BREATHE: Interview as part of the ROMA SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

My short film, BREATHE, an official selection of the ROMA SHORT FILM FESTIVAL has been featured on the festival’s website, ROMA CINEPHILIA MAGAZINE!! Check it out and enjoy the interview!


The Grapes of Wrath' | Critics' Picks | The New York Times | 8Hours
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Here's why Citizen Kane fell below Paddington 2 on Rotten Tomatoes - CNET
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It’s February 26, 1942. The 14th Academy Awards are taking place at the Biltmore Hotel in Hollywood. With 9 nominations, Citizen Kane is poised to have a monumental night and the crowning of Orson Welles as the new king of Hollywood seems only to be a formality. But when the night is over, the Best Picture and Director categories would be swept by How Green Was My Valley, the epic tale of a Welsh mining town starring Maureen O’Hara and directed by none other than…John Ford.

Even the most arbitrary film fan could tell you that Citizen Kane is known as the greatest film of all time. An opinion shared by film fans and filmmakers alike, but most notably the American Film Institute. So why did it lose on Oscar night? Maybe Orson Welles himself is the best person to explain it. Upon arriving in Hollywood, Welles was asked by reporters which directors inspired him, to which he famously replied: “I prefer the old masters…by which I mean, John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.” It is widely rumored that Orson Welles watched Stagecoach continuously while filming Citizen Kane. One needs only to watch the blocking and framing of both films as well as the practical sets used in both to see the similarities. But Orson Welles had more than just an affinity for John Ford while making his own masterpiece. He had Gregg Toland, one of the finest cinematographers in film history. Just before shooting Citizen Kane with Welles, Toland had just done two films with John Ford. 1940’s Oscar nominee The Long Voyage Home and the other was the film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s quintessential Depression-era novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The Grapes of Wrath would not only win Ford his second Best Director Oscar but would also be another work of art to add to the outstanding portfolio Gregg Toland was already building. Before dying in his sleep of coronary thrombosis in 1948 at the age of 44, Gregg Toland was at the height of one of the finest bodies of work in cinema history. In addition to photographing The Long Voyage Home and The Grapes of Wrath, Toland also shot classics such as Citizen Kane, The Little Foxes, The Best Years Of Our Lives, and Wuthering Heights, for which he received his only Academy Award.

In The Grapes Of Wrath, Toland and Ford combined to bring Steinbeck’s classic novel to the screen and tell the quintessential story of the Great Depression. John Ford would trade in his stagecoach for the Joad family’s flatbed truck and run it through the wide open Western landscapes while Toland, drawing from photographer Dorothea Lange’s incredible series of portraits documenting the Depression era up close, produced shot after shot depicting the raw reality of Americans on the brink of poverty. With Henry Fonda, a John Ford favorite, playing the Depression era outlaw Tom Joad, Toland used both wide open spaces and tight framing in the opening shots to not only introduce the main character but also foreshadow where he is headed at the end of the film.

The film opens with Tom Joad walking down an empty country lane. In both wide shots and medium shots Joad appears as a shadow on the wide open, barren Midwestern landscape. It isn’t until he hitches a ride with a truck driver that we finally see a full shot of Henry Fonda’s face. Toland brilliantly frames Tom Joad in a tight shot inside the truck’s windshield. Joad who we will soon find out was just released from prison, already shows the feeling of confinement. Right away we can tell that the tall, thin man we just saw casually strolling along the country roads with his hands in his pockets is now stiff and getting increasingly uncomfortable with the truck driver’s inquisition about who he is and where is he going? When Joad gets out of the truck, he gives the driver a parting sneer as he sets off walking along the road, as he started the film and as he will end it…alone.

Moments later, after meeting the Preacher, Tom Joad returns to his family home and finds the farm and property deserted. Together, with the Preacher, Joad explores the dark, empty house with only the light of a candle. When the two men get spooked by a noise, they discover the Joad’s neighbor, Muley, hiding on the property. When they invite him into the house the three men crouch down around the candlelight as Muley relays the story of how the farm land was taken away from the families by the government. Leaning on the dark tone of the scene, Toland brilliantly exploits the darkness of the house. With the candlelight flickering off the faces of Joad, Muley, and the Preacher, Muley’s story takes on the air of a ghost story, with the Joad homestead resembling a haunted house. Muley caps off his tale of woe, one of the thousands shared by families of the Great Depression, describing himself as just “a ghost in a graveyard” as he remains unlawfully on the property that was taken from Tom Joad’s family.

