Friday, August 24, 2012
I am a huge John Wayne fan. One of my earliest memories is of seeing True Grit at the drive-in. I couldn't have been more than three or four, but the memory of the snakes and the big man with the eyepatch remains as an indelible image on my brain. Since then, I have voraciously read every biography of the man I could find, and seen as many of his movies as I could. In that vein, I recently read a biography of John Ford. Aside from all of the stories of his legendary venom towards his cast and crew, I learned a few things about composition and movement. Ford rarely moved the camera. He believed that it would disorient the audience. While this may be a quaint notion today, after watching The Searchers again tonight (under the influence of The Captain, of course) I was amazed at how right he is. In my daily work life I long for challenging camera moves. I get bored with the same old drifts and pushes. Ford, however, believed that the action within the frame gave the movie interest. His compositions moved the story along without a lot of fancy camera moves. He rarely moved the camera. In fact, he hated it so much that when he finally did, it was much more effective. Today, we move the camera constantly. It swoops and glides and never stops just so that some former music video director can "make the scene interesting." John Ford would have punched him in the mouth and said, "If your story isn't interesting, moving the f&;$;*^ing camera won't save you." I did a movie years ago that was basically shot like a music video The camera swooped and pushed and drifted for no reason at all. We never blocked a scene, we just stood the actors in a room and swooped around them. As a result, when we reached a shot that would have benefitted from a dramatic push-in, the move had no power. Watch The Searchers. Watch the push-in on John Wayne as he leaves the asylum. It's like a punch in the gut because the camera has been mostly fixed up until then. Until you watch this film, you don't realize how much we over move the camera. This movie was made in 1958, and it holds up so well, unlike the crappy "remake" The Missing of a few years ago. John Ford would have punched Tommy Lee Jones in the mouth too. And Ron Howard. So if you've never seen The Searchers, watch it. And learn.