- Michael Dempsey Film Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4, Special Book Issue (Summer, 1975), pp. 2-15 Published by: University of California Press
In his article “John Ford: A Reassessment,” Michael Dempsey asserts that John Ford undoubtedly “put his own world on film,” however this does not mean that he should be given ubiquitous, uncontested and whole-hearted praise. Dempsey’s largest criticism of Ford’s work is that it adheres to a type of religious and “visionary idealism” that lacks artistry and creativity.
Nearly all of Ford’s works are touched upon in his criticism including The Sun Shines Bright, and My Darling Clementine. By way of criticism, Dempsey claims that Ford often has an overly simplified and formulaic understanding of societal economic disparities, race relations and gender issues. This leads to the creation of works that should be observed and considered, but ultimately dismissed as lacking in creativity and pragmatism.
In applying Dempsey’s criticisms to John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath it becomes increasingly important to examine the thematic emphasis of the film. As Sobchank maintains, Ford envisioned the interaction between the Joad family to occur in a timeless environment. The Grapes of Wrath does play upon a very simple theme, but it is also executed purposefully and powerfully by Ford. Any criticism of Ford should take his intent into account.
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- Eric W. Carlson College English, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Jan., 1958), pp. 172-175 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
The Christian symbolism found in the Grapes of Wrath is asserted by Eric W. Carlson to be of marginal significance. While Carlson does not deny the presence of loose biblical references throughout the course of the book, they are construed to be of secondary importance and not advancing the core thematic emphasis of the work.
Carlson makes note of the fact that many of the pieces of perceived religious symbolism that recur throughout Steinbeck’s work are of the humanistic and naturalistic origin, and do not have the commonly attributed religious subtexts. The core theme of the novel, which involves its very title “The Grapes of Wrath”, does not have a religious subtext but instead is representative of “the indomitable spirit of man.”
It is extremely important to divorce any overarching notions of Christianity with the theme of the film or the movie. Despite the fact that John Ford’s heritage involves a strong adherence to Irish Catholicism, the thematic significance of both works center at least in part on the prevailing strength of familial relationships and the persistence of the human spirit. Merely because these features are stressed within the orthodoxy of the Christian religion does not insinuate a particular religious significance. The secular and clearly identifiable themes of both the book and film, different as they might be, are far more powerfully developed than any religiously focused themes.
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- Maria Elena de las Carreras Kuntz, "The Catholic Vision in Hollywood." Film History, Vol. 14, No. 2, Film and Religion (2002), pp. 121-135 Published by: Indiana University Press
This article interestingly explores the notion that a Catholic religious background played a role in impacting the works of several Hollywood directors including John Ford, Frank Borzage, Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock. This is of particular interest given Ford’s conception of Steinbeck’s storyline.
Ford was born into a large Irish Catholic family and was a first generation American. It is explained that Ford’s biographers vehemently attested to his alignment with the Catholic Church. He went to great lengths to show this aspect of his personality including converting his Protestant wife to Catholicism.
The celebration of community life defined by an obligation to work together especially in trying times is considered to be a “hallmark of Ford’s world.” This is exemplified in a scene in The Grapes of Wrath when the downtrodden farmers dance in an effort to raise their spirits.
The intricate, complex, and often times contradicting nature of the heroes in Ford’s works is cited. Ford’s heroes are not larger than life, but instead have significant character flaws as if imperfect before the eyes of god. The fact that Tom Joad leaves his family at the end of The Grapes of Wrath to become a union organizer is touched upon.
The narrative style often employed by Ford is thought to have biblical implications. Finally, Ford’s general prevailing inclination to empathize with the poor, and with sinners is thought to derive at least to some extent from his religion.
Many of the themes touched upon in this article can be clearly identified in The Grapes of Wrath. John Ford’s thematic emphasis on familial ties and the prevailing of the human spirit over hardships in The Grapes of Wrath can be better understood by an examination of his personality and religious tendencies.
tagged cathalocism grapes_of_wrath john_ford by rale ...on 02-DEC-08
- Barry Salt Film Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 46-57 Published by: University of California Press
Barry Salt’s article details the manner in which stylistic elements changed in American Hollywood film production in the 1940s. The article begins with a description of the new 35 mm camera named the “Cunningham Combat” camera that began production in America in the 1940s. The camera was very lightweight and thus had a “frontline” military functionality. There were other minor changes in the use of lenses, but of particular interest is the manner in which Gregg Toland pioneered a technique known as “deep focus”.
Gregg Toland was hired by John Ford to do the cinematography for The Grapes of Wrath. Toland is most well recognized for perfecting his deep focus technique. A wide angle deep focus lens allowed Toland to achieve particular shots that had an elongated depth of field. In other words, both an up-close facial shot and scenery in the background could be in focus at the same time.