The Grapes of Wrath would prove to be a monumental work for both Ford and Toland as it would cement Toland as a force behind the camera and it would give Ford his second Best Director Oscar, setting him up to become the first Director to win the award in consecutive years.

The other collaboration of 1940 between Ford and Toland was The Long Voyage Home based on plays written by Eugene O’Neill. A film about sailors coping with homesickness, threats from Nazi U-boats, and trying to sneak in a few drinks without the officers knowing is certainly not John Ford’s finest. The cramped quarters below deck handcuffed the man who was so talented at exploiting the wide open spaces of the American West. It is Toland who outshines Ford in this picture as we see his love for the Low Angle shot on full display. Using the narrow lanes of the ship’s port and starboard sides, Toland placed his camera on the deck and captured the sailors as they paced back and forth, having conversations, peering out to sea, or slipping and sliding as they try to take cover from a German aerial attack. One fabulous scene in particular is when the ship runs into bad weather. As waves crash on top of the deck, we see the camera being engulfed by the rushing water. It is clear that the low angle brilliance of The Long Voyage Home would only be a warmup for Toland’s next project with Orson Welles…Citizen Kane.


John Ford - IMDb
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John Ford was born John M. Feeney on February 1, 1894 in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. In his late teens, the son of Irish immigrants followed his older brother, Francis to Hollywood where he changed his name to John Ford. Ford found work as an actor, stuntman, and set handyman before landing as an Assistant Director. Notorious for his sardonic humor, when Ford was asked in his later years by a documentary filmmaker, “How did you get to Hollywood?” The legendary filmmaker replied, “By train.” More comical than that remark is the thought that Hollywood’s most decorated filmmaker only got his first opportunity to direct while working on a Western as an AD and his boss failed to show up due to a hangover.

In the 1920’s, John Ford gained a reputation as a solid, efficient, no nonsense Director, which put him in demand among all of the major studios. By the time the 1930’s rolled around Ford went on a successful run of films that cemented his legend as Hollywood’s greatest director. Beginning with The Informer in 1935 for RKO, Ford began flexing his wide array of filmmaking muscles. Those familiar with Monument Valley John Ford would be shocked to see that the film is deeply inspired by German Expressionism. Ford himself stated that he drew from F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise but there are also many similarities to Fritz Lang’s M. The film opens with the main character Gypo Nolan wandering through the fog drenched streets and alleys of Dublin, Ireland, where shadows lurk around every corner. When Gypo’s friend is murdered by the Black and Tans after Gypo informs on him for a cheap reward, Gypo sets off roaming through the city in a paranoid daze, reminiscent of Peter Lorre trying to evade the police and angry mobs in Berlin during M. True to German Expressionism form, Gypo begins seeing the Reward Poster and his best friend’s face appear on screen, tearing away at his guilt while at the same time he blows all of his reward money on drinks and celebration. The truth finally catches up with Gypo in a basement inquisition, equally reminiscent of the moment Peter Lorre meets his fate in M. Dabbling in German Expressionism definitely agreed with John Ford as The Informer would win him his first of four Academy Awards for Best Director. Four years later, Ford would direct a film that would not only become the greatest Western of all time but it would also launch the career of the most popular film star ever.

In 1939, John Ford released Stagecoach, the epic tale of eight people on a stagecoach ride through dangerous country, each passenger dripping with dramatic presence. Stagecoach was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture where it was up against Hollywood mammoths like Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz. While it lost in the Best Picture category to Gone With The Wind it has certainly stood the test of time better than its competitors. Where Gone With The Wind’s disgraceful portrayal of African-Americans finally caught up with it, and The Wizard of Oz being reduced to a children’s fairy tale, Stagecoach has endured as a testament to the art of filmmaking.

