The hallmark of the leftish intelligentsia is its contempt for the values that ordinary Americans hold dear: family, honor, and courage. Left-wing academics like to “problematize” those values (yes, that’s the current professor-speak jargon), which means demonstrating that “family” is all about homophobia and religious fanaticism, “honor” is all about macho swaggering, and “courage” is all about sexist, racist attacks on people not of one’s own gender and skin-color.
Now comes Slate’s new film critic, Stephen Metcalf, who decides that John Ford’s grand, iconic 1956 Western “The Searchers,” ostensibly about all of the above virtues, is actually a sexist, racist horror show–and a rotten movie to boot. (Thanks, Kathy Shaidle and winger-filmblogger Libertas.) Who cares if such acclaimed directors as Akira Kurusawa, Ingmar Bergman, and Martin Scorsese revered “The Searchers,” in which John Wayne plays a revenge-minded rancher whose brother’s family was massacred by Comanche and who embarks on a search for his Comanche-kidnaped niece that threatens to destroy him morally? Metcalf accuses those directing greats of having an overly “romantic” attitude toward the film–instead of a smug, snide, “problematizing” attitude like Metcalf’s. Here’s a sample of Metcalf’s take on “The Searchers”:
“Though visually magnificent, the movie is otherwise off-putting to the contemporary sensibility, what with its when men were men, and women were hysterics mythos and an acting style that often appears frozen in tintype.”
The “contemporary sensibility” here means “the sensibility of people like me, Stephen Metcalf.”
Fortunately, Libertas, who actually knows something about film, tears Metcalf’s “criticism” to shreds:
“Thematically, the film is a meditation on the idea of redemption at points when life seems to be beyond redemption. Aesthetically, The Searchers presents a vast, gorgeous panaroma of the American West – the sort of imagery one is tempted to call mythic. [Martin Scorsese has said of watching The Searchers in its original VistaVision theatrical format: ‘I (don’t have the words to) tell you what that VistaVision looked like projected … There’s nothing today that can equal that.’] And John Wayne’s performance as Ethan Edwards is, without question, one of the darkest and most dramatic in the history of American cinema. I search for comparisons to his performance, and I basically come up empty. Maybe Cagney in White Heat? Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre? I don’t know – even those seem small by comparison….
“Now, my basic question is: why does it bother Metcalf so much that a certain generation of filmmaker adopted a romantic attitude toward Ford and this film, and modeled their own work and careers after it? Adopting romantic attitudes toward other artists and their work is what artists do. It’s what Dante did with Virgil, it’s what Joyce did with Homer. It’ what Bergman did with Strindberg — and yes, it’s what George Lucas and Martin Scorsese did with Ford. So what? What exactly, is the problem here?
“I ask this question rhetorically, of course, because I know what the problem is. The problem lies with Ford’s film itself, and with its grandiose and romanticized vision of the American West. That’s what Metcalf and his fellow travelers (of which there are no doubt many) can’t abide. They can’t abide the film’s simple, basic humanity, its warm romantic glow, its old-fashioned sentimentality — the kind of sentimentality only someone with the ‘sensibility’ of an East German border guard wouldn’t understand. But that’s what most of our ‘film critics’ are like these days — illiterate East German border guards, eager to shoot down anything human trying to escape.”
That sums it up very nicely.