How to watch a movie

We need help learning how to watch a movie just as we do learning how to read a newspaper or a book. In its short history the art of film presents a wealth of riches. It’s easy to enjoy a good movie, but appreciating the art requires an education.

Titus Techera has arrived to lend us an eye in a series of movie podcasts that celebrated their first anniversary with Terry Teachout discussing Hitchcock’s challenging Vertigo. Titus is in great company with Teachout in this podcast, but he contributes every bit as much to the discussion as Teachout himself. He is an incredibly astute viewer. The Vertigo podcast is accessible along with the others in Titus’s series here and here.

Titus’s recent podcasts with Professor John Marini discussing John Ford are of particular interest to me. Ford was a profound student of American history in general and the Civil War in particular. Professor Marini credits Ford with the creation of the genre of the serious or epic Western as we have come to know it (as well as with the creation of the character “John Wayne”). He views the Western as a response to the Progressive critique of American history.

In the first of Titus’s two podcasts with Professor Marini they discuss The Searchers, “John Ford’s thematic treatment of the sacred law of the family. American freedom out West and the nature-civilization conflict are treated in parallel in a story that blends comedy and tragedy with an eye to Homer.”

In the second of the Ford podcasts they discuss The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “We talk about love and law, nature and progress, the desert and the railroad, and the rest of the symbols and structures that stand out in John Ford’s best movie.”

Professor Marini has written on the thematic premises of the Western:

The implicit premise of the western…is that our fathers were in some respects better than we are: whatever they may have left us to live down, they also gave us something to live up to. The western restores our connection to the past by acknowledging the fullness or moral wholeness of the past. This could only be done by recognizing the possibility of true greatness of heroes in the past, and, of course, there cannot be heroes without villains. The greatest directors of western movies portrayed a world in which genuine heroes and therefore genuine villains were possible, where human and American virtues and vices contended in all seriousness and the heights and depths of human behavior–like the American Revolution and the legacy of slavery–came into view in a way that was and is meaningful to the moral imagination.

Professor Marini makes the case for Ford in these terms.

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