With so many aspects that make it timeless, it really is the characters that stand out above all. Ford was way ahead of his time, having not one anti-hero in the film but three. While Thomas Mitchell won an Oscar for his portrayal of the alcoholic but courageous physician, “Doc Boone”, and John Wayne launched his legendary career with his performance as the outlaw “Ringo Kid”, it is the performance of Claire Trevor as the much maligned prostitute, “Dallas”, and her status clash with the prim and proper wife of a soldier, “Mrs. Mallory” that outshines the typical action and gunfights of a Western film. The arc of these two characters is remarkable, going form Mrs. Mallory not even being able to sit next to Dallas at the dining table due to her disgust, to Dallas winning her over with kindness and compassion while she helps Doc Boone deliver Mrs. Mallory’s baby. John Ford’s greatest achievement in Stagecoach is not the action packed finale or the wide beautiful shots of Monument Valley. It is the compelling drama portrayed by two strong women, something that is still uncommon in 2021, let alone in 1939, when Hollywood was entrenched in the Dark Ages of racial and gender bias.

On the next episode of Director’s Spotlight: John Ford…by the time the United States entered World War 2, Joh Ford had already won his second Academy Award for Best Director, laying the foundation for his dominance of Hollywood. Everyone was now taking notice of John Ford, especially the “Boy Wonder” from The Mercury Theater in New York…Orson Welles.


15 Best John Ford Movies You Need To Watch | Taste Of Cinema - Movie  Reviews and Classic Movie Lists
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John Ford directed over 150 films in his career. From silent shorts to big screen epic features, Ford laid the foundation for the last century of filmmaking. On Season 2/Director’s Spotlight, I’ll talk about how his fingerprints are all over the films of some of the greatest filmmakers in history, from Orson Welles to Steven Spielberg, Akira Kurosawa to Quentin Tarantino, and many others who have all been inspired by John Ford.

So let’s dig into the career and legacy of not only Hollywood’s most decorated filmmaker but also America’s Greatest Director.


EPISODE 1: THE WOMAN’S FILM (1971): A ‘Consciousness Raising Group” on Film–lee/embed/episodes/THE-WOMANS-FILM-ete2dj

The 1960’s was a watershed moment in the world of filmmaking. The emergence

of “cinema-verite” style documentary coupled with the advancement in filmmaking

technology gave filmmakers more independence when it came to making films. Richard

Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker have become synonymous with this period but what most

people overlook is how this era and movement inspired and produced exceptional women filmmakers.

Due to widespread revolution against the Vietnam war many women in the United

States began turning to film as a way of voicing their anti-war message. With the advent

of new equipment it was much easier for any filmmaker to get their hands on Hollywood

level filmmaking tools. After having success making these anti-war films, women,

mostly feminists, then turned their cameras toward the Feminist movement and its

struggle for gender equality. The Woman’s Film, directed by Louise Alaimo and Judy

Smith and produced by San Francisco Newsreel was one of the first feminist

documentaries that was made by an all female production crew. The film uses interviews

and conversations from an extremely diverse group of all women describing their

struggle and dissatisfaction with living in a patriarchal society.

Shot in black and white, the film opens with an Agnes Varda type montage of

women doing domestic tasks. We see several close up shots of women’s hands washing

dishes, cleaning sinks, and pushing a vacuum cleaner. The rest of the film is a collection

of different groups of women telling stories about their own problems. Shot mostly in the

“talking head” style, the women rarely address the camera. Mostly they address each

other as all scenes are shot in a room with a group of women gathered together. The

women talk about their dissatisfaction with being marginalized at home or at work. One

woman opens the film with a tragic story about how she was made to believe as a young

girl that marriage was her only way of being successful, or as she put is it “I was gonna

have it made when I got married.” The film however, does not just focus on middle-aged

married women. Another strong scene is that of a young girl who appears to be in her

20’s. She talks to her fellow women about the struggle she had as a woman in her

professional career. After dreaming of becoming a professional writer she got a job as a

typist at a publishing agency. Instead of climbing the ladder she eventually realized that

she was spending her time typing manuscripts written by men. She also explains how

because of her attractiveness her boss was using her to attract male writers to the agency.

One of the most powerful aspects of the film is the way the women are shown

talking to each other in groups. The idea of a “Consciousness-Raising Group” became

widespread among women in the late 1960’s. Through these groups women were finally

getting together and sharing their thoughts and opinions about how their lives could be

better. It acted as a support group for the Feminist movement to grow out of. Watching

the film, it almost appears it is one long meeting of a consciousness-raising group.

