films also denote a generational shift in both style and subject matter away from the political and outward-looking, towards the emotional and solipsistic. One could argue that Catfish (out here next month), currently the most talked about documentary of the year in the US, is one such film. It is a documentary for – and about – the Facebook generation and it was made possible, says co-director Henry Joost, "by technology that is available to anyone. You can now buy a consumer-level digital camera for $400 [£246] or less that shoots in HD [high definition] and that still looks pretty good when blown up on a cinema screen. This really is an anyone-can-do-it moment for film-making."

Catfish chronicles the odd relationship between a young, hip and handsome New York photographer, Nev Schulman, and Abby, an eight-year-old who initially sends him an unsolicited painting of one of his published photographs. She lives, she says, in rural Michigan with her mother and her sister, a horse-riding, guitar-playing beauty who flirts with Nev shamelessly via phone texts and email. It all seems too good to be true and it is, though in ways that are surprising and, at times, affecting.

Made in a seamless vérité style by Nev's brother, Ariel Schulman, and his friend, Joost, two young men who seem to chronicle every waking hour of their lives on camera, Catfish is essentially a film about narcissism and self-delusion in the social networking age. There is a sting in this particular tale – and one that would be giving too much away to talk about here. Depending on where you are coming from, however, this unlikely twist is either redemptive or exploitative. You may come away, as I did, feeling both charmed and manipulated, wondering if real life could ever be as unreal as this. Are we seeing a film that unfolded alongside the events it portrays, or a retouched version of the same. And, more pertinently, how retouched?

"It really was an unbelievable perfect storm of circumstances and events that led to this film being made," insists Joost. "We're a little compulsive, systematic. We are all making home movies all the time. It's kind of like fishing. Then, suddenly, we found a story right under our noses. Our friend, who's sitting right in our office, was the story. We just followed it to see where it led. I really do feel that my life as a film-maker – all the dumb jobs, the commercial work, the videos – all led up to this moment."

Catfish may indeed herald an age when the quotidian can become prime subject matter for documentarists – this has already happened with photography. With one or two exceptions, everyone in the film seems to live lives that are so mediated by the grammar of reality television and docudrama that they behave as if they are somehow both utterly knowing and wilfully naive. Like Banksy's film, Catfish may ultimately say more about the emotional shallowness of the culture it betrays than its makers intended.

"There is a sense that the grand narratives are gone and that people are now living in an age of uncertainty, and documentary increasingly reflects that," says the film-maker, Adam Curtis, who has made two ground-breaking documentary series for the BBC: The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares, each of which illustrated in their different ways how ideologies of power work on the collective imagination. "Traditionally, documentaries were part of a progressive tradition, a progressive machine. They provoked us or inspired us to do something. I would contend that, when politicians turned into managers, that system did not work any more and even big budget, well-meaning, measured documentaries, like Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, leave us perplexed and helpless rather than angry and politically energised. At the other extreme, you have films like Catfish that noodle about with the intimacy of feelings. Here, people know the grammar of feelings, they know how to act on camera and how to emote formally, while real feelings, which are of course messy and complicated, are hidden."

Back in 1935, the pioneering British documentary film-maker, Paul Rotha, declared: "Above all, documentary must reflect the problems and realities of the present." Rotha was a socially conscious director who believed, like many of his contemporaries, that the role of the documentary film-maker was to help change the world for the better. One wonders what he would have made of The Arbor, Catfish, or Exit Through the Gift Shop, all of which undoubtedly "reflect the problems and realities of the present", but in ways that Rotha could not have envisaged. In doing so, they don't set out to change the world but rather to question the nature or reality, truth and, indeed, documentary itself.

"The form is certainly being stretched more than ever," says the director Kevin MacDonald, who has made feature films (The Last King of Scotland), documentaries (One Day in September) and merged the two (Touching the Void). "But documentary is a generous basket that can hold a lot of different things. If you think about it, journalism, letter-writing, memoir, satire – they all qualify as non-fiction, so why can't the same loose rules apply to documentary?"

To this end, MacDonald is currently working on the first feature-length documentary made entirely of user-generated content shot in a single day and then uploaded on to YouTube. Called Life In A Day, the impressionistic film is currently being edited down by MacDonald from 5,000 hours of footage from 190 countries. It will premiere as a three-hour documentary at next year's Sundance festival. "It's amateur film-making on a grand scale," says MacDonald. "But, because the participants are often showing such incredibly intimate things that you could not get in a traditional documentary unless you spent months filming, it is also ground-breaking in ways that we did not expect."

In the end, says MacDonald, it all comes down to great storytelling. "The irony is that, when I make a documentary, I always feel like I am taking all this real material and trying to tell a story almost as if it was a fictional narrative. When I make a fictional film, I do the opposite."

Documentary, as MacDonald reminds us, is essentially structured reality. "The only real breaking point," he adds, "is when documentary actually becomes fiction, but more often than not, as many great documentaries testify, real life does often turn out to be a hell of a lot stranger than anything you could make up."

That is perhaps the reason why its boundaries are currently being stretched – to keep up with the increasing unreality of the real world.

Camera, laptop, action: the new golden age of documentary,







Renewing a License to Kill

and a Huge Movie Franchise


November 17, 2006

The New York Times



The latest James Bond vehicle — call him Bond, Bond 6.0 — finds the British spy leaner, meaner and a whole lot darker. Now played by an attractive bit of blond rough named Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan having been permanently kicked to the kerb, Her Majesty’s favorite bad boy arrives on screens with the usual complement of cool toys, smooth rides, bosomy women and high expectations. He shoots, he scores, in bed and out, taking down the bad and the beautiful as he strides purposefully into the 21st century.

It’s about time. The likable Mr. Brosnan was always more persuasive playing Bond as a metaphoric rather than an actual lady-killer, with the sort of polished affect and blow-dried good looks that these days tend to work better either on television or against the grain. Two of his best performances have been almost aggressively anti-Bond turns, first in John Boorman’s adaptation of the John le Carré novel “The Tailor of Panama,” in which he played a dissolute spy, and, more recently, in “The Matador,” a comedy in which he played a hit man with a sizable gut and alarmingly tight bikini underwear. Mr. Brosnan did not demolish the memory of his Bond years with that pot, but he came admirably close.

Every generation gets the Bond it deserves if not necessarily desires, and with his creased face and uneasy smile, Mr. Craig fits these grim times well. As if to underscore the idea that this new Bond marks a decisive break with the contemporary iterations, “Casino Royale” opens with a black-and-white sequence that finds the spy making his first government-sanctioned kills. The inky blood soon gives way to full-blown color, but not until Bond has killed one man with his hands after a violent struggle and fatally shot a second. “Made you feel it, did he?” someone asks Bond of his first victim. Bond doesn’t answer. From the way the director, Martin Campbell, stages the action though, it’s clear that he wants to make sure we do feel it.

“Casino Royale” introduced Bond to the world in 1953. A year later it was made into a television drama with the American actor Barry Nelson as Jimmy Bond; the following decade, it was a ham-fisted spoof with David Niven as the spy and a very funny Peter Sellers as a card shark. For reasons that are too boring to repeat, when Ian Fleming sold the film rights to Bond, “Casino Royale” was not part of the deal. As a consequence the producers who held most of the rights decided to take their cue from news reports about misfired missiles, placing their bets on “Dr. No” and its missile-mad villain. The first big-screen Bond, it hit in October 1962, the same month that Fleming’s fan John F. Kennedy took the Cuban missile crisis public.

The Vatican later condemned “Dr. No” as a dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex.

Ka-ching! The film was a success, as was its relatively unknown star, Sean Connery, who balanced those descriptive notes beautifully, particularly in the first film and its even better follow-up, “From Russia With Love.”

In time Mr. Connery’s conception of the character softened, as did the series itself, and both Roger Moore and Mr. Brosnan portrayed the spy as something of a gentleman playboy. That probably helps explain why some Bond fanatics have objected so violently to Mr. Craig, who fits Fleming’s description of the character as appearing “ironical, brutal and cold” better than any actor since Mr. Connery. Mr. Craig’s Bond looks as if he has renewed his license to kill.

