Upstream (John Ford, 1927)

Below are a few images from the John Ford film that’s been discovered in New Zealand — part of a nice haul of 75 or so silent films that are currently being brought back to the US by the National Film Preservation Foundation. I’ve got a piece about the find here in the New York Times, and there are a couple of clips from “The Sergeant,” a 1910 western from Selig Polyscope, up on the NFPF site.

It’s an exciting project, and it’s going to be an expensive one. Anyone who feels inclined to make a donation to the NFPF –fully tax-deductible — can do so here.

86 comments to Upstream (John Ford, 1927)

  • I strongly welcome additional views of Joseph H. Lewis.
    And wish Blake Lucas and David Cairns would write longer pieces, summarizing their ideas on this director.
    Lewis is among the most under-studied of major filmmakers. There is a terrific biographical/interview book by Francis M. Nevins, and first rate critical essays by Jean-Pierre Coursodon in “American Directors” and Robert Keser in “Senses of Cinema”.
    But most of Lewis’ 106 known films still have hardly any critical commentary.

    MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is an intransigently strange movie. It resists easy interpretations, and defies critical study. My own essay is one of the worst in my web-book on Lewis.

    SPOILERS AHEAD. MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is not a conventional woman in jeopardy film. For one thing, Julia rescues herself from her captors at the end, without help from men or in fact any other people. (There is a coda in which she later needs assistance from men to set a trap for the villains). This gives it a feminist dimension. The film is thus more like THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, whose hero rescues himself from diabolical Count Zorloff.
    This is not unique in Lewis. Lewis repeated this in the RIFLEMAN episode SUDDEN TERROR, in which the heroine is held hostage by the bad guys. She looks like a lady in distress. But at the end, she rescues herself. She also shouts out a warning, thereby saving giant Chuck Connors from an assassination attempt.

    Earlier, in the B-Western THE RETURN OF WILD BILL (1940), the finale has the heroine rescuing first herself, then the hero. How many Hollywood films have anything like this?
    *
    The RIFLEMAN episode THE STAND-IN repeats the main idea of MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS.
    Only this time, it is hero Chuck Connors who is kidnapped and forced into a new identity. It is very odd to see a film with a heroine remade as one with a hero.

    Lewis’ anti-slavery film POMPEY (1963) gives the theme a political dimension. Hero Pompey (Brock Peters) recounts his kidnapping and forcing into slavery – as being forced into a new identity, just like Julia Ross.

  • “And wish [...] David Cairns would write longer pieces”

    Have I got good news for you! The almost unstoppably prolific D Cairns posts what seems like 1-2 features per day on his WordPress journal, Shadowplay:

    http://dcairns.wordpress.com/

    Wouldn’t mind seeing you over there, Mike.

  • I’m a regular reader of David Cairns’ fine blog. But rarely comment…

    Blake Lucas’ points on YOLANDA are well taken. I share his view that YOLANDA is one un-even and flawed movie.
    But it has most excellent mise-en-scene, and hence is worth watching.

    I’ve only seen ESCAPE IN THE FOG once. And perhaps was having a critical “bad hair day” :)
    Blake is a major Boetticher expert, and knows far more about Boetticher than I do.
    I wish my VCR wasn’t busted when TCM showed ESCAPE IN THE FOG. Wasn’t able to make a tape. Hope it gets shown again.

  • Blake Lucas

    Yes, I hope they show ESCAPE IN THE FOG again too.

    I freely admitted that almost anyone else will say MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is the better of those two Nina Foch B movies, and I mainly took up for ESCAPE IN THE FOG because I felt no one else would. I wish I liked JULIA ROSS better and Mike makes a good point that Julia gets herself out of her situation but somehow that still didn’t make it special for me. Mike, I think all of your detailed study of Lewis is of inestimable value and helps make a case for him as a major figure. Coursodon and Keser’s essays are also excellent and persuasive.

    The three of you have all seen more Lewis than I have, I believe, although I have seen a lot too, including a fair amount of his television work and he is a director I greatly admire, especially GUN CRAZY, THE BIG COMBO, A LAWLESS STREEET and THE HALLIDAY BRAND, and perhaps also some RIFLEMAN episodes. He is almost always visually exciting at the least. Mike I have not studied him in anything like the depth that you have.

    I think those early Boettichers are better than his very unsentimental dismissal to me would indicate, but I can understand why he’d say that. The artist in him seemed to emerge forcefully in BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY which is in a whole different class of film–a thoroughly personal and very beautiful masterpiece. And a change of first name went along with that in the credits of course.

    Jaime, now that you’ve explained I hope my comments on three films are encouraging to you to include them somewhere in your lists, I guess. I admit I’m a little uneasy about an arbitary cutoff point. You can see that whatever its flaws, I wouldn’t want to live without YOLANDA AND THE THIEF.

  • Blake, I’ll explain more tomorrow, but let me just say: worry not. I wouldn’t call it a cut-off, it sure isn’t arbitrary, and I can’t possibly leave out YOLANDA after all the discussion here!

  • I love JH Lewis for movies like Julia Ross, Gun Crazy and Terror in a Texas Town. The most obscure favourite I have is The Invisible Ghost, probably the best poverty row horror movie ever. I will definitely write more on him at some point. Gerald Peary spoke to me about his youthful enthusiasm for Desperate Search, which I’ve yet to find a copy of despite searching desperately.