Throughout the film the audience eventually notices the different groups of women but

one can get the feeling that these women could all be in the same place. The woman who

opens the film talking in a close up shot with her children wandering around the room is

eventually joined at the end of the film by a group of women. It is in this scene where

she describes her own consciousness-raising group. I also that the most effective shots

pertaining to the group settings were not the close ups of women telling their stories but

the close ups of the women listening to those stories. Several times throughout the film

while a woman is talking there is a cut to a shot of another woman, maybe two women

just listening. The directors even went a step further with shots of women talking with

other women listening in the background or other women chiming in with words of

support for the woman speaking.

One of the most important consciousness-raising films ever made came after The

Woman’s Film in 1974. Where The Woman’s Film began as a collection of women

talking about their problems the film Self Health went a step further down the

consciousness-raising road. The film is a documentary about a group of women who get

together and explore their bodies. Tired of being told that their bodies belonged to male

doctors, women were educating themselves and each other about everything from minor

health issues to childbirth. The film was accused of being “pornographic” because it

showed women giving each other breast exams. This is the ultimate irony considering

the way women were and still are being objectified in popular culture.

The Woman’s Film not only paved the way for a new style of feminist documentary

but it also gave women the courage and inspiration to pick up a camera and point it at

what they felt was wrong with the world around them.

ANATOMY OF A SCENE: The ‘Low Angle’ Brilliance of CITIZEN KANE

The making of the best film of all time
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“I like the old masters…by which I mean John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.” – Orson Welles

Citizen Kane has long been considered one of, if not the greatest American film in history. Orson Welles’ 1941 classic is a watershed moment in Hollywood history, signaling the beginning of filmmakers breaking away from the Studio system of filmmaking. When it was made, Hollywood was at the height of its “industrial” status of making movies. Welles, along with cinematographer Greg Toland, pulled out all of the stops for the young theater director and radio star from the Mercury Theater in New York. Although this film is as close to perfection as you can get, I believe one of its shining moments is the scene between Kane and Jed Leland after Kane has lost the election for Governor of New York.

How to Shoot Dialogue Scenes - Videomaker
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After Charles Foster Kane gets caught in a ‘Love Nest’ and exposed by his political rival ‘Boss’ Jim Gettys, he not only loses the Governor election but he also loses his marriage when his wife Emily decides to leave him. While crushing losses, both personal and political, would break a man Kane shows no signs of letting go of his power and arrogance. Even when his closest friend and partner Jed Leland comes to see him after the results are in. Welles’ inspiration from John Ford is all over this scene, two major aspects in particular are the set design and the blocking of the actors. Ford loved using real sets, especially with ceilings, not just to show the actors in a natural environment but also to allow himself to be more creative with low angle shots. Here, a 2 minutes-plus scene with minimal cuts and shot at an extremely low angle, this scene had to be done on a natural set. When Jed enters the room to talk to Kane he begins to show his disapproval of what has become of his boss, and his friend for that matter. Hiding behind his drunkenness he lays into ‘Charlie’ letting him know that he can no longer go on trying to control and manipulate people. The most effective use of the low angle camera is the way it portrays Kane, alternating between strength and weakness. Ordinarily the low angle shot of an actor shows them in a dominant powerful position with the audience looking up at them. Welles and Toland really flipped this notion on its head with this scene. At the start of their conversation Kane is standing right in front of the camera, so close that we can only make out his legs below the knees. Jed stands in the midground at an angle in a full shot. As his criticisms begin to get nastier, Kane walks back towards him and now we begin to see Kane looking weaker in the scene despite the fact that we are at his feet looking up at him. As he approaches Jed, Kane gets smaller and smaller in the frame, almost as if Jed’s words are cutting him down to size, until he stops and stands right next to Jed. It is at this point that we see both men, the same size and height, unbeknownst to Kane and his ego, they are on equal ground.

