Tombstone at Oronsay Priory

Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas,
Ease after warre, death after life, does greatly please.

– From Spenser’s “Faerie Queen” (1), engraved on a tombstone at Oronsay Priory in the Western Isles of Scotland. The words are also found on the tomb of Joseph Conrad.

Nothing tests the resources of the cinema like a storm at sea. The watery element is too untameable; if it is observed from a dry viewpoint, then the fury seems distant and uninvolving; if it is filmed within the storm itself, then waves engulf crew and equipment as well as actors. When Richard Brooks made a film of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1965), the studio resorted to the cheapest method available at the time for showing a ship in a storm: namely to film a small-scale model in a bath or tank, no doubt a large one, while the waters are agitated mechanically.

Nothing tests a man like a storm at sea. Witness Conrad, himself an experienced sailor:

those events of the sea that show in the light of day the inner worth of a man, the edge of his temper and the fibre of his stuff; that reveal the quality of his resistance and the secret truth of his pretences, not only to others but also to himself. (2)

In Lord Jim, the SS Patna, on which Jim is serving as chief mate, is sailing in calm seas when in the dark it hits an unidentified object. The rusty bulkhead, weakened from the collision, threatens to burst open, precipitating panic in the small European crew and frantic recourse to the lifeboat, while the ship’s cargo of pilgrims journeying to Mecca are allowed to sleep on: there are not enough lifeboats anyway. This episode in which Jim is tested to his limit, and crucified by his dilemma – whether to remain with the pilgrims and probably drown with them, or jump into the lifeboat and save his skin – is narrated by Conrad over virtually half the book, probing with all his verbal subtlety the nuances of Jim’s situation, the caverns of Jim’s imagination, Conrad striving to do justice to the mental activity, turmoil even, in making decisions. The weather is a factor, but really an inferior mirror to the human drama.

The cinema can often struggle when it tackles the great works of literature, and Brooks’ Lord Jim illustrates the point. The episode on the SS Patna occupies the first 30 minutes of a 150-minute film, as if all those words and a shortage of the technical means for filming men on ships in an angry sea had defeated the film’s creators. The weather, because we can see it, inevitably takes centre-stage, and Brooks upgrades it from squall to storm by showing the pilgrims awake and, while the crew wrestles with the lifeboat, they kneel facing Mecca in prayer. Their leader tugs Jim’s (Peter O’Toole’s) arm about their safety, but surely he would be seeking the lifeboats, too? By keeping the pilgrims asleep, Conrad makes their inaction more credible. He therefore chooses to make a squall the threat, while the filmmakers choose a storm, but, when we are granted a view of the ship in the storm, the thought nags us that it has been filmed in a bath. The book enlarges our participating imagination; the film reduces it, even to banality.

Yet the relationship between cinema and literature has been enormously creative. Because among its purposes literature presents us with stories we had not thought of, or thought how to tell, because it seeks to enlarge our imagination, it naturally has nourished the cinema, a quite new medium for human fantasising. The offspring of this marriage of words and images continue to take on new lives. The latest technical breakthrough of computer-generated imagery is opening new ways of filming epics, a particularly suitable genre for the cinema, and in time will spread into more humdrum narratives, creating new ways of telling stories.

Storms are a good filmic subject: we have a chance to see what it looks like when you put to sea, to feel the sky darkening and the sea rising, and to ride into the eye of the storm. When The Perfect Storm (Wolfgang Petersen) was made in 2000, here was a chance to use digital technology to overtop all previous cinematic storms, to thrill the spectator with the vastness of the ocean in anger. It starts soberly enough with a view of the name-board listing all those from Gloucester, Massachusetts, who have lost their lives at sea since 1623, all 10,000 of them. It peaks with the 70-foot fishing boat, the Andrea Gail, running into a weather triple-header: a hurricane moving north up the Atlantic seaboard and a cold front swooping down from Canada, both pincering a low over Nova Scotia “ready to explode”. Does the boat run from the storm, to save itself but lose the fish the crew has caught (because the refrigeration system has broken down), or does it seek to ride back home through the storm? The painful difficulties of such decisions, which Conrad relished fathoming to the very bottom, are disregarded in favour of a cavalier decision to go through the storm. If the fibre of a man’s stuff and the quality of his resistance are tested by a storm, then this is not the film to show it. Not a man but Superman is the measure of all things. At the zenith of the captain’s heroics, an outrigger from which normally a stabiliser, or ‘bird’, hangs has broken loose of its fastening and the bird is swinging wildly about smashing into the captain’s steering room. Something must be done, so the captain climbs the length of the outrigger to detach the flailing weight by cutting the attaching chain. His tools are superhuman strength, an unyielding grip on the rigging amidst gale and plunging sea, and an oxyacetylene torch that, despite enough water being thrown about to extinguish a house on fire, never goes out. Man and tool are united in unquenchability.

