"Movie making is my business, my profession, it's the way that I support my family. I love the business, I like the people, but I am not what is called a career director. Some men will make a good picture then they will keep trying and trying and they won't work for a year and half to try and beat the last one. I just keep on going, making pictures; good, bad, indifferent. I just like to be around the studios and I like the people I work with. I am absolutely without ambition, I have no ambition."John Ford
Champion of cowboy movies, John Ford had a monumental Hollywood career. Over 140 films, multiple Oscars, and a blunt way of approaching the business that made him enemies as well as friends. He is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers of his generation.
Ford's films and personality were held in high regard by his colleagues, with Ingmar Bergman and Orson Welles among those who have named him as one of the greatest directors of all time. In particular, Ford was a pioneer of location shooting and the long shot that frames his characters against a vast, harsh and rugged natural terrain.
If you see a John Ford film you'll know about it. The great American director's movies were nostalgic, patriotic and packed with sentiment. They were also characterised by a knockabout, Irish sensibility that leaned heavily towards boozing and brawling. And throughout it all, from his first feature in 1917 to his swansong 49 years later, Ford was singular, bold and brilliant. Yet, as the quote at the top of this piece suggests, he wasn't too bothered about being brilliant every day of the week.
"It's no use talking to me about art, I make pictures to pay the rent."
Ford was one of Hollywood's most colourful and irascible filmmakers. He was contemptuous of authority, and could be vicious in his sarcasm to those he found pretentious, but he was also intensely loyal to his "stock company", and in turn inspired loyalty from cast and crew.
From a Shirley Temple picture (Wee Willie Winkie), to a screwball comedy (The Whole Town's Talking) and a disaster movie (The Hurricane), John Ford tried his hand at a range of different genres, but found his niche in and around the story of the cowboy. "My name is John Ford, I am a director of Westerns,"he once said in 1950. Occasionally he was brilliant at it. Other times he wasn't so hot. But John Ford didn't care, in fact he wasn't too bothered either way.
John Fountain is a copywriter.