The blocking of the actors is not only an inspiration from Ford but also one of Welles’ greatest strengths as both a theater actor and director. Citizen Kane is one of the first films I can recall seeing and noticing that with its blocking, sets, and camera angles, flows like a Broadway play. The natural sets, most of them raised up on stilts or stages in order to get every angle possible, enabled Welles to perform his magic in every frame. In this scene, despite two cuts, the camera never moves with the actors. Welles and Joseph Cotten pace back and forth, around each other as they deliver their dialogue, mostly cutting and dramatic lines from Cotten. Early on in the scene Welles strolls away from the camera past Cotten and into the background, showing the depth of the frame the same way John Ford would have his actors ride deep into the splendor of Monument Valley back toward the horizon. When Welles returns and continues past Cotten in the other direction he walks right in front of the camera and we see by his eyes that Jed’s harsh words are registering. The scne concludes with both actor in a medium two shot. Kane pours a drink and tries to make a joke about Jed moving to Chicago. Jed brushes it off and demands to be sent, wiping the smile right off Kane’s face. He then delivers one of the classic lines in Hollywood history: “A toast, Jedediah, to love on my terms…the only terms one ever knows…his own.”

Just about any scene from Citizen Kane can be dissected and analyzed and praised. This was filmmaking on “Orson Welles’ terms.” And for that he may just be the greatest filmmaker of all time.

NOT A PRETTY PICTURE (1976): Martha Coolidge and one of the most courageous debuts by a filmmaker

Present Tense: Martha Coolidge
Photo courtesy of Film Comment

Martha Coolidge’s Not A Pretty Picture is maybe more shocking and effective today then it was more than 40 years ago when it was first released.  Sadly the film did not receive widespread attention or accolades when it was initially released but it did catch the attention of Francis Ford Coppola, which led to a huge break for Coolidge.  While Coolidge’s career blossomed after Not A Pretty Picture, one could argue that it is still her most important film.

          This film has a very abstract format, which has been called “Brechtian” because of its use of real time reflection by its cast and crew.  The first half of the film is mostly a narrative drama about a high school girl who is date raped by an older college boy.  While the film resembles an “after school PSA” in its style and acting performance, the subject matter is certainly shocking enough to overcome any average performance by the cast.  When the crew of teenagers arrives at the empty apartment where the film’s most dynamic scene takes place, we follow “Curly” the male lead played by Jim Carrington, and actress Michele Manenti, who plays the fictional version of a 16 year old Martha Coolidge, as they get closer.  Michele, who we see is already uncomfortable being alone at this party, follows Curly through a hole in the wall to a private bedroom.  What follows is a multiple take sequence of Curly forcing himself on Michele and assaulting her.

          The acting of this scene really shines due to its real life intensity from both Curly and Michele.  As each take progresses we can see a change in Curly’s aggressiveness in attacking Michele.  Michele does what is expected of her and although she valiantly resists in the beginning she sadly goes numb and succumbs to Curly’s attack.  Curly, played by Jim Carrington, is clearly more effected by this scene than his co-star Michele, who herself, like Coolidge was also a victim of sexual assault.  After each take Carrington apologizes to Michele and checks to make sure she is not injured as he can feel himself filling with rage and anger while portraying his character’s advances.  The scene is so effective that we even see the camera cut to Martha Coolidge as she watches the action from a distance, her hand over her mouth, and looking very concerned for both of her actor’s.  Coolidge, who between takes was coaching Carrington on how to portray the assault, seems almost shocked and regretful in this shot, thinking that she has produced a performance from her actors that almost matches her own memory of being assaulted.  Carrington is really the one who ends up being regretful as we see in the next segment where the narrative part of the film is interrupted by the documentary discussion between Coolidge and the actors.

          After several takes of the rape scene the actors take a break and have a discussion with Coolidge on the mattress where the rape scene just occurred.  The power and context of this scene was clearly wearing out the participants and that is why I believe it was a brilliant decision for Coolidge to break up the action and check in with her actors.  As we soon find out, Jim Carrington needed it.  As Carrington explains how his shock at the feeling of entitlement by his character Curly, he begins to reveal his own feelings and regrets.  Carrington states that the scene has caused him to look at his own actions and behavior towards women.  While he never assaulted a woman himself, he can see through the lens of this character that men in general need to readjust how they treat women.  It is a fascinating scene to watch Coolidge and Michele Manenti, two victims of sexual assault, having to counsel Jim Carrington and his reaction to portraying the attacker.

          I believe that Martha Coolidge’s style of mixing narrative and documentary for this film was most effective.  I was very impressed that she not only had the courage to tackle such a serious personal issue so early in her career but that she used her filmmaking skills so eloquently in the process.

WANDA (1970): A look at Barbara Loden’s classic “Woman’s” film from the 70’s

Wanda - Movie Review - The Austin Chronicle

Barbara Loden, writer, director, and star of WANDA chose a very bold introduction

to the main character. The first thing we see of Loden is her hands protruding from

underneath a white bedsheet. She slowly pulls the sheet off herself and sits up. At this

moment we don’t see Barbara Loden, the beautiful blonde Hollywood star, we see

Wanda, the disheveled woman with hair in disarray covering some of her face. As she

rubs her eyes we can already tell that she is a woman under some type of stress. The

scene cuts to an extreme wide shot that slowly zooms to a wide shot of the rural mining

landscape where the film is set. Wanda, dressed in all white, looks ghostly against the

dark and dirty hills behind her. Wanda, strolling casually along, is actually on her way to

court for a custody hearing with her ex-husband.

Inside the courtroom, Wanda is absent while the judge calls her name. Wanda’s

husband then tells the judge how irresponsible and unreliable she is. Wanda is unable to

defend herself because as we see, the scene cuts to outside the courtroom. Wanda stands

outside smoking a cigarette when she should be inside facing the judge. I believe that

this is Barbara Loden’s strongest example of Wanda’s character. Without any dialogue

from Wanda we are shown how careless she is when facing something as greatly

important as a custody hearing for her children. When she finally does she speak to the

judge her answers are not too shocking based on what we’ve already seen. Wanda

pathetically tells the judge that if her husband wants a divorce then “you should just give

it to him.” This scene is based on Barbara Loden’s inspiration for the film. Loden was

inspired by the newspaper story of a woman who accompanied her husband on a crime

spree and was arrested and convicted. When the judge sentenced her to prison the woman

replied “Thank you.”

Another moment that Loden uses appearance and body language to effectively

develop Wanda is at the shopping mall. Wanda strolls through the mall aimlessly until

she stops and looks at a store window display. Wanda is looking at the clothes on display

but it is the mannequins who stand out in the scene. Wearing blonde wigs and positioned

directly behind Loden’s profile, there is a striking resemblance between the inanimate

dolls and Wanda. It is not hard to make the connection that Wanda sadly carries herself

as though she were a mannequin, lifeless and emotionless. The world sees her beauty but

nothing below the surface.

This film has many similarities with the famous “Road movies” of the 1960’s and

70’s. The typical road movie involved a pair travelling together in a car either on the run

from the law or just looking for an adventure. Wanda appears to be a road movie because

of the relationship between Mr. Dennis and Wanda and how they travel around in his car

committing crimes. It almost resembles the classic Bonnie and Clyde. Where Wanda

differs from these classic road movies is in the portrayal of Wanda herself. The road trip

that she takes with Mr. Dennis seems to have no point to it at all. Wanda, not having

anything better to do with herself, just gets dragged along by Mr. Dennis for obvious

reasons. The two characters do not have a good relationship and are not working toward

any major goal other than bank robbery. In Bonnie and Clyde where the characters and

their crimes are romanticized, Wanda plays out as a tragedy where the main character is

swept into a dangerous crime spree by a controlling and abusive man. There is no

romance for Wanda. Only a series of episodes where she exposes herself to be controlled

and used by the men around her.

In the final act of the film Mr. Dennis and Wanda take a bank managers family

hostage while Mr. Dennis tries to rob the bank. The climax of the bank robbery is when

Mr. Dennis is shot and killed by the police. Wanda, who was supposed to be the getaway

driver, arrives late as usual. When she approaches the bank she sees a crowd forming

outside. She tries to walk into the bank but is held back by a policeman. With a shaky

camera, shot from behind the outstretched arm of a police officer, this shot closely

resembles a TV news camera reporting from the scene of the crime. This is the most

obvious example of the documentary style brought to the film by cinematographer

Nicholas Proferes.