It is unavoidable even if churlish to cavil at the absurdity of these events, especially as they unfold before us: it would be more decent to do it afterwards as we walk away from the cinema. It illustrates the pitfalls of digital technology, namely that it enhances not involvement and identification, but “unfeeling” (3). We are dazed by the sight of the boat in the storm, but we are denied entry into the struggling minds of captain and crew. I write only of the main plot: The Perfect Storm is padded out with a secondary plot of coastguards rescuing three yachtsmen, in the course of which a helicopter is downed in the waves and its crew separated in massive seas, yet they manage to join up easily enough since swimming in such conditions is as easy as in the local baths, and, mirabile dictu (or was it human brilliance that did it?), out of the darkness comes a ship to rescue them. From this you might conclude that the ocean stirred to fury by unappeasable gods is not too difficult for mortals to ride out.

The Perfect Storm

At least the main story of the fishing boat in peril ends in peril: it and its crew go to Davy Jones’ locker, the perfect storm finally producing the unplayable wave. As the seas subside, so does the narrative: the last scenes are of the funeral in Gloucester, of the women bereaved, in the background the 19th-century hymn, “Eternal Father, strong to save”, of a memorial address of gut-wrenching emotion by the female captain of the Andrea Gail’s sister ship, who had sensibly run from the storm. This public parade of feeling manifested in silent tearfulness and strangled sobbing echoes the super heroics earlier in the film: when the captain successfully turns the boat round between waves without getting swept broadside, the crew indulge in triumphal embracing and cheering as if they were on the sports field. Perish the thought that in the circumstances there is no time for such self-indulgence, that the edge of a man’s temper is not discerned in hugging.

A year or two later, digital technology was put to subtler effect in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003). Here, too, there is a storm, this time a routine one in the difficult waters off Cape Horn at the southern tip of the Americas, as HMS Surprise chases the French ship Acheron through heaving seas. These are sailing ships and this is the time of the Napoleonic Wars: much is at stake for we are told that the capture of the Acheron by the Surprise is a key to preserving Britain’s liberty. Although this appeal to our historical imagination that the fate of Europe is in the hands of two ships in the southern hemisphere is not credible, still the storm itself feels convincing enough, as the special-effects waves look dangerous but not impossible. Unlike the captain’s super heroics in The Perfect Storm, the focus is on a human drama, a heart-wrenching one, a Lord Jim moment which brings the storm’s menace into sharp focus, when young Warley (Joseph Morgan), trying to deal with the topmost shrouds, is tossed into the sea by the breaking mast so that he falls astern clutching the wreckage, his only lifeline the mast’s cables running back to the ship. In these circumstances, the weight at the stern begins to threaten the safety of the ship. The dilemma for Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) is whether to haul Warley in somehow, putting Surprise in great peril, or to cut the cables sending Warley to his doom, and thus preserve the ship. To describe the options is to make the choice: Aubrey cuts the cables. The emotions involved are underplayed: in the scene following, storm subsided, the chase for the Acheron in vain, Warley drowned, Aubrey and the ship doctor are largely mute. The episode is a good one because it dramatizes the storm’s hazards in a single incident, an excruciating moral choice for the captain. These hazards are brought home as hazards, not just digital marvels.

The film gives no immediate memorial service for Warley. Instead, we wait until the end of the film, after the Surprise has finally caught and boarded the Acheron and, in jingoistic mode, captured it. Next there is a burial at sea for the eight people killed, to which the name of Warley might be added, a victim of human as much as pelagic violence. The shrouds are sewn, the camera mounted on a crane pulls back to reveal men standing for a funeral service, the act of removing their hats choreographed for the camera to assert a communality among the men. Aubrey begins the “Our Father”, which is taken up by the whole company and underpinned by Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis”. Aubrey reads the names of the dead men and, as the shrouded bodies are slid into the sea, he recites the prayer from the Book of Common Prayer to be used “At the Burial of the Dead at Sea”: “We therefore commit their bodies to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, (when the Sea shall give up her dead) […]”

Both Perfect Storm and Master and Commander recognize the value of a funeral rite as a way of marking an end to an episode of strain and stress, that death after life “does greatly please”. This is satisfying. Did the creators of those films take as their teacher John Ford? In thinking about their storm-begetting cinematic forebears, did they study The Long Voyage Home (1940)?

The episode of the death of Yank (Ward Bond) in Ford’s film is only 14 minutes of cinema in a film of 105 minutes’ length. The film, made in 1940 in the middle of his career, is only one in the director’s œuvre of more than 100 features. But, if you analyse its construction, you get a vivid impression of artistry, of a director at the top of his powers certainly, but also of a team of highly creative minds: director John Ford, screenwriter Dudley Nichols, cameraman Gregg Toland, art director James Basevi, composer Richard Hageman and the various actors, notably Thomas Mitchell and Ward Bond. Add to that a team of sound engineers, carpenters, prop men, grips and so on. Finally, the ingredients for this creative mix had been found 20 years earlier by playwright Eugene O’Neill.

In 1916, O’Neill wrote a playlet, Bound East for Cardiff, about the death of a sailor on a tramp steamer crossing the Atlantic. Yank is on his deathbed following a fall in the hold that has proved fatal. His other shipmates are sitting telling stories, grumbling and half aware of the dying man in their midst. When they go to take the watch, only the Irishman Driscoll is left to give encouragement and try to sustain his life. The captain and the second mate come and then leave without being able to do anything for him. The tone of the piece is tragic, of the human being in extremis, facing up to death with honesty, while his fellow sailor seeks to give comfort, suffering and compassion in the same bunk as it were.

It is one of four playlets by O’Neill that Ford commissioned Dudley Nichols to put together as a single screenplay describing the steamer’s voyage from the West Indies to London. A key factor in the transfer to the screen is to show the accident to Yank that takes his life, which in the theatre is referred to as having happened already, and to change it from a fall in the hold to Yank being swept off his feet by a wave in a storm and flung against a protruding element of the ship, which breaks his ribs and punctures his lung. This must be Ford’s idea: among his many gifts was a remarkable ability to film the action sequence in a way that puts the spectator at the heart of it. This partly accounts for his penchant for Westerns, pitting man against the wild and untamed. Famously, he created the stagecoach being chased by Indians in Stagecoach (1939), but as arresting is the scene of the three protagonists in Three Godfathers (1948), battling through a sandstorm, with no concession to the comfort of either the actors or, as far as one can judge, the crew. It is a deliberate choice therefore to show the accident to Yank in a highly vivid way.

Ford is not credited as co-author of the screenplay, but as director his is the controlling intelligence that both assembles and fits together all the parts and transforms O’Neill’s play from stage to film, a process with a tension at its heart. The whole episode is filled with striking images telling their own story without words and beyond words, but at its core is a dialogue between Yank and Driscoll (Thomas Mitchell) that is pure theatre. The finished film embodies the paradox: the source is writing for the theatre and O’Neill was full of praise for the finished result (4), but the essential power of the sequence is in its visual quality, which constantly arrests us, and the way it urges the viewer to make connections in the story. The dramatist in Ford is drawn to the power of words, but the visual artist in him thinks of narrative in images, a skill learnt in his formative years, making dozens of silent films. With the advent of sound, he developed a gift for laconic but powerful dialogue, and O’Neill’s four short plays were perfect material for him: four incidents with a good dramatic charge and the scope to open up the story visually, to imagine it as well as perform it. The film starts with a five-minute sequence of images, muffled words and music, and the whole combines Toland’s chiaroscuro style created by the expressive deployment of light, with Ford’s gift for the telling composition.

Ford’s cinema is Brechtian, Jean-Marie Straub has commented, “because he shows things that make people think […] by [making] the audience collaborate on the film” (5). On first viewing, we get an inexact impression of what has happened, although the dramatic sequence of the death of Yank unfolds with great power: storm, accident, death and funeral. Ford relies heavily on visual narrative because for most of it the words on the soundtrack are overwhelmed by the sound of the gale and the crash of waves. While a third of the episode takes place below deck, where the words are more audible, even then the immediate occasion of the disaster has to be imagined: the crew come in for something to eat, having wrestled with putting a tarpaulin over the hold, when a great bang freezes them in fear. It is Yank that reacts first by shouting that the anchor has worked loose, and rushes out. Only in reflection do we deduce what has happened, that the anchor, normally wound up on its windlass on deck, has worked loose and is hanging over the side, where it is rhythmically crashing against the side of the ship, putting it in jeopardy if it were to puncture the side. The idea echoes the threat to the Patna in Lord Jim from the heavy bump against the rusty bulkhead.

The Long Voyage Home

On the forecastle, in the dark and through the waves crashing over the bow, we see a man in medium-to-long shot – we have to assume it is Yank – hauling the anchor lever: the camera tilts down to give a close-up of the anchor chain moving. Below deck a man asks, “Who’s that?”, and Driscoll tells him, and confirms for us, “Yank.” Then the real drama begins. We see Yank on the forecastle when a wave engulfs him, throwing him onto the deck below. From a high-angle shot, the film cuts on Yank’s fall to a camera position at deck level with the deck running away from us between ship-side and hold. Yank staggers to his feet, clutches his side, then collapses again as another wave bowls him over. In a brilliant touch, Ford and Toland make the water flow down the deck and over the camera, another example of putting the spectator among the elements, something that The Perfect Storm, for all its massive budget and digital wizardry, had difficulty in making convincing.

We know that Yank has suffered an injury, but that is all. The mystery is heightened in the next shot of the bridge: the steersman is at the wheel in profile; beyond him a young officer blurts anxiously, “Mr Gregg?” Cut to a frontal shot of the steersman, his face lit from below, sculpturally, impassively, who remarks laconically, “Steady, kid.” The words are unimportant (Gregg is the captain, although we have not been told that), it is the images that convey the meaning: inexperience and anxiety, experience and toughness. In the next shot, Yank is brought to his cabin, helped off with his oilskins and made to lie down. We then get a sequel to the scene on the bridge: in his cabin, the Captain (Wilfrid Lawson) reads a medical tome by a spotlight. Beyond him, the young officer enters and asks him to look at Yank. In exasperation, the Captain snaps that his splintered ribs have punctured the lung, and adds that he is not a doctor. Inexperience and anxiety, experience and despair.

The next five minutes are in a cabin below deck, and start round a camera set-up where Yank is visible in his bunk at the bottom right-hand corner. From this overall view, the sequence moves through a series of shots getting us closer to the drama, ending with an angled shot of Yank dead on his bunk, coffined as it were, from which the camera glides up to the face of Axel (John Qualen) after he enters the room and realizes Yank has died.

There is a masterly transition at this point: as Axel speaks, the music starts softly breaking into the tune of the sea-shanty, “Blow the man down”, which serves as a leitmotif (6) in the film for a seaman’s life on a tramp steamer. After Axel says quizzically to himself, “Yank’s gone?”, there is a firm dark chord in the music, repeated in the strings. As this happens, the film dissolves quickly from Axel standing in the door to the deck: it is day, the sea has subsided somewhat, and about 12 men are revealed in a side shot across the deck, silhouetted against the sea. The wind is drowning the words being spoken, but through it the ear of faith can just make out, “He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live”, and then the remainder is lost on the wind. As in Master and Commander, the words are from the order for the Burial of the Dead, and we realize with a start that we have jumped forward in time to Yank’s funeral service. The Captain finishes reading and closes the book. Men lift the body and slide it overboard. Without ado, the Captain turns away and walks out of the screen. The men disperse, leaving Driscoll to pace the deck, then stare accusingly out to sea. On the soundtrack, there is a delicate sequence of sounds: a whistle (blown by the mate to mark the end of the service), a foghorn in reply, then music leading into the “Blow the man down” leitmotif, then stabbing notes to match Driscoll’s accusatory stare.

Yank on his bunk confessing to Driscoll, and Driscoll raising his arms to heaven, openly plays upon the emotions. But there is a power as well, greater for its covert quality, in the way Ford shows the men trying to cope with the loss: Driscoll’s passionate falling on his body, Axel’s crestfallen look, the formality of the funeral service (suppressed in its perfunctoriness and by the hostility of the elements), the Captain’s abrupt exit, and Driscoll angry. All these emotions are true to the moment of the sudden loss of human life.