Like a lot of action films, the Bond franchise has always used comedy to blunt the violence and bring in big audiences. And, much like the franchise’s increasingly bloated action sequences, which always seem to involve thousands of uniformed extras scurrying around sets the size of Rhode Island, the humor eventually leached the series of its excitement, its sense of risk. Mr. Brosnan certainly looked the part when he suited up for “GoldenEye” in 1995, but by then John Woo and Quentin Tarantino had so thoroughly rearranged the DNA of the modern action film as to knock 007 back to zero. By the time the last Bond landed in 2002, Matt Damon was rearranging the genre’s elementary particles anew in “The Bourne Identity.”

“Casino Royale” doesn’t play as dirty as the Bourne films, but the whole thing moves far lower to the ground than any of the newer Bond flicks. Here what pops off the screen aren’t the exploding orange fireballs that have long been a staple of the Bond films and have been taken to new pyrotechnic levels by Hollywood producers like Jerry Bruckheimer, but some sensational stunt work and a core seriousness. Successful franchises are always serious business, yet this is the first Bond film in a long while that feels as if it were made by people who realize they have to fight for audiences’ attention, not just bank on it. You see Mr. Craig sweating (and very nice sweat it is too); you sense the filmmakers doing the same.

The characteristically tangled shenanigans — as if it mattered — involve a villainous free agent named Le Chiffre (the excellent Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen), who wheels and deals using money temporarily borrowed from his equally venal clients. It’s the sort of risky global business that allows the story to jump from the Bahamas to Montenegro and other stops in between as Bond jumps from plot point to plot point, occasionally taking time out to talk into his cellphone or bed another man’s wife. Mr. Craig, whose previous credits include “Munich” and “The Mother,” walks the walk and talks the talk, and he keeps the film going even during the interminable high-stakes card game that nearly shuts it down.

If Mr. Campbell and his team haven’t reinvented the Bond film with this 21st edition, they have shaken (and stirred) it a little, chipping away some of the ritualized gentility that turned it into a waxworks. They have also surrounded Mr. Craig with estimable supporting players, including the French actress Eva Green, whose talent is actually larger than her breasts.

Like Mr. Mikkelsen, who makes weeping blood into a fine spectator sport, Ms. Green brings conviction to the film, as do Jeffrey Wright and Isaach de Bankolé. Judi Dench is back as M, of course, with her stiff lip and cunning. But even she can’t steal the show from Mr. Craig, though a human projectile by the name of Sébastien Foucan, who leads a merry and thrilling chase across Madagascar, almost does.

“Casino Royale” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). The sex is demure, the violence less so.





Opens today nationwide.

Directed by Martin Campbell; written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, based on the novel by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Phil Méheux; edited by Stuart Baird; music by David Arnold; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 144 minutes.

WITH: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre), Judi Dench (M), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Giancarlo Giannini (Mathis), Caterina Murino (Solange), Simon Abkarian (Dimitrios), Ivana Milicevic (Valenka), Sébastien Foucan (Mollaka), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White), Tobias Menzies (Villiers), Tsai Chin (Madam Wu), Lazar Ristovski (Kaminovski), Urbano Barberini (Tomelli), Veruschka (Gräfin von Wallenstein), Tom So (Fukutu), Ade (Infante), Charlie Levi Leroy (Gallardo) and Isaach de Bankolé (Steven Obanno).

Renewing a License to Kill and a Huge Movie Franchise,






'The Searchers':

How the Western Was Begun


June 11, 2006
The New York Times


IN the last shot of "The Searchers," the camera, from deep inside the cozy recesses of a frontier homestead, peers out though an open doorway into the bright sunshine. The contrast between the dim interior and the daylight outside creates a second frame within the wide expanse of the screen. Inside that smaller space, the desert glare highlights the shape and darkens the features of the man who lingers just beyond the threshold. Everyone else has come inside: the other surviving characters, who have endured grief, violence, the loss of kin and the agony of waiting, and also, implicitly, the audience, which has anxiously anticipated this homecoming. But the hero, whose ruthlessness and obstinacy have made it possible, is excluded, and our last glimpse of him emphasizes his solitude, his separateness, his alienation — from his friends and family, and also from us.

Even if you are watching "The Searchers" for the first time — perhaps on the beautiful new DVD that Warner Home Video has just released to mark the film's 50th anniversary — this final shot may look familiar. For one thing, it deliberately replicates the first image you see after the opening titles — a view of a nearly identical vista from a very similar perspective. Indeed, the frame-within-the-frame created by shooting through relative darkness into a sliver of intense natural light is a notable motif in this movie, and elsewhere in the work of its director, John Ford. Especially in his westerns, Ford loved to create bustling, busy interiors full of life and feeling, and he was equally fond of positioning human figures, alone or in small, vulnerable groups, against vast, obliterating landscapes. Shooting from the indoors out is his way of yoking together these two realms of experience — the domestic and the wild, the social and the natural — and also of acknowledging the almost metaphysical gap between them, the threshold that cannot be crossed.

But that image of John Wayne's shadow in the doorway — he plays the solitary hero, Ethan Edwards — does not just pick up on other such moments in "The Searchers." Perhaps because the shot is thematically rich as well as visually arresting — because it so perfectly unites showing and telling — it has become a touchstone, promiscuously quoted, consciously or not, by filmmakers whose debt to Ford might not be otherwise apparent. Ernest Hemingway once said that all of American literature could be traced back to one book, Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," and something similar might be said of American cinema and "The Searchers." It has become one of those movies that you see, in part, through the movies that came after it and that show traces of its influence. "Apocalypse Now," "Punch-Drunk Love," "Kill Bill," "Brokeback Mountain": those were the titles that flickered in my consciousness in the final seconds of a recent screening in Cannes of Ford's masterwork, all because, at crucial moments, they seem to pay homage to that single, signature shot.

At the end of "Brokeback Mountain," for instance, we are inside Ennis Del Mar's trailer, looking out the window onto the Wyoming rangeland, from a domestic space into the wilderness, as in "The Searchers." But in this case, the interior, rather than a warm, buzzing home, is barren, the scene of Ennis's desolation. The outside, insofar as it recalls the mountain where he and Jack Twist spent their youthful summer of love together, is an unattainable place of freedom and companionship, rather than a zone of danger and loneliness as it was in the earlier film. Ennis is severed from those he loves, and from his own nature, by the strictures of civilization, while Ethan's violent nature renders him an exile from civilized life, condemned to wander on the margins of law, stability and order.

Of course, "Brokeback Mountain" is a western by virtue of its setting rather than its themes, which recall the forbidden-love mid-1950's melodramas of Douglas Sirk more than anything Ford was doing at the time. But just about any movie that ventures into the territory of the western — and a great many that do not — has a way of bumping up against not only Ford's images but also his ideas.

He did not invent the genre, of course, and hardly restricted himself to it in the course of a career that began in the silent era and lasted more than 50 years. There will always be those who find the frontier visions of Budd Boetticher, Anthony Mann, Raoul Walsh and Howard Hawks more complex, more authentic or more varied than Ford's, as well as those who seek out western heroes less obvious than John Wayne. But like it or not, Wayne and Ford, whose long association is sampled in a new eight-movie boxed set and examined in a recent PBS documentary, "John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker and the Legend," directed by Sam Pollard, have long since come to represent the classic, canonical idea of the American West on film.

Which is to say that their movies, however deeply revered and frequently imitated, have also been attacked, mocked, dismissed and misunderstood. If, from the late 1930's to the early 1960's, they defined the classic western — a tableau involving marauding Indians, fearless gunslingers, ruthless outlaws and the occasional high-spirited gal in a calico dress — they also begat the countertendency that came to be known as the revisionist western, with its nihilism, its brutality and its harsh demystification of the threadbare legends of the old West. Thus, after Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, after "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Unforgiven," after "Dead Man" and "Deadwood," the brightly colored black-and-white world of "The Searchers" might look quaint, simplistic and not a little retrograde.