Wanda differs from a typical slow film in the sense that Barbara Loden left the

characters in the film totally ambiguous. There is no explanation as to why Wanda is

divorced or why she decides to go on the road with Mr. Dennis. We also have no

explanation as to what happens to her at the end. Will she continue her pursuit of nothing

or has she learned a lesson from her crime spree with Mr. Dennis? The audience is left to

draw their own conclusions and this is difficult because Loden has not left us with the

information we need to understand Wanda. Wanda is a character that is not slow but

almost inanimate. She floats around from man to man like paper on a breeze

Akira Kurosawa/John Ford: EAST MEETS WEST

15 Best John Ford Movies You Need To Watch | Taste Of Cinema ...
Akira Kurosawa Great Director profile • Senses of Cinema

Akira Kurosawa. John Ford. Two directors considered to be the quintessential

filmmakers of their respective countries surprisingly have much in common. While

most of the similarities stem from Kurosawa’s admiration of his elder, Kurosawa

definitely shared and expanded on Ford’s legendary style. There are, I believe, three

major aspects that connect these two giants of cinema.

The first and most obvious connection between Kurosawa and Ford is their

focus on specific time periods as the setting for their films. John Ford is

synonymous with the Hollywood “Western” film. In his career as a Director, Ford

directed twenty five Western feature films and a number of Western TV episodes.

Not only did Ford favor the Western genre, he made it his own with classics such as

Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. A John Ford

Western became an epic presentation of not only the dramatic endeavors of the

characters but also a sweeping and mesmerizing view of the American landscape.

For Kurosawa, his “Samurai” epics were no different. From the aptly titled Seven

Samurai to Yojimbo and Throne of Blood, Kurosawa gave the audience, through

costume and action, an authentic adaptation of Japan’s medieval history. In the ten

Samurai films that Kurosawa made he also employed the same style of Ford’s

Westerns by showcasing the Japanese landscape in epic proportions. The

composition and shooting style is another tactic that brings the two directors closer


In the opening scene of The Searchers, John Wayne as “Ethan Edwards” rides

toward his brother’s ranch. The shot is breathtaking in the sense that it is not a long

tracking shot or a pan but it is classic Ford: having his subjects move from

background to foreground or vice versa in an attempt to convey the depth of the

image on screen. Almost twenty years earlier, Ford debuted this shot several times

in his classic Stagecoach. From the moment the coach rolls away from the camera

into Monument Valley on its way from Tonto to Lordsburg, the audience can see

that the road ahead stretches all the way to the horizon. In Kurosawa’s classic

Throne of Blood one cannot deny the similarity of the Samurai riding his horse

frantically from background to foreground as he approaches Spider’s Web castle.

Moments later, when we are introduced to “Washizu” and “Miki”, we see them lost

in a foggy forest. Kurosawa’s use of the two men on horseback appearing like ghosts

from background to foreground through the fog is magical. Like Ford, Kurosawa

used the depth of the image to convey that Washizu and Miki were lost and riding

back and forth in the same direction. Keeping them inside the frame rather than

panning with them from side to side gives the viewer the sense that the two soldiers

are trapped inside this location.

As well as Throne of Blood, there is also a similarity to Ford’s style in the

opening scene of Yojimbo. The “Ronin” played by Kurosawa favorite Toshiro Mifune,

is introduced in a medium shot walking among the tall grass with large mountain

peaks on the horizon. After throwing a stick in the air and letting it decide which

direction he will go, Mifune starts off down the road, straight down the center of the

frame. The shot is meant to grab the audience as if we are following the Ronin down

that long path.

When most people hear the name John Ford only one thing comes to mind:

John Wayne. Another of Ford’s favorites was Henry Fonda who starred in My

Darling Clementine. As Wyatt Earp, Henry Fonda finds himself entering the town of

Tombstone, Arizona at the start of the film and finding it’s inhabitants terrorized by

criminals. The same can be said for “The Ringo Kid” in Stagecoach and “Ransom

Stoddard” and “Tom Donophin” in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Watching

Yojimbo, and seeing the Ronin as he arrives in town to find people hiding indoors

and then, when he is accosted by a gang of thugs, I immediately thought of Henry

Fonda’s Wyatt Earp or John Wayne as The Ringo Kid or any other hero from a John

Ford Western. Both Ford and Kurosawa liked to portray their hero as an outlaw

with a toughness and swagger that could withstand even the most dangerous bad

guys. I also believe that just as Wayne and Ford went hand in hand so did Kurosawa

and Mifune. These two legendary actors were both groomed by their respective

directors and arguably gave the best performances of their careers because of it.