The Long Voyage Home

Ford aims to move us and analysis of the sequence shows that it is the artifice that arrests us, and not just the artifice but the economy as well. In the wide-open spaces of his Westerns, Ford’s reputation rests on a number of things, including his capacity to improvise, which includes fitting the action to the landscape and then filming the action before him. With a scene involving a ship in a tempest, he can only use a constricting soundstage and gallons of water hurled about by a wave machine. Yet he is artful enough to manipulate our sense of movement. On deck, we sense that the camera is stationary, while it is the waves that toss the humans about in space, so that we have an impression of turbulent action. Below deck, however, although in reality the sailors would be constantly balancing themselves against the roll of the ship, Ford keeps both picture and movements still. Then, for the burial at sea, he vividly conveys the scene on deck by projecting the sea as a backcloth whose horizon, in the aftermath of the storm, swings back and forth. The effect, even though ‘special’, is very simple.

For the storm itself, the set comprises the front half of the ship (7) under a black sky: this allows the wave machine to be hidden in darkness off-screen as it hurls water over the ship and the men. The sound is crucial here as well: when the scene is watched mute, it has a limp quality, but, with the sound of wind and wave superimposed, it takes on an atmosphere, as they help the spectator to imagine a raging ocean off-screen. (By the time Hollywood makes The Perfect Storm, the advent of digital technology has widened the scope of what can be achieved – and in this case a lot more produces a lot less. Master and Commander is more sober, and does not forget to focus on the human drama.) The sound in fact is a dimension in itself. The bang created by the loose anchor against the side of the vessel is shocking in a way that the sight of it would not be. If it were shown, the spectator might, if they were enough of a seaman, comprehend the danger of it, but, by merely showing the faces of the sailors on hearing the sound, we know for certain that the ship is in peril. What is more the bang has an ominous sound to which we can attach other associations such as the explosion of a bomb or the tolling of a funeral bell before its cause is fixed by Yank shouting, “That’s the anchor … worked loose.”

Another key to the artifice of the sequence is the device of cross-cutting, between the scene on deck, the bridge and the scene below deck. Spectators can orient themselves instantly to the layout of the ship. We see the entrance on the deck that leads down to the cabins below. The camera gives a high-angle picture that we interpret as the view from the bridge, so that, without building a whole ship, Ford’s set designer creates a ship in the imagination. After the drama of the action, whose urgency is conveyed by the cross-cutting, and indeed the brevity of the shots (8), the film intensifies in a single location of Yank on his bunk, where a different form of cross-cutting is used – between Yank and the faces of the men around him. For the final third of the sequence, Ford unifies the men and their situation: the captain leads the service on deck, the men stand around with the sun behind them, the shrouded corpse is tilted overboard. They then disperse, the captain being the first to do so, as they lapse back into their respective roles.

The Long Voyage Home

Underpinning the whole episode is Ford’s sense of the heroic and the tragic that he paints in religious hues. The seamen like to drink, like to fight, are cut off from female or infant love: to survive, they have to support each other. This it is that prompts the heroic: on comprehending the danger to the ship, it is Yank who does not hesitate to abandon his eating and rush into the mælstrom above. When he is injured, the other men rescue him and bring him below. The tragedy comes from Yank himself. He has no illusion that he is facing up to death. He uses his last minutes for confession, recalling past guilt not with a priest but with Driscoll, touched by the memory of a fight in which a man was killed, and in the next instant of a barmaid in Cardiff. For a brief moment, dialogue takes over from the image as a means of telling the story, but even here Ford inserts a characteristic visual touch: Yank takes a draw on Driscoll’s cigarette in order to blow some smoke-rings, a trick he has showed us earlier in the film, a visual leitmotif as it were. Possibly the idea was suggested by Gregg Toland, since photographing smoke is an attractive challenge for the cameraman, or possibly by Ward Bond playing Yank who must have fancied his ability to blow smoke-rings.

The Long Voyage Home

In this film directed by an Irish American, it is the Irishman, Driscoll, who provides the religion. After listening priest-like to Yank bringing to mind episodes from ports around the world, Singapore, Sydney and Cape Town, Driscoll raises his arms heavenward in his own impassioned confession – for himself, for Yank, for others – “I wish I had no blackened deed on my soul.” (9) It is Driscoll who – again priest-like – asks Yank if he has any relations he can contact. Then comes the final act, which recalls the last rites administered through the chalice: Yank calls for a drink, Driscoll and Olsen (John Wayne) give him a cup of water, Yank throws his head back finally dead, Driscoll throws himself on the body in grief. The mystery of human compassion in the face of danger and death is then subsumed in the mystery of ritual burial at sea. It is simple and very brief: no hole needs to be dug in the ground, the corpse is merely shot overboard. (10)

The captain turns briskly away, and in a flash we see how 16 years later Ford tackled the celebrated burial sequence for The Searchers. It echoes the scene in The Long Voyage Home, but is bleaker and even more stripped down. The film opens with the death of the pioneer family seeking to make a home in the wilderness, but instead its members are murdered, raped and abducted by Indians. All that remains for the survivors is to put the bodies under the earth. Ford shoots this in the open air, in long-shot, some distance from the action, consciously seeking to achieve some distancing effect, as if aware of the potency of the ritual and straining to keep the spectator at bay (being Brechtian again). The pastor reads the service, the community sings “Shall we gather at the river?” (11), and the scene is dramatically ended by Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) walking out on the ritual in disgust: “Put an amen to it. There’s no more time for praying.” This scene is used to mark the beginning of Ethan’s search, but it crystallizes forcefully the nature of his character, impatient of the forms that shape a community, the home he can never reach. There is another aspect of Ethan’s character that The Long Voyage Home points us towards. For when the Captain briskly leaves the deck at the end of the burial service, there is no lingering (unlike Driscoll), but still an echo of his disgust that he could do nothing for Yank when he was in extremis. The same motive is at work with Ethan, for his unceremonious abandonment of the burial rite to start his search is motivated by his desire to revenge a deed in which he is implicated, even if there was nothing he could do about it. The Captain’s disgust is with himself (“I’m not a doctor”), and Ethan’s disgust is with the savagery of the massacre, and his failure to prevent it: both men come face to face with the consequences of their own inadequacy, and the suffering inherent in creation.

The Searchers

Like the Shakespearian artist that he is, Ford sees it both ways. The American in him, the Catholic in him, the citizen of the world in him, connects with his country and with people, indeed all people, and he holds in reverence the importance of observing custom and usage. Whether it is the death of a common seaman, or the deaths of a whole family of ordinary people trying to build a life in the West, the rituals must be observed, obsequies must be conducted, the proper words refined and hallowed by usage must be spoken. But the rebel in him forces him to present this ritual perfunctorily. Certainly not with the plated emotions of the funeral service in Perfect Storm, but neither in the comprehensive and comprehensible ritual of Master and Commander. Instead it is a laconic affair, a fixed camera slightly detached from the action, indeed in The Searchers in considerable long-shot, with the words blown away by wave and wind, as if in essence they were vanity in the immensity of nature and the forces of life and death.

Endnotes

  1. Book 1, c. ix, stanza 40.
  2. Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Penguin edition, p. 14.
  3. In an essay, “Angels and Engines”, in the Times Literary Supplement (19 and 26 August 2005), Marina Warner writes eloquently about the propensity of computer-generated imagery to refuse “those laws of the flesh in which experience is grounded”.
  4. See Joseph McBride, Searching for John Ford (London, Faber, n.d.), p. 318. O’Neill sent Ford a telegram saying, “My congratulations on a grand deeply moving and beautiful piece of work. It is a great picture and I hope you are as proud of it as I am.”
  5. Quoted in McBride, p. 457.
  6. The master of operatic leitmotif was Richard Wagner. Richard Hageman conducted the Metropolitan Opera from 1914 to 1932 and would have been very familiar with Wagner’s work. In Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), when we are shown Wagner the blacksmith (Mickey Simpson), Hageman quotes the motif associated with hammering and forging from Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring).
  7. The ship looks very like the one used in King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, 1933). If it is the same, the link would surely be Cooper, a friend of Ford’s.
  8. The editing process is crucial, but Ford was notably economical in his shooting, editing the film in his head – and denying the editor choices in the assembling of shots.
  9. These words are in O’Neill, but it is the image of Driscoll on his knees, which the director provides, that points to the Catholic overtones of the scene.
  10. “The sailor on duty lifts the end of the board, Gusev slides off it, plunges head-first, somersaults in the air, and – plop! The foam covers him, and for a moment he seems to be shrouded in lace, but the moment passes and he disappears between the waves.” Anton Chekhov, “Gusev”, in About Love and other stories (Oxford University Press, n.d.), p. 57.
  11. Richard Hageman liked musical motifs. Gregg Toland photographed a visual motif for Yank. Ford’s directorial motif, at least in his Westerns, is the use of the Baptist hymn, “Shall we gather at the river?”

About The Author

Tim Cawkwell is the author of The Filmgoer’s Guide to God (2004) and was co-editor of The World Encyclopaedia of Film (1972). Between 1968 and 1986 he was a film-maker, working first in Standard 8, then in 16mm, specialising in working directly on the filmstrip. He lives in Norwich in the UK.