[Marxism] John Ford and the origins of the Hollywood Western | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 25 14:15:36 MST 2013


 From Glenn Frankel’s “The Searchers: the Making of an American Legend”:

As John Ford liked to point out, movies and Westerns grew up together, a 
natural marriage of medium and genre. The first moving picture in the 
United States was a series of still photographs in 1878 of a horse 
racing down a track south of San Francisco on the grounds of what became 
Stanford University, stitched together by Eadweard Muybridge to prove 
that horses did indeed gallop with all four feet off the ground. From 
that time on, horses and pictures seemed to go together, as Ford himself 
once noted: “A running horse remains one of the finest subjects for a 
movie camera.”

The official end of the American Frontier, solemnly announced like a 
death in the family in 1890 by the Office of the Census, virtually 
coincided with the birth of motion pictures. Frederick Jackson Turner’s 
frontier thesis—that the West had provided a safety valve that had 
defused social tensions and class conflict during the American nation’s 
adolescence—became a template for the Western film, which was from its 
beginnings a form of elegy for a time and place that had already vanished.

After The Great Train Robbery in 1903, the genre slowly took shape over 
the course of a decade, overlapping with genuine remnants of the past. 
Ford himself befriended the legendary lawman and gunslinger Wyatt Earp, 
who spent his final years loitering around Hollywood film sets. Buffalo 
Bill Cody, Frank James, the surviving Younger brothers, the former 
Comanche captive Herman Lehmann—all appeared in various cinematic 
accounts of their life and times, adding a dab of color, showmanship, 
and faux authenticity.

The first moving pictures of Indians were likely made by Thomas Edison 
in 1894 for a small kinetoscope called Sioux Ghost Dance, an immediate 
hit on the penny arcade circuit. The early films were makeshift and 
improvisatory. They used real locations and real Indians. One of the 
first was a short called The Bank Robbery, filmed in 1908 in Cache, 
Oklahoma, in the heart of the former Comanche reservation by the 
Oklahoma Mutoscope Company. One of its stars was the former Comanche 
warrior turned peace chief, Quanah Parker. After outlaws rob the bank at 
Cache, Quanah rides with the posse that tracks them to their hideout in 
the Wichita Mountains. Quanah is involved in a shootout in which all of 
the robbers are either gunned down or captured. The money is restored to 
the bank and the outlaws are hauled off to jail. Despite his Comanche 
ethnicity, Quanah Parker is undifferentiated from the rest of the 
volunteer lawmen—just a good citizen doing his duty.


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