Monday, December 30, 2013

Monument Valley Revisited

AFI Silver recently screened The Searchers (1956).  Glenn Frankel, the author of The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, was also there, to comment on the film and answer questions.  It was a fascinating talk.  Though we previously posted on this film, the opportunity to see it on a big screen, and the  commentary by Mr. Frankel invites a revisit to perhaps best of all Westerns.

The book, which is reviewed here (NY Times Review), looks not only at the film, but at the historical inspirations for it. In this Interview with author from CNN, the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, and her abduction by the Comanches is discussed.  Like Debbie (Natalie Wood), Cynthia Ann (or Naduah, as the Comanches named her) was abducted at about age 11.  She lived with the Comanche for 25 years, bearing 3 children. One of her sons was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Quahada Comanche. (For more information on Naduah and Quanah Parker, visit the Texas State Historical Association) Though given opportunities to leave the Comanche, Naduah refused; she loved her husband and children.  Eventually recaptured, Naduah was unable to return to her family, dying at age 45.

Ethan Edwards' fears that Debbie is now fully Comanche is a reflection of historical facts.  Ford emphasizes the importance of Ethan's fears when he encounters a group of recaptured white women and children.  Forced again into a new world, two of the prisoners appear insane - a woman who apparently has lost her child, and a teenage girl.  A third girl is terrified and weeping inconsolably.  Edwards' face reflects his horror, but of what?  Is it his fear that this is what will remain of Debbie when she returns, or disgust at the "savages" these supposedly civilized females have become?  You can draw your own conclusions, but it seems that this might be the instant when Ethan contemplates killing Debbie.

Finally, a word on seeing The Searchers in a theatre.  Nothing can prepare you for the grandeur of the scenery when seen in its proper environment.  The people are dwarfed by the expanse of the valley.  They appear as ants, stretching across an unending vista of stone and sand.  Monument Valley shows us that no one, not the settlers, not the Comanche, can change the Valley.  The Comanche have learned to live with the land.  The settlers come to "tame" it.  They never will.  One look at the sky and land, and you realize the lunacy of even trying.

I close with a trailer from the film, which gives a good idea of the vistas, and of Ford's vision of the West:

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