Hello boys and girls. Long time no see. I apologize for that. Sadly, real life kinda got in the way of me making contributions to this page. This time, I couldn’t just ignore it. The other reason for a pause is somewhat less obscure. It has something to do with me quitting with cigarettes. After one spends a decade connecting writing with inhalation of smoke it’s almost impossible to disconnect them. Which (and you might have figured this one all on your own) presents something of a problem, especially if you’re trying to quit. With smoking… of course (though some people will say that I should quit this other thing too). Anyhow, if this post feels a bit disconnected and ramblier than usual now you know why it feels so. In a sense, though, everything that has been said up to this point resembles your usual smoke and mirrors tactics of misdirection. Because – boyz and girlz – topic of our conversation in this beautiful day of May is nothing less than a John Ford’s Stagecoach. And I don’t have a slightest clue what to say about it. After couple of decades of intensive writings on the topic scattered across continents and various countries, one finds it almost impossible to contribute to the discourse in any meaningful way.
While this may be so (even if it isn’t, the feeling is very real for me), nothing’s gonna stop my rambling. After all, Tom Petty is playing, beer is coursing through me and I can’t imagine a better setting to revisit double Johns. Both of them legends in their own way. And as always when I’m at loss of words, I reach for a meta-level. It was always easier to think in this way, real world of structure (mimetic print of extra-diegetic reality) had this tendency to tire me easily. Now, when thinking on meta-level one can ignore history (to a degree, the point is that one can choose to ignore it), so one can ignore all those bits of trivia that appeared over the years which still manage to fascinate film positivists. There’s a cute data-tidbit in a fact that Stagecoach was John Wayne’s first major role. Apart from cuteness, there’s not much of anything else. Meta-level doesn’t care for that kind of information. Unless it suits it which in this case doesn’t. Anyway, meta-level asks these questions which can’t be answered in 600 words or so. Questions like – if the vehicle functions as a metaphor for US&A how can we (can we at all?) translate this metaphor to suit both the world of the today and its inhabitants?
In a way Stagecoach was a birth-place of many a popular trope. In a way, it predated post-modernism in unconscious way of a toddler playing in a sandbox absolutely oblivious to the nature of images he’s building (though it’s not the main argument, some camera movements – close-ups especially – are reminiscent of an author cinema, which will develop prominently later on, in a way that they draw attention to themselves which – in the context of 30’s Hollywood – is nothing less than an anti-aesthetic maneuver, similar to the post-modern breaking of the 4th wall). In a way, it was the best western ever filmed (or at least it was until The man who shot Liberty Valance showed up) and as such it became nothing less than an identifier of an entire genre/nation maybe even a generation (hmph, come to think of it Derrida would have had something to say about this if he was still alive). Not so much for scholars (who are mainly inconsequential for any kind of influence and/or legacy) as for people who unconsciously distilled Ford’s imagery into a manifested Narrative.
The concept of Narrative as it is present in Stagecoach is more than interesting though it’s far too complex to go into right now. The question which every movie historian should ask himself has something to do with aforementioned Narrative though the point of the question is somewhat different. The Narrative of Stagecoach did not disappear. If anything, it reemerges periodically whenever there’s a cultural or political crisis on the loose. What changed, though, is the way in which the Narrative is linked to the media. Stagecoach doesn’t work as it used to anymore (cultural topography prevents it to do so). Still, it’s a powerful movie. As powerful as they get. In that light the question becomes really simple (though answer to it might not be as such) – if we’re aware of the Narrative as a Narrative, if we’re able to deconstruct both Ford and his passengers, how come that Stagecoach is as powerful as ever? It doesn’t really have to do anything with the question asked, except to highlight in under a different light. In the world of instant communication across the globe, in the world of 3D-printing coming through, how is it possible that a story of 9 men travelling across the dirt non-roads in a shabby looking contraption with wheels stapled on it still manages to hold sway over us? Is it because of terrorists…I mean, Geronimo? Or is it something else entirely?
|Directed by||John Ford|
|Produced by||Walter Wanger|
|Based on||The Stage to Lordsburg1937
by Ernest Haycox
|Music by||Richard Hageman|