Whether it is the red majesty of Monument Valley or the grassy plains and

mountain peaks of medieval Japan, with Akira Kurosawa and John Ford, it is always

the same result. A masterpiece of cinema that takes the audience on a ride into the

depths of history and into the depths of the landscape on the silver screen before


REDS (1981) A look back at Warren Beatty’s tour de force

Reds (1981)
image courtesy of

Just before the last credit crawls on the screen at the end of REDS, the voice of one of the “witnesses” says “…grand things are ahead, worth living and worth dying for…”.  The witness is referring to John “Jack” Reed, the main character of the film but one wonders if this could also refer to the writer, director, and star of the film as well.  If you know Warren Beatty’s career then you certainly know that he has been the master at convincing producers, cast members, crew and audiences that if they give him the chance “grand things are ahead.”  REDS, his passion project about American journalist John Reed and his involvement in the Communist Party in the United States as well as his intense coverage of the Russian Revolution of 1917, is a grand achievement of cinematic brilliance.  The film is not without its faults.  Some would say that Beatty bit off more than he could chew with such a large scale production or that he was maniacal and egotistical on set causing friction among everyone involved with the film.  Both of these are fair criticisms.  With a fresh eye I’m going to look deeper at the greatness and shortcomings of this epic and try to offer a humble critique.

THE PROGRESSIVE ERA and Mise en scene

The attention to detail in this film is nothing short of perfection.  This is not Beatty’s first time making a period piece as we know from BONNIE AND CLYDE where he marvelously brought to life  Depression Era Texas.  In REDS he goes a step further with Progressive Era New York.  The moment “Louise Bryant” played impeccably by Diane Keaton steps off a trolley car with the Flatiron building in the background I was lost in time.  Nothing of this film felt fake or portrayed.  Horses strolling down Greenwich Village streets.  Dark, candlelit basement bars where Jack Nicholson, dressed in suspenders drinking whiskey, plays the intense “Eugene O’Neill.”  Louise sitting on the beach reading a letter from Jack Reed, looking like the subject of an Impressionist painting rather than a Hollywood actress.  The entire film is a collection of theses shots that are as beautiful as they are authentic. While Beatty had the vision it is clear that the real credit goes to Vittorio Storaro.  Fresh off of his Academy Award win for Best Cinematography for APOCALYPSE NOW, Storaro would be awarded by the Academy again with his second of three wins for Cinematography for this film.

Outside of the New York city atmosphere was where Storaro really flexed his artistic muscles.  Early in the film when Jack and Louise vacation at the beach there are several breathtaking shots besides Louise’s letter reading scene.  Whether it is group gatherings on the beach or Jack and Louise strolling alone through the sand dunes, the filtered shots make the landscape and characters glow in the warm light.  Later in the film, when Louise is trekking across the Finnish tundra, we also see a long shot of the cold, snow covered landscape beaming with the reflection of the sunset.  Storaro counters these warm and cozy images with some beautifully darker images of those very same locations.  Whether it is Eugene O’Neill walking on the beach at dusk or the Finnish landscape after dark the frame is drenched in a cool blue texture matching the intensity of theses scenes.


The most interesting and effective scenes of the film are, not surprisingly, the sequence of Jack and Louise’s eyewitness account of the ‘Ten days That Shook The World.”  These two characters played magnificently by Keaton and Beatty(more so by Keaton) capture the beauty, intellect, danger, and romance of their collective experience in Russia.  While it was no surprise that their romance would rekindle when they arrived in Petrograd, it wasn’t sappy or overly dramatic.  In fact I believe that the portrayal of Louise as a witness to not only the drama of the Russian Revolution but also the transformation of Jack from American journalist to Communist revolutionary was riveting.  I don’t know why Beatty felt the need to add eyewitness testimonies sprinkled in between the narrative action but I really wish he hadn’t.  The wide eyed close-ups of Diane Keaton cut with shots of Beatty giving rousing speeches to crowds of Russian workers were so much more effective.  Everytime the film got some narrative momentum going it unfortunately was cut off by a “PBS-style” documentary commentary.

The signature shot of the film is Louise Bryant as she watches “Jack”, slightly raised above a crowd of people cheering as he makes a grand spectacle.  But really the entire film is us, the audience, cheering as we watch Warren Beatty, high up on the screen making a grand spectacle.