  • Blake, I probably did a bad job selling my ambitions and that might explain why you thought my project involved cut-offs and an arbitrary mind-set. On the contrary, the whole reason I would ask the participants of Mr. Kehr’s blog is because the group is consisted entirely of (personality traits aside) highly intelligent film aficionados. I’m not interested in posting any inquiries on Rotten Tomatoes or the IMDb discussion board – or Big Hollywood or Hollywood Elsewhere or whatever those places are called, one of which was recently the site of an unfortunate “Sirk takedown.” No thanks.

    Anyway, long story short, I hope to compel people to see films because they are powerful expressions of artistic vision, regardless of whether or not they may or may not carry a slate of narrative, casting, or other production liabilities. Also I was inspired to create my site because I was tired of the “conversation on movies” being limited to two or three choices per year – “finalists,” as it were. I don’t see the movies as a contest, but as a kind of world to wander through.

    I should stop before I start singing.

    @ Cairns – love those Lewises as well, plus THE BIG COMBO. His penultimate theatrical feature, THE HALLIDAY BRAND, has a fascinatingly strange casting of Joseph Cotten as Ward Bond’s (presumably young) son (both men were in their fifties at the time) as well as a lot of expressive camerawork. THE 7TH CAVALRY is not bad either. And I’ve heard LADY WITHOUT A PASSPORT is good.

    I didn’t have time to really dig into his work on “The Rifleman,” but I saw one episode called “Duel of Honor” that was clearly a breed apart from the usual house style of that show, and quite enjoyable for it.

  • Desperate Search and a whole bunch of other Joseph H. Lewis films are on TCM on July 14.

  • jbryant

    Great news about TCM’s Joseph H. Lewis run.

    Another TCM alert: THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE, mentioned here recently, airs this Monday, June 14th, at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

  • Blake Lucas

    Jaime, of course I understand it’s not arbitrary for you and you are giving it a lot of thought. If you query on certain titles for a certain year as you did re 1945 you’ll plainly get a lot of different answers, and it’s clear you welcome this.

    I looked at the lists you have up, and see how they are organized into those groups. I have to say that in the years 1956-1959, there are nine films I personally consider top tier that are not there at all, a few by directors who you do list for something else. The only reason I’m saying this is that while these lists will have value, it just seems reasonable to say they will have the most value for you. Lists are always subjective, no matter how wide one casts the net and how evenhanded one tries to be–that’s inevitable and it’s good that it is that way. And despite the omissions, I hasten to add I’m on the same wavelength as you for most of what’s there, and probably most people here would say the same. But there is just no such thing as a definitive list.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    1945 is a curious year historically for American film – not that every year doesn’t have its distinctive qualities, but 1945 had several ones of significance:

    1) US studios operating at full production despite the war, or, in fact because of it. With little else in the way of diversions (people couldn’t get gas to drive for one thing), attendance at theatres was peaking. This both caused more movies to be made, and more speedily, but also meant it wasn’t that hard to reach an audience.

    2) Because of the war, apart from the UK, films from other countries were not reaching the US for the most part, even if they were being produced at home. Before WW2, different countries at different times were represented in big cities at least, and had in some cases an impact on American filmmakers.

    3) Obviously during these years, there were fewer creative people – whether directors or otherwise – integrated into the system (obviously some who had fled pre-war but took a while to get established – Sirk for one – did gain a foothold; Renoir of course relocated here) – but nothing like the way it had been routine in pre-war years

    4) Film noir and the early stages of its influence in other genres was beginning to become more apparent.

  • Blake, you must share those films! The lists are also organic and flawed, I encourage people to recognize that. I’m actually overjoyed when someone points out what I’ve missed, and confess that my research materials ( given my time constraints) grow more sparse as I approach 1895.

    I have more to say but I’m walking around. Thanks in advance for those films – I just hope they aren’t the box office/Oscar hit parade for that same period. [/jest]

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I encourage people to recognize that. I’m actually overjoyed when someone points out what I’ve missed’

    Jaime, it is useful list for me. I can add some Japanese movies to consider if you permit.

  • I’d love that, Junko. And anything you have to say about the films you name, I’d find invaluable. (As we would all, I’m confident in saying.)

    I’m doing an okay job representing cinemas from countries other than mine. If I gave myself a grade in that regard it’d be a B-minus…maybe. However, I don’t think I’ve mastered ANY country (even the U.S.), and I’ve received some help from critics who are authorities on – among other things – Turkish, Kurdish (Bilge Ebiri) and Filipino (Noel Vera) cinemas. Bilge has been fond of telling me that Turkey produces a ton of dreck and very few great films, even compared to Hollywood, but what’s great is as good as anything else you’ve got. Like Noel, his confidence and knowledge is highly persuasive.

    Turkey: thanks to Bilge’s contributions, look for films by Yılmaz Güney, Ali Özgentürk, Reha Erdem, and of course the now-renowned Nuri Bilge Ceylan, among others
    Philippines: Mike De Leon, Gerardo De Leon, Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Celso Ad. Castillo, Mