Friday, 28 May 2010

Cassandra's Dream

Some notes [spoilers included]:



Cassandra's Dream (2007) is a continuation of a premise that began with Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and continued with Match Point (2005). In all three films, the protagonists are driven to murder for the purpose of self-preservation, and in all three films it is evil that triumphs over good. Cassandra's Dream - with its parallel themes of moral corruption and exploitation - is arguably the bleakest of the three, if not the bleakest film of Allen's career thus far. Whereas before, an audience could have expected the charm of his characters or the natural wit of his dialog to dilute or detract from the heavy sense of dread that plagues these stories of crime without punishment, the general tone of Cassandra's Dream is that of almost unremitting despair.

From the very first scene and the introduction of these characters - working-class brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) - there is a certain expectation of tragedy; a set-up to that final, chilling shot of the boat itself - the 'Cassandra's Dream' of the title - and its personification of the greed and recklessness that will eventually lead these characters to their inevitable doom.



The boat in the film becomes a fairly obvious metaphor for a certain kind of high-risk get-rich-quick attitude that motivates these characters in their scheme; setting in motion the actual elements of the plot, as well as creating the moral/philosophical conundrum at the centre of the drama. It is the presence of the boat that both begins and ends the movie; bookending it with two very different figurative interpretations: initially representing the hopes and aspirations of these characters - driven by the memory of a similar boat once owned by their uncle, a self-made millionaire, and that promise of greater fortune - before eventually coming to represent the folly of this kind of blind ambition and the struggle between right and wrong. Through the final shot of the film, the boat takes on an almost supernatural presence, reconfiguring itself as something more akin to the car in John Carpenter's film Christine (1983); i.e. an actual cursed object of pure malevolence! Such thinking is in keeping with the line of thought expressed by the father (John Benfield) of these two characters when he says: "the only ship certain to come in is one with black sails."

The sense of tragedy here is stated through Allen's frequent allusions to Shakespeare and the Greeks; where the dark-hearted morality of the characters is further suggested to by the play (a story within the story), and the deliberate references to the legend of Faust. Through this, the relationship between the two brothers and their deceitful, manipulative uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) could be seen as a sort-of modern-day retelling of that particular story's moral core. More import however is the influence of classical film-noir; an unconventional reference point for Allen and one that he approaches on his own terms, with none of the ironic post-modern self-references favoured by the majority of mainstream American filmmakers. The noir-elements are there throughout, but are subdued by Allen's characteristic late-period naturalism; loose framing, characters interacting both in and out of shot, near-natural light, etc.

One can only wonder how different the critical reaction to this film might have been had Allen decided to shoot it as an exercise in genre deconstruction; something closer to the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino project Grindhouse (2007), or the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), where the director could deliberately play up to the codes and conventions of low-budget Hollywood crime pictures of the 1950s, incorporating a laconic voice-over track, black and white cinematography and a Miles Davis jazz-score. Which poses a question: would some of the more hostile critics have been able to better appreciate the intelligence of what Allen was attempting to achieve if such superficial stylistic flourishes had been used to diffuse some of the more straight-faced sincerity of the drama as it is?


Speculative 'film-noir' comparison shots created by the blog author for the purposes of illustration:

The direct-references may have worked brilliantly in an earlier film like Stardust Memories (1980) or Shadows and Fog (1991), where the creative nods to Fellini or German Expressionism were used to help identify the world of the film - establishing an immediate cinematic shorthand for the audience before getting into the complexities of the plot - but that's not what Cassandra's Dream is about. At this point in his career, Allen is too much of a master to engage in this kind of superfluous homage. Instead, like the great French filmmaker Jacques Rivette, he is a director who takes the elements apparent in the script and uses them to complement the more personal or philosophical ideas that are central to the development of his characters; making the same kind of film again and again - from Melinda and Melinda (2004) to Scoop (2006) to Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) - regardless of its genre of theme.

In the visual sense, the framing of characters throughout seems to be significant in emphasising the relationship between these two brothers and the particular choices they make. In the very first scene, Allen has positioned at least one of his characters on the wrong-side of "something." For example, in this particular frame, Ian, already behind bars, is gesturing towards the boat, convincing Terry that buying the vessel is the right thing to do, just as he will eventually convince him, against all better judgement, to commit a murder.



