'The Searchers' Revisited



Watching a newly restored Blu-Ray of John Ford's The Searchers at the cinema the other night convinced me it was the best movie of 2009, too bad it was released 56 years ago and features a mostly passed-on cast. Its images stay in you head, especially that of an isolated Wayne getting the door shut on him as his silhouette lingers in the background. The image of isolation and unresolved rejection is painstakingly restored in what is a masterful movie of colour & sound.

What struck me most about Ford's movie are the hints of prejudice that flow in around and of Ethan- a man that cannot stand the Comanche, but is forced to suck it up and, in subtle ways, repent. Ford uses Ethan, but more importantly Wayne, as the anti-hero and does not give him the redemption he deserves in the movie's climax. Others would like to disagree with me but it is clear throughout that -although he is glorified at times- Ethan is a flawed man with misbegotten ambitions. He wants to save his captured niece from the Indians but he also wants to kill her because her mind has been warped by the Comanche and she is a "lost cause." His fellow searcher, Martin, does everything to prevent this from happening.

Although this is a great movie, one of the greatest ever made, the one complaint people always have about it is the comic relief that happens in spurt. There are two dim witted fools. I was not bothered by it, although I did have a beef about the subplot involving Martin marrying a Comanche. Even with these flaws, Ford's colours and textures resonate throughout and make for a wildly significant ride.

Whenever I gather around a list of my favourite movies- The Searchers always comes into the equation, resonating near the top. It is an epic that Time Magazine once called 'the most influential American movie'. I don't know if it is, could be, but what I do know is that watching it again the other night I was reminded of its textures, form, societal prophecies which was akin to seeing something a landmark exposed in cinematic imagery. A feeling that's been missing for quite some time.
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