There were a lot of scenes I loved in movies last year, but this is the one I loved the most, and I wanted to put it up before the end of this year. It's just too good.
I've talked a lot here about John Ford...a lot...but probably not enough. The man was a master of the motion picture art form with exquisitely shot films that had a depth and a sense of mystery to them. He told stories straightforwardly, but never felt the need to hold an audience's hand by stating the obvious...not when he could show it. One could sight the many directors he's influenced in this country and internationally...but why? Ford doesn't need defending. His work speaks for itself.
But, the man could be an ogre. A sloppy Irish drunk, he bullied people on his sets, played power games with them and with studio execs, and insisted on shooting in faraway locations...because he knew the suits didn't like to travel. He never shot "coverage" or multiple angles, giving editors just enough to make the picture, but not enough for producers to interfere. He was the boss, the coach, "Papa" and he never let you forget it...if you did, you'd be in "the barrel" subject to his constant scorn.
He was a mean SOB. But, he made beautiful pictures.
So, when Steven Spielberg inserted the story of his one meeting with Ford in his roman à clef, The Fabelmans, I was just giddy. But not as giddy as who I saw was cast to play Ford.
It's David flippin' Lynch.
And, as odd a choice as that may be, it's perfect. Don't credit Spielberg for the idea. Credit screenplay author Tony Kushner's husband, Mark Harris—who has written "Pictures at a Revolution," "Five Came Back" and "Mike Nichols: A Life", great "reads," all—for the inspiration. And Lynch gets it "down." Don't believe me? Check out the clips of "the real" Ford below (as well as Spielberg talking about the casting and telling "the John Ford" story for a junket for Cowboys and Aliens).
Oh, and one other thing—Ford did a scene of himself when he made The Wings of Eagles about one of his favorite screenwriters. Check that one out here.
The Set-Up: Young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), growing up fascinated—even obsessed with movies—is now pursuing a career in the picture business. During an interview he is made an offer that he can't refuse.
Um, he’s not here. He’s -
NONA He’s at lunch.
BERNIE FEIN Right.
BERNIE FEIN Yeah, he’ll wait.
Bernie guides Sammy to a chair and slaps him on the shoulder.
JOHN FORD So...
Ford suddenly points to a big Remington painting, two men on horseback looking off into the distance with a large butte in the background.
JOHN FORD (CONT’D) See that painting over there?!
JOHN FORD Where is it?!
SAMMY AT THE TOP OF THE PAINTING!
Words by Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg
The Fabelmans is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Universal Home Video.