Later in the film, Allen has both of his protagonists framed behind a set of bars, as if to further convey the notion of characters on the wrong-side of the law.



The film is less heavy-handed with its references to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (1866) than Match Point, or even Crimes and Misdemeanors, but that isn't to say that such elements aren't there to be appreciated. The appearance of the police at the very end of the film - adding a sort of Greek chorus motif to bring the story to a close, reiterating the central plot-points and the actual theme (for lack of a better word) - is a consciously literary device, and brings to mind the similar use of the police at the end of Match Point. The murder, when it does occur, is perhaps even colder and more brutal than the double murder in the film aforementioned, if only for its particular context. We know these characters and expect them to make the right choice. We get a glimpse of their victim, who seems, on first impression, to be a genuinely nice guy; someone who is successful at what he does, but who hasn't forgotten where he comes from; still taking the time to visit with his ailing mother before jetting off for his next destination. We can infer from conversational snippets that he's attempting to "do the right thing", making him the complete opposite of the two central characters, or their uncle, whose corrupting spirit forever hangs over them.



In the development of the narrative, the old-fashioned deal with the devil motif is well used, with the suavely manipulative but no less abusive presentation of Uncle Howard offering one of the great contemporary film-noir villains; a man who is looked on by his family as a hero, but has nonetheless reaped the rewards of his existence through violence and intimidation. The connection between Uncle Howard and Ian in particular is sketched out in several scenes, as Ian proves himself to be a character much closer to Martin Landau in Crimes and Misdemeanors, or Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Match Point: someone capable of committing a murder, but also capable of walking away from it. Without the character of Terry, the film would have been just another retread of these earlier films. It is only through Terry that Allen is able to provide the moral contrast that those others films lacked; bringing the emphasis back to the family, the suggestion that "family is family, blood is blood", and how such ideas can be distorted when it's murder for personal preservation.

The differences between these characters are suggested through two individual moments of reflection, which also establish the attitudes of these two related, though very different characters. In the first we have Ian, draped in a towel - having just made love to the waitress that works at his dad's restaurant - surrounded by his possessions. The character is defined by these objects, which illustrate the superficial obsession with status; the PowerBook, the CDs, the flat screen television that captures his reflection. In contrast, the image of Terry, already broken and pensive, overwhelmed by the floral-print wall paper and homely furnishings, is trapped by this ordinary domestic milieu, when all he really wants is to provide a better life for him and his girlfriend. The disparity between these two related characters is what drives the story forwards, pushing these two characters beyond their own personal limitations until the bleak catastrophe of the final.



Although the film works incredibly well as a conventional thriller, or perhaps even as a continuation of the theme explored in the two films previously mentioned, the best way to approach Cassandra's Dream, in my opinion, is as a film about ideas. A film where the relationships between characters or the references to certain literary standards, is continually suggesting new ways of looking at these scenes, or other potential stories that are suggested beyond the more conventional crime/drama narrative. Once such story could focus on the relationship between Ian and Terry's respective girlfriends Angela (Hayley Atwell) and Kate (Sally Hawkins), and how their lives may continue, together or apart, after the inevitably shocking discovery of the film's final act.

The two scenes we see from the play offer clues to this story, if only through staging. In the first scene, we have two male characters, one scheming, the other oblivious, and a woman reclining on the bed. The woman in the play is a representation for the "something else" that these characters, specifically Ian, are striving for. In the second scene, the bed is empty; two women sit at the table, alone, just as Angela and Kate are left at the end of the film.


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Wanderlust

A song about embracing the new - about the restless pursuit of the next great adventure - presented with a visual accompaniment that achieves the expression of the unbelievable, the astounding, or the thrill of the unknown. Wanderlust, in its purest form, is an adventure in eight-minutes; a breathless, exhausting trek down river, where the forward motion of this character is matched by the driving rhythms of the music itself. Kraftwerk-like rhythms that recall something like Trans-Europe-Express (1977); where the sense of movement, atmosphere and place is the thing that draws us in, maintains our interest throughout the duration of this narrative (aural, visual or imaginary), and leaves us hopelessly searching for that next rush of discovery when the song comes to an inevitable close.