It certainly looked that way at Bennington College in 1982, when the novelist Jonathan Lethem saw the film for the first time. He recalls the laughter of his fellow undergraduates in an essay called "Defending 'The Searchers,' " which also recalls his own earnest intellectual obsession with the film. His first attempt to appreciate it ends in defeat — " 'The Searchers' was only a camp opportunity after all. I was a fool" — but he keeps returning to contend with the sneers and shrugs of academic and bohemian friends and acquaintances, who can't see what he's so excited about. "Come on, Jonathan," one of them says, "it's a Hollywood western."

So it is, which means that it's open to the usual accusations of racism, sentimentality and wishful thinking. David Thomson, in his "Biographical Dictionary of Film," tips his hat to "The Searchers," but only in the midst of a thorough ideological demolition of its director, whose "male chauvinism believes in uniforms, drunken candor, fresh-faced little women (though never sexuality), a gallery of supporting players bristling with tedious eccentricity and the elevation of these random prejudices into a near-political attitude." The idea that Ford is an apologist for violence and a falsifier of history, as Mr. Thomson insists, dovetails with a longstanding liberal suspicion (articulated most fully by Garry Wills in his book "John Wayne's America") of Wayne, one of Hollywood's most outspoken conservatives for most of his career. And of course, the presumed attitudes that make Wayne and Ford anathema at one end of the spectrum turn them into heroes at the other.

But as the PBS documentary makes clear, the two men did not always march in political lockstep. And in any case, the closer you look at the movies themselves, the less comfortably they fit within any neat political scheme. Even the portrayal of Indian and Mexican characters, once you get past the accents and the face paint, cannot quite be reduced to caricature.

And Wayne himself, from his star-making entrance as the Ringo Kid in "Stagecoach" (1939) to his valedictory performance in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962), his last western with Ford, is hardly the simple personification of manly virtue his critics disdain and his admirers long for. Even when he drifts toward playing a John Wayne type rather than a fully formed character, there is enough unacknowledged sorrow in his broad features, and enough uncontrolled anger in that slow, hesitant phrasing, to make him seem dangerous, unpredictable: someone to watch. He is never quite who you think he will be.

And this is never truer than in "The Searchers," where much about Ethan's personality and personal history remains in the shadows. A former soldier in the Confederate Army, he arrives in Texas (though the film was shot in Monument Valley in Utah) three years after the end of the Civil War, with no way of accounting for the time lag apart from the angry insistence that he didn't spend it in California. Wherever he was, he acquired both a virulent hatred of Indians and an intimate understanding of their ways. When his two young nieces are kidnapped by Comanches — their parents and brothers are scalped and the farmstead burned — he sets out on a search that will last for years and that will blur the distinction between rescue and vengeance. It becomes clear toward the end that he wants to find the surviving niece (now played by Natalie Wood) so that he can kill her.

This impulse points to a terrifying, pathological conception of honor, sexual and racial, and for much of "The Searchers" Ethan's heroism is inseparable from his mania. To the horror and bafflement of his companions (one of whom is both a preacher and a Texas Ranger, and thus a perfect embodiment of civilized order), Ethan shoots out the eyes of a dead Comanche, and exults that this posthumous blinding will prevent this enemy from finding his way to paradise. But when you think about it, Ethan's ability to commit such an atrocity rests on a form of respect, since unlike the others he not only knows something about Comanche beliefs but is also willing to accept their reality. And the film, for its part (the script is by Frank S. Nugent, who was once a film critic for The New York Times before he took up screenwriting), acknowledges the reality of Ethan's prejudices and blind spots, which is not the same as sharing or condoning them.

The Indian wars of the post-Civil War era form a tragic backdrop in most of Ford's post-World War II westerns, much as the earlier conflicts between settlers and natives did in the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. That the Indians are defending their land, and enacting their own vengeance for earlier attacks, is widely acknowledged, even insisted upon. The real subject, though, is not how the West was conquered, but how — according to what codes, values and customs — it will be governed. The real battles are internal, and they turn on the character of the society being forged, in violence, by the settlers. Where, in this new society, will the frontier be drawn between vengeance and justice? Between loyalty to one's kind and the more abstract obligations of human decency? Between the rule of law and the law of the jungle? Between virtue and power? Between — to paraphrase one of Ford's best-known and most controversial formulations — truth and legend?

