Film School: The Searchers

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Film School: The Searchers
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Film School: The Searchers says
Almost all of the greatest cinematic stories are structured on a common dramatic formula. If you can understand this formula, you can watch movies deeper than you ever have before.

Recently, I wrote a blog about this formula called “How to Watch a Film in Eight Sequences.” For Film School, we’re going to break down and analyze these Eight Sequences in the Three-Act dramatic structure of John Ford’s greatest film, The Searchers.

John Ford was one of the first great storytellers of cinema. With John Wayne at his side, Ford created the “Western” as we know it today. His films center on the theme of the Wild West vs encroaching civilization. In his early films, this conflict was represented simply and naively as Cowboys vs. Indians.

But in his later years, this conflict became more complex, nuanced and self-reflective. The Searchers, made in 1956, is arguably Ford’s greatest film. In this film, the cowboy has turned from a white-hatted hero to a dark, conflicted antihero.

John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a former confederate soldier who harbors a bitter hatred of Indians. Soon after he returns home from the war, his brother and sister-in-law are killed in a Comanche attack, and their two daughters are taken captive. While they soon learn that one of the girls is dead, the other, Debbie, is still alive, and with obsessive determination, Ethan and Martin spend the next five years in a relentless search for Debbie -- and for Scar (Henry Brandon), the fearsome Comanche chief who abducted her. But while Martin wants to save his sister and bring her home, Ethan seems primarily motivated by his hatred of the Comanches; it's hard to say if he wants to rescue Debbie or murder the girl who has lived with Indians too long to be considered "white." John Wayne gives perhaps his finest performance in a role that predated screen antiheroes of the 1970s; by the film's conclusion, his single-minded obsession seems less like heroism and more like madness. Wayne bravely refuses to soft-pedal Ethan's ugly side, and the result is a remarkable portrait of a man incapable of answering to anyone but himself, who ultimately has more in common with his despised Indians than with his more "civilized" brethren.”
Mark Deming, Rovi

Using the Eight Sequences as a guide, we’re going to dissect John Ford’s film and discover the dramatic tension at the heart of the Cowboy.
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By: Indywood Cinema

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