The particular yearning for a new place or the need to travel, explore and do other things is largely a metaphor for Björk's career as a whole. In this sense, the video could be seen as a dramatised fantasy version of her own life and vocation; beginning with this small, exotic figure discovering something extraordinary that comes from her own connection with nature; a connection that will grow and transform into an uncontrollable entity, forcing her to leave the security of home and taking her on this remarkable journey - where she is carried along through uncertain waters by the support of others, where she fights a battle with herself, where she is plagued by various obstacles that attempt to harm and hinder - before eventually making the ultimate plunge into the unfamiliar; into the great unknown.

This beautifully made clip is everything a film like Avatar (2009) promised to deliver, but couldn't; a fully immersive 3D experience, which - through the sheer power of its imagery and imagination - transports us to another world.


Wanderlust directed by Isaiah Saxon & Sean Hellfritsch, 2008:

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Waltz with Bashir

Obviously, one could dismiss the general appearance of the film as a clear gimmick; something to attract an audience. The film would have been no less powerful or engrossing had it been presented as a series of traditional 'talking-head' sequences recorded onto film or DV. However, in presenting the film as a work of animation, the director, Ari Folman, is able to better express the purely sensory notion of memory abstracted by time. These moments of recollection, or reflection, which occur around the narrative, like the ripples in the ocean during the character's initial dream, are embellished by the general sense of horror that alters the perspective of those experiencing periods of great conflict, and distorted by the back-and-forth unravelling of the 'Chinese whispers' style narrative; where the search for the truth of "what really happened?", becomes an investigation into the past.

It is, first and foremost, a personal film about this character, this 'avatar' for the director, and the various stories within stories that grow and transform the understanding of events as he interviews those that knew him twenty years ago; who experienced the conflict, and can therefore better explain the holes in his memory, or why he's blocked out those intangible recollections to begin with. Therefore, the film, at its most immediate level, is a detective story by way of the documentary. However, through the power and pull of these image that are both primitive and beyond anything else we've ever witnessed (at least in terms of conventional cinema), the experience is transformed into something beyond mystery; beyond documentary. The film becomes an experience, like the dream itself, where the actual process of viewing the film - these images - is as life changing for the audience as it is for the central character.


Waltz with Bashir directed by Ari Folman, 2008:

It is a film that goes beyond the trite categorisations of the "war film", and yet, at the same time, it is one of the great "war films" ever produced. Great in the same way that Jean-Luc Godard's Notre musique (Our Music, 2004) is great; in the sense that it dispenses with the usual nonsense of a film like Saving Private Ryan (1998) or Rambo (2008), etc, where the filmmakers portray the horror of war by presenting the battle as something visceral, explosive or exhilarating. These are films where the audience already knows who the villain is, and where the good die heroes. Instead, Waltz with Bashir creates its narrative from the recollections of real people with real experiences. Drama and anti-war commentary created, not through spectacle, but through the memory of events.


Rambo directed by Sylvester Stallone, 2008:


Notre musique directed by Jean-Luc Godard, 2004:

These experiences define the film and make our own experiences with it entirely unforgettable. I'm thinking specifically of three scenes.

1) The young solder having to swim to safety after his tank is ambushed and his friends are killed. He sees the lights in the distance and swims towards them, not sure what to expect, too tired to care. When he reaches the beach, he finds the same squad that abandoned him during the initial attack. Whereas before he felt animosity towards these comrades for leaving him out in the open, he now feels an incredible sense of regret for leaving his own fallen brothers and attempting to find safety. Propelled by that memory of his mother (a memory within a memory) that will break the heart of any viewer who is a first-born son, or, as in my case, an only child.

2) The ambush in the plantation, where the soldier with the RPG that is cut down in an explosion of sniper fire, turns out to be a young boy, not even a teenager.

3) The experience of the war correspondent who initially saw the war as filtered through his camera's lens; transforming the horror and the bloodshed into moments of great poetry and heroism. However, when he arrives at a scene where a group of horses have been maimed and murdered, the filter can no longer work, and he's suddenly overwhelmed by the unbelievable monstrosity of this conflict; the destruction of such incredible beauty.


