Thursday, June 16, 2011

Preview: Ford, Fonda and America

Hey folks, July 4th approaches. As we contemplate the USA's birthday and the state of our union, now it the time to rejoice in that most American of art form: motion pictures. Through the summer The Paramount has been showcasing the best of classic cinema, both foreign and domestic, but this weekend is particularly special. A double feature featuring Henry Fonda, a patriarch of Hollywood royalty and John Ford, who may well be America's greatest and most diverse film director ever.

Fonda requires little introduction. A giant star from the classic Hollywood era, Fonda appeared in over 100 films and shorts throughout his long career. Father of Jane and Peter Fonda, and grandfather to Bridget Fonda, his legacy continues its imprint on the world of film to this day. Best known from 12 Angry Men, Mr. Roberts, How The West Was Won, Once Upon A Time In The West and On Golden Pond, it is his appearance in The Grapes of Wrath that lingers as his signature performance.

Beginning in 1914, director John Ford cut his teeth in the silent era, and was one of the busiest filmmakers of the time. In a nine-year span between 1917 and 1928 he made 62 shorts and feature films. He seamlessly transitioned into talkies and continued his successful streak for years to come. His most lauded works of that period included Stagecoach and How Green My Valley. During World War II, he served the Navy as a documentary film maker for the OSS. Ford filmed on D-Day on Omaha Beach, and produced various propaganda films on behalf of the war effort. Post-war his statue grew further, and he made both critical and box-office hits: Fort Apache, Rio Grande, Mister Roberts and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

The directors Ford has inspired reads like the roster of an all-star cinema director's club: Hitchcock, Welles, Truffaut, Godard, Kurosawa, Spielberg, Renoir, Fellini, Wenders, Lean, Scorsese, Tarantino and scores of others.

Two of his pre-war films screen this weekend, including the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. A tale of a displaced family in the midst of The Great Depression. A very human story with overt socio/political overtones, it nevertheless is a brilliant film and a testament to the power of human perseverance. As a literary character, Tom Joad remains an icon of that most American of qualities: resistance in the face of adversity. As a performer, Henry Fonda gives the character new life, drawing us closer into such dire circumstances. His piercing eyes are a window into Joad's soul, reflecting not only the hardships around him, but the sincerity within.

Young Mr. Lincoln is in many way a love letter to the President that John Ford greatly admired. A story that takes liberties from any history one would find in a textbook, it is a fictionalized story of Lincoln as a blossoming lawyer and politician. Made in 1939, this marked the first collaboration between Ford and Fonda, but one can already see the majestic cinema they were capable of creating. The film humanizes Lincoln that anyone has ever dared, and reminds us that in America, the greatest feats of mankind can come from any single one of us.

A director repeatedly working with an actor is nothing new. If you stop and reflect for a moment, you can think of numerous examples in cinema: Scorsese and DeNiro, Kazan and Brando, Welles and Cotton, Spielberg and Dreyfuss, Zemeckis and Hanks among others. Seldom, however, do we ask ourselves why. What draws the artists together time and again, what are they aiming to say in their storytelling?

To me, the pairing of John Ford and Henry Fonda aim to say something about our society's virtue. Together they illustrate the greatness that Americans are capable of. They provide a window to our hearts and souls, and show a land that can unite for a cause beyond mere marketing jingoism. A land where we can toil and struggle and still remain optimistic. A land called... America.

Showtimes for the films:

The Grapes of Wrath
Saturday, Jun 18th
4:00 8:40
Sunday, Jun 19th

Young Mr. Lincoln
Saturday, Jun 18th
Sunday, Jun 19th
2:00 6:40

Final Notes about the screening

Bring two canned food items for The Grapes of Wrath food drive and receive a free small popcorn! The drive benefits Capital Area Food Bank.

Double Features:
"When two movies are grouped together under the same thematic heading, one ticket is good for both features when viewed back-to-back on the same day." (cha-ching!)

"Hassle-free downtown parking available for $6 at the One American Center for all summer films! Since you’re also supporting the theatre when you buy parking, they're giving you a free small soda each time you park there for a film. Buy online with your film tix and print out your confirmation e-mail or buy directly from the garage attendant (cash only). Attendant will have your soda ticket as well."

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