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“Melancholy democrat” — Mike Marqusee on John Ford

Tamar Shlaim 5 October 2010

Mike Marqusee has written an article in Red Pepper about the career and politics of Irish-American director, John Ford.

A key element in the crystallisation of Ford's cinematic vision was the Popular Front, which in the US took the form of an alliance between leftists and liberals. The cultural wing of this social movement crossed many boundaries. Government-funded painters filled libraries, courthouses, post offices and schools with murals depicting episodes from US history, usually stressing the role of ordinary people. Various styles of American folk music were recovered and recorded, along with the new songs pouring out of Woody Guthrie. In Hollywood, the political moment left its stamp on the works of Frank Capra and Orson Welles as well as Ford, who described himself in a letter to a nephew serving in the International Brigades in Spain as "a socialistic Democrat—always left" ...

In the late 40s Ford took a brief bold stand against red-baiting in the Directors' Guild but thereafter gravitated to the right, ending his days as a champion of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War. But that political CV hardly does justice to the rich ambivalences in Ford's work, the complexity of his vision of history's gains and losses. He was, from the beginning to the end, both a liberal and a conservative, an idealist and a sceptic, and this duality gives his films tension and depth.

Visit Mike Marqusee's website to read the article in full.

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