Waltz with Bashir directed by Ari Folman, 2008:

It is obvious throughout that this is a film of staggering contradictions; where moments of poetry are transformed or distorted by images of unforgiving brutality; or where images of unforgiving brutality are transformed or distorted by moments of incredible poetry. The dream itself is unforgettable; Folman and two other soldiers float in the ocean, watching the city of Beirut, lit by an ethereal yellow glow. There's a touch of Lars von Trier's The Element of Crime (1984) about these images; not simply in the emphasis on the water or the superficial murkiness of the colour scheme (that shared vision of the post-world-war devastation), but in the abstraction of reality; a slowing down of time, distorting it, so that we're seeing these events as if looking down at our own lifeless body. Sparks of light reflect in the ripples as the three men emerge from the water, naked, entranced by the strange show of light. It is only at the end of the film that we discover the true horror behind this beauty; the light of a thousand flares shot into the night sky to better aid the soldiers in their massacre of these civilians.


The Element of Crime directed by Lars von Trier, 1984:


Waltz with Bashir directed by Ari Folman, 2008:

I'm not going to pretend that I understood the entire political background of this film. Many of these events took place before I was born, in a country I've never visited. However, the real genius of Folman's film is in its perfect evocation of a time and place - specifically Israel, in the early 1980s - presented, not as it actual was, but as the director remembers it, or experienced it. The music and fashions are recognisable of the period, but juxtaposed against the tangible sense of how the experience of war has transformed the world around it, meaning that even the most ordinary or commonplace of activities have associations to the bloodshed and confusion.

There are images of war found in everything; in video arcades, in pop songs: Enola Gay, by OMD; This is Not a Love Song, by PiL. The hazy movements of an attractive girl at the discothèque have the same surreal expression of force and exuberance as the bodies of the soldiers as they're riddled with bullets. These associations, of memory/experience, like something approaching post-traumatic stress disorder for this character attempting to readjust or come to terms with what he witnessed two decades before, are unknowable to those of us that have never experienced a war first-hand, but they hit us on an emotional level that is absolutely immediate.

Some may attempt to define the film beyond such vague appraisals, demanding a definitive explanation as to what it says, whose side is it on, how much of this commentary we can accept as fact... but all of this is beside the point. Waltz With Bashir is a film that exists on several levels: as a film about memory; as an investigation into the past; as a political satire; as a character study; as a work of historical fiction; as a sensory experience; as a nightmare on film; as a affirmation of peace; as a reminder of the unsung loss. Above all else, however, Waltz With Bashir is challenging, personal, thought-provoking cinema that transcends boundaries, defies classification. It is both an experience, and a necessary, purging rite.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The Quiet Man

John Ford's Academy Award winning film The Quiet Man (1952) is, in many ways, a story about place and the rediscovery of it. In the film, the expatriate Irish-American Sean Thornton (John Wayne) returns to the village of 'Innisfree' to reclaim his family home. However, his journey has less to do with the actual reclaiming of the property and more to do with the rediscovery of the past through a literal journey in a time. This place, where the character was born and where he eventually hopes to die, is significant, but is somewhere that has only previously existed in the memory and imagination. A second-hand Ireland passed down through the tall tales and fond reminisces of parents and grandparents, where the greens are a little too green, the people a little too broad and the atmosphere closer to caricature. It is Ford's Ireland as much as it is the Ireland of Thornton; this larger than life place presented to us in an idealised fashion that has no bearing on the actual Ireland as it existed in 1952, where the director goes to great lengths to exaggerate every detail, as memories are exaggerated in the mind.

Our first glimpse of this traditional Ireland - a horse and cart, signalling the switch from the modern to the old-fashioned - is shared with the central character, as both he and we catch a glimpse of it through the railway station window. In the literal sense, the framing of this shot as a window into another world becomes an invitation, both to the character and to the audience. This horse and cart are therefore not only a reminder of the archaic, or the out-dated, but a means of transportation, from our world into the next.


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:

This contrast, between the old and the new, will be made explicit in the following shot, as the horse and cart, situated in the foreground, make their way beneath the arch of the railway bridge on their way into the village. As the locomotive thunders overhead, marking the horizon where the blue of the sky meets the green of the valley, the film is signalling the shift from the contemporary world of this character (represented by the train) to the otherworld of the film.


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:

As the buggy departs, the Greek-chorus of characters, peering out from over the wall and indulging in gossip and idle chit-chat, become an immediate surrogate for the viewing audience. Asking questions about this character, who at this point in the story is still unknown and without conventional introduction, while also establishing the thread of community - as in, a world defined by these characters - that will be further explored throughout.