Ford's way of posing these questions seems more urgent — and more subtle — now than it may have at the time, precisely because his films are so overtly concerned with the kind of moral argument that is, or should be, at the center of American political discourse at a time of war and terrorism. He is concerned not as much with the conflict between good and evil as with contradictory notions of right, with the contradictory tensions that bedevil people who are, in the larger scheme, on the same side. When should we fight? How should we conduct ourselves when we must? In "Fort Apache," for example, the elaborate codes of military duty, without which the intricate and closely observed society of the isolated fort would fall apart, are exactly what lead it toward catastrophe. Wayne, as a savvy and moderate-tempered officer, has no choice but to obey his headstrong and vainglorious commander, played by Henry Fonda, who provokes an unnecessary and disastrous confrontation with the Apaches. In the end, Wayne, smiling mysteriously, tells a group of eager journalists that Fonda's character was a brave and brilliant military tactician. It's a lie, but apparently the public does not require — or can't handle — the truth.

In telling it, Wayne is writing himself out of history, which is also his fate in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (not, unfortunately, one of the discs in the Warner box). That film — which contains the famous line "When legend becomes fact, print the legend!" —throws Wayne's man of action and James Stewart's man of principle into a wary, rivalrous alliance. Their common enemy is an almost cartoonish thug played by Lee Marvin, but the real conflict is between Stewart's lawyer and Wayne's mysterious gunman, one of whom will be remembered as the man who shot Liberty Valance.

What we learn, in the course of the film's long flashbacks, is that the triumph of civilization over barbarism is founded on a necessary lie, and that underneath its polished procedures and high-minded institutions is a buried legacy of bloodshed. The idea that virtue can exist without violence is as untenable, as unrealistic, as the belief — central to the revisionist tradition, and advanced with particular fervor in HBO's "Deadwood" — that human society is defined by gradations of brutality, raw power, cynicism and greed.

If only things were that simple. But everywhere you look in Ford's world — certainly in "Fort Apache," in "The Searchers," in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" — you see truth shading into lie, righteousness into brutality, high honor into blind obedience. You also see, in the boisterous emoting of the secondary characters, the society that these confused ideals and complicated heroes exist to preserve: a place where people can dance (frequently), drink (constantly), flirt (occasionally) and act silly.

And everywhere else — after Ford, beyond his movies — you find the same thing. The monomaniacal quest for vengeance, undertaken by a hero at odds with the society he is expected to protect: it's sometimes hard to think of a movie from the past 30 years, from "Taxi Driver" to "Batman Begins," that doesn't take up this theme. And the deeper question of where vengeance should stop, and how it can be distinguished from justice, surfaces in "Unforgiven" and "In the Bedroom," in "Mystic River" and "Munich."

In "Munich" the Mossad assassins spend most of the film in a limbo that Ethan Edwards would recognize, even though it takes place amid the man-made monuments of Europe rather than the wind-hewn rock formations of Monument Valley. The Israeli agents are far from home, exiled from the democratic, law-governed society in whose name they commit their acts of vengeance and pre-emption, and frighteningly close both to their enemies and to a state of pure, violent retaliatory anarchy. With more anguish, perhaps, than characters in a John Ford movie, they often find themselves arguing with one another, trying to overcome, or at least to rationalize, the contradictions of what they are doing. They appeal to various texts and traditions, but they might do better to pay attention to the television that is on in the background at one point in the movie: another frame within the frame, tuned, hardly by accident, to "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."

'The Searchers': How the Western Was Begun, NYT, 11.6.2006,






September 20, 1972


Call to gaol the makers of blue films


From the Guardian archive


Wednesday September 20, 1972



New laws to make it easier to imprison pornographers are demanded in a 520-page report of Lord Longford's unofficial commission on pornography.
It demands sentences of up to three years for blue film makers and organisers of live sex shows.