Although Toland eventually went on to perfect his technique in his later and better recognized work Citizen Kane, he did experiment with “a few proto-deep-focus shots” in The Grapes of Wrath. In one particular scene, Tom Joad advances from his family’s abandoned home after it has been seized. The camera moves from Tom’s face to the home in clear focus the entirety of the time.
Prior to obtaining the necessary lens to use the technique of “deep focus,” Toland simulated the effect by creating the appropriate amount of shadow to provide the illusion of focus. The Grapes of Wrath is a film that makes use of shadows and night scenes to create the effect of physical close quarters highlighting the escalating tension of the family. The cinematography of Toland works to create this effect; although he did not receive any critical acclaim for his workmanship, it was the start of a highly recognized movement in cinematography.
- Vivian C. Sobchack "The Grapes of Wrath (1940): Thematic Emphasis Through Visual Style." American Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 5, Special Issue: Film and American Studies (Winter, 1979), pp. 596-615 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Vivan C. Sobchank outlines in her article the consistently overlooked features of John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath. Despite the fact that The Grapes of Wrath is a film that has received much critical acclaim and has been highly visible since it was produced in 1940 Sobchank contends that there are important visual elements that require closer examination to fully realize the film.
Sobchank contends that a close look at the visual stylistic elements of The Grapes of Wrath has been hampered by a couple of factors. Firstly, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was an incredibly well known book which often times overshadowed the creation of the film and left an audience legitimizing the film only in terms of its ability to closely follow the book and not as an unlinked work. Secondly, the overpowering and dramatic thematic aspects of the film made an analysis of its visual elements of significantly lesser importance.
Sobchank emphasizes that when critiquing a film it is of the utmost importance to examine its visual elements. This is what makes the medium unique from other art forms. The visual portrayal of the Joad’s changes the thematic nature of the storyline from book to film. The film becomes less about ties to land and the overarching social conditions that resulted from the Great Depression and more centered on the resilience of one particular family experiencing severe hardship in a discrete time period. It is visualizing the film which allows this very different thematic concentration to arise.
A number of different visual techniques are used by John Ford to accomplish this end. Twenty-five out of the fifty scenes in the film occur inside the Joad truck or an “oppressive interior.” Ford makes use of shadows and darkness during climactic moments of the film. Long shots are used sparingly and close up shots focusing on characters with a contained background are employed. There is a departure from the use of land imagery as well.
Sobchank notes that Ford wanted to make The Grapes of Wrath not for its relevant social and political themes, but because it told a story of a “family going out there and trying to make it in the world.”
Sobchank’s article is highly important in understanding that The Grapes of Wrath was not only a criticism of conditions in America, but a positivist account of the intangible relationship of a human family. In the famous monologue when Henry Fonda proclaims, “wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there” the implications are two-fold. Tom Joad will be there to fight against injustice, but he will also be there to fight for his family. The latter is the thematic and visual concentration of the film making it unique in the social problem genre.
This excerpt from Peter Wollen’s article discusses Howard Hawks’s work in the context of the auteur theory. The auteur theory is the film theory that attributes the particular look and image of a film to the director, as if the director was the only person responsible for creating the film. Wollen’s analysis of Hawks’s films using the auteur theory is thus particularly interesting because Hawks was relatively well-known for the diverse nature of his films. Wollen argues however, that despite having worked in almost every single genre, Hawks still had a particular visual style and tempo. Often using the same motifs and themes in his films, Hawks was therefore able to create his own world that a very specific protagonist inhabited. There are two versions of this “Hawksian” hero, Wollen states. One is the strong professional who is often excluded from society, but also seeks camaraderie with other males. This hero is typically more common in Hawks’s adventure stories. He is usually a cattleman, pilot, fisherman, or racing driver, one who is accustomed to living alone and dangerously. Women often act as threats to this hero and thus, he is usually unmarried or was previously married in the past and suffered some type of trauma as a result.
The second version of the protagonist is the complete opposite, and often appears in his comedies. This hero is usually extremely pliable and inadequate. For example, in Bringing Up Baby, David Huxley is a weak and timid man, who is often overshadowed by Susan Vance’s domineering character. Susan, who is identified with Baby, the animal, poses a threat on Huxley’s peaceful world, that Huxley simply cannot overcome. This theme of role-reversal and regression is thus extremely common is Hawks’s comedic work. The man is no longer the dramatic hero and instead, is more like a humiliated victim. He is easily influenced by the woman and is often involved in scenes of sexual humiliation as well. In Bringing Up Baby, the scene in which Dr. Huxley is forced to wear a woman’s nightgown, can be said to be a manifestation of this gender-reversal as well.