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:

Although in some aspects the film could be seen as playing up to the perceived stereotype of the Irish - in keeping with subsequent Hollywood movies, such as Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) and Finian's Rainbow (1968) - the film nonetheless illustrates Ford's great warmth and tremendous affection for these characters; over-embellished, as characters in Ford's films often were, but only as a means of turning even the most humble of supporting players into a bold, heroic figure, commanding the landscape as if it were a part of them.

Adapted from a short story by the Irish writer Maurice Walsh, The Quiet Man is a film often referred to, simplistically speaking, as a romantic melodrama, with the main selling point being the relationship between Thornton and the beautiful spinster Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara). However, this surface layer - or selling point - is only one component of a film that has far greater themes beyond whatever was the more popular reading of the time. The romantic element might admittedly be a fairly large component of the story - in the sense that it is motivated by all the other elements at play - it is nonetheless a storyline that sits side-by-side with the other themes, which are perhaps more representative of Ford's own interests as both an artist and a storyteller. Obviously, we recognise immediately the presence of John Wayne, who appeared in countless films by Ford - often as various rough around the edges frontiersmen, soldiers and cavalrymen - but the actual image of the actor in this environment, and in this particular romantic narrative, seems to suggest something slightly off about his character from the very first scene. A hidden depth that will eventually be explained in the second act of the film, but which nonetheless adds subtle shades to our interpretation of him and the general questions that we (and that sort-of Greek chorus) ask ourselves during those opening few minutes.

As a result, the film has an air of mystery to it, as we're left to wonder why Thornton has decided to return to Ireland now, at this point in time, and why he seems so reluctant to engage in the merriment and the frivolity of the local booze hounds as they delight in pulling half-remembered stories of the Thornton ancestry from the murky puddles of the past. Has the character really come back to this place to reclaim the house where he was born, or is there some other motivating factor; some secret shame that has forced him to abscond and find solace in the last place anyone would ever think to look for him?

Ford amplifies this uncertainly through the blocking of scenes, as characters with half-smiles dart their eyes back and forth to one another in a silent judgement, or in the earlier sequences of characters rummaging through Thornton's rucksack as if there's something more to this than simply the shock of the new. However, in a later scene, in which Thornton returns to his newly purchased farm, only to find the fire still burning and the dust and grime swept into a pile in the centre of the room, we think, momentarily, that the past-life of this character has finally caught up with him. The look of this scene, with its vivid studio lighting and special effects to simulate a violent thunder storm, seems closer to the eventual cinema of the Italian director Mario Bava; with the splashes of yellow and purple on the farmhouse wall, and that billowing curtain as it dances in the draught of a broken window, seeming entirely removed from the usual, more characteristic Fordian quirks.


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:

Eventually, the threat turns out to be none other than Mary Kate, and the scene climaxes with one of the most famous and iconic screen kisses in cinema history. However, the lead up to this moment, and that tangible sense of a character backed into a corner and ready to lash out for the purposes of self-preservation, confirm our suspicions that there is more to this Sean Thornton than his far too convenient back-story might suggest.

The revelation of this hidden character is eventually covered in the film's second act, in a bravura flashback sequence that remains one of the most incredible pieces of cinema that Ford ever created. Without question, the most jarring moment in the film, this flashback of Thornton's to the tragic boxing match that ended his career and forced him to leave America, is a marvel of purely visual storytelling, character building and pure filmmaking ingenuity. As the character is KO'd by the right-hook of the mean-tempered landowner "Red" Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) on the day of his wedding, Ford cuts back from Thornton's prone frame to the blinding spotlight as it cools on a shot of Thornton, as pugilist, traumatised and unnerved; looking down at the audience - or through us - at the wounded body of his foe. The actual structure of this scene, with its deliberately odd framing and disorientating use of montage, particularly of expressionless faces, can be seen as an influence on everyone from Jean-Luc Godard to Martin Scorsese, with the editing in films like A Married Woman (Une femme mariée, 1964) and Raging Bull (1980) in particular showing the influence of Ford, and specifically this sequence of shots.


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:

The scene seems deliberately structured to disrupt the narrative, throwing both the audience and the character into a kind of chaos. Before this scene, we sort of have a sense of where the film is going, or who this character really is, and yet, through this short series of shots, the film has completely undermined the romantic aspect of the story; pushing the film back towards the figure of Thornton as this "quiet man", and the question of why the image of Ireland - and the need to reclaim or rediscover that second-hand existence - has become so important to him. Therefore, the film, beyond this point, is largely about defining this place; this creation of Ford's, as he delights in documenting the layers of this society, its rules and inner-workings, and how these factors or ideas add to the romantic element, creating comedy or drama from the often farcical interactions of his characters. The film, in this sense, shows Ford at his most self-indulgent (perhaps for the first time in his career), as instead of moving the film on or bringing the audience closer to a natural conclusion, he allows these scenes to play out; letting the audience bask in the atmosphere or the richness of these scenes of the world simply existing.

There's a painterly quality to many of these scenes, as moments of social interaction take on an element of still life. We can look at these frames, robbed of movement, devoid of subtext or narrative chronology, and nonetheless read their specific intentions. An image of a man playing an accordion, while another man looks on approvingly; an elderly man, half-cut, gazing into his pint glass and wondering if it's half full or half empty; the scenes of characters making small talk in drawing rooms, or tending the bedside of a dying man, have an affinity to Velázquez, or the early work of Vincent Van Gogh; where the framing of these moments, and the lighting of cinematographer Winton C. Hoch, help to suggest a story, or the relationship between characters, in the most basic, visual sense.


Old Woman Cooking Eggs by Diego Velázquez, 1618:


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:


The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh, 1885:


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:


By the Deathbed by Edvard Munch, 1895:


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:

These interior scenes, where their low-lighting and largely subdued colour schemes of browns, blacks, greys and yellows, are wonderfully contrasted by the natural beauty of the exterior locations; where the overwhelming greenery of the hills and the valleys, or the pale blues of an endless sky, remind us of Monet's great landscapes, rich in colour and texture.


The Fisherman's house at Varengeville by Claude Monet, 1882:


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:

These scenes of blarney and adventure are intercut with the less characteristic elements of melodrama; where the courtship between the two central characters and the particular sense of longing is illustrated in Ford's typical expressive style: e.g. as thunderstorms, or raindrops on a window. This is, on the one hand, that old Hollywood approach of showing a character's vulnerability without having them cry on camera; where the should-be tears of Thornton or Mary Kate are exaggerated in such a way that this outpouring of emotion becomes an actual physical presence; an expression of such magnitude that it becomes a manifestation of nature itself.


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:

Through scenes such as this one, Ford is not only telling the story of these two characters in the conventional sense, but further exploring the workings of this society or the mood of a particular location. We might look at the scene of Thornton and Mary Kate's courtship and see it as two characters simply falling in love but overcome by emotion at the realisation that this world will never let their romance flourish... but then we're also seeing a kind of travelogue of the country's most beautiful haunts. We're also seeing the contrast between these two characters as representations of their individual worlds. As Thornton looks on with a quiet shock and disapproval as Mary Kate removes her stockings - and momentarily reveals her thighs - before running bare-footed through the clear stream, we're seeing the staid, officious Americanism of Thornton against the more free-spirited "Irishness" of Mary Kate; as her unashamed disregard for what Thornton sees as socially acceptable simply illustrates her more primal connection to the country that surrounds her.

This same sense can be seen in the initial meeting between Thornton and Mary Kate, as she wanders into the frame, and into the midst of this pastoral abstraction, beautifully lit and framed in a way that once again demonstrates Ford's total command of his location. Here, the blue of her shawl and the red of her hair stand out against the green field, as she finds herself surrounded by sheep in a circular, almost love-heart formation, once again illustrating the connection that these characters, Irish-born, seem to have with a world that Thornton (and Ford) will never truly comprehend.


The Quiet Man directed by John Ford, 1952:

Once again, this sequence is not simply about the moment of falling in love between two characters, but about the power of the location; or, more importantly, of rediscovering the kind of heroic romance that exists in these stories of Ireland that are passed down from generation to generation.

The film ends with a celebration of these characters and this world, as they wave and curtsy to the camera; again, acknowledging the notion that we are visitors in this imaginary universe, but now, unlike the central character, who has made a home for himself, we must leave, and return to our own less idealised reality. Although The Quiet Man is far from John Ford's greatest achievement as a filmmaker, its place within the broader categorisation of his career as a completely personal project makes it something that is worth experiencing. Simply, the appeal of The Quiet Man goes back to that notion of the still life - of time and its endless stories being recorded for the benefit of future generations - as Ford succeeds in capturing this landscape; not as it existed, but as he must have always imagined it, in his heart and mind.