The report wants the laws to cover radio and television, theatres and cinemas, and sex education in schools. The young are particularly vulnerable and therefore need special protection, the report says.

Instances of links between pornography and criminal corruption are cited, one of them involving a boy of 17.

"The painful irony of the present situation is that the young - those who claim to be the most disturbed by the public violence they read about in the press - are precisely those who are being conditioned to accept, and to participate in private violence, the sadistic and brutal hardcore of pornography."

The commission, set up 16 months ago by Lord Longford, aged 66, calls for a twofold law under which it would be illegal to display in a street or other public place any written, pictorial, or other material which was held to be indecent; or to produce or sell any article which outraged contemporary standards of decency or humanity.

Penalties for inducing people to act in obscene shows or take part in pornographic films should be a fine or imprisonment for not more than three years or both. Distributing or exhibiting publicly "any written, pictorial, or other material which is indecent" should lead to a fine or imprisonment for no longer than six months or both.

Prosecution would be easier if the report's definitions of obscenity and pornography became law. Pornography is defined as that which "exploits and dehumanises sex, so that human beings are created as things and women in particular as sex objects".

The test of obscenity should be: "An article or a performance of a play is obscene if its effect, taken as a whole, is to outrage contemporary standards of decency or humanity accepted by the public at large."

In a breakdown of the pornography trade, the report says that the mail order business will continue to increase unless it is stopped. Two Leeds University graduates had built up within a year a porn-by-mail clientele of 25,000 "bookclub members".

Many of the pornographers' customers are people with serious sexual problems, "but there is evidence that 'normal' people can become addicted to pornography in certain circumstances, and there can be little doubt that ordinary curiosity could lead teenagers to experiment with it".

From the Guardian archive > September 20, 1972 >
Call to gaol the makers of blue films, G,
Republished 20.9.2006,






February 17 1932


Censors take drastic action

on 'sex' films


The Guardian > From the archive


February 17 1932

The Guardian


A serious warning to the film industry regarding "sex" films, which are becoming more and more daring, is contained in the report for 1931 of the British Board of Film Censors, signed by Mr. Edward Shortt, K.C., president, which was issued yesterday.

"There has unquestionably been a tendency of late," the report declares, "for films to become more and more daring, the result probably of the large number of stage plays which are presented on the screen, and of the licence which is to-day allowed in current fiction.

"Subjects coming under the category of what has been termed 'sex' films, others containing various phases of immorality and incidents which tend to bring the institution of marriage into contempt, show a marked increase in number. Even when the story is not in itself immoral, there appears to be a desire to stress the unpleasant aspect which is best described as 'sex appeal'.

"The Board has always taken exception to stories in which the main theme is either lust or the development of erotic passions, but the president has come to the conclusion that more drastic action will have to be taken.

"There are producers who delight to show the 'female form divine' in a state of attractive undress. There has been also a move in a similar direction so far as men are concerned. The objectionable aspect is the tendency on every conceivable occasion to drag in scenes of undressing, bathroom scenes, and feminine underclothing which are quite unnecessary from the point of view of telling the story.

"They are solely introduced for the purpose of giving the film what is termed in the trade 'a spicy flavour.' The cumulative effect of a repetition of such scenes as can be described as 'suggestive' is very harmful."

Thirty-four films have been rejected, the reasons being —

The materialised figure of the sav iour. Blasphemy and comic treatment of religious subjects. Travesty of religious rites. The institution of marriage treated with contempt. Death treated with vulgar flippancy. Gross and brutal travesty of prison life. Hospital scenes treated with vulgar levity. Physiological enormities. Suggestive themes acted throughout by children.

Unrelieved sordid themes. Prolonged and gross brutality and bloodshed. Scenes in and connected with houses of ill-repute. Lives of thoroughly immoral men and women. Collusive divorce. Stories in which the criminal element is predominant. Equivocal and objectionable bedroom scenes. Habitual youthful depravity. Habitual immorality. Offensive political propaganda.

Gross and objectionable dialogue.

From the Guardian archive > February 17 1932 >
Censors take drastic action on 'sex' films,
Republished 17.2.2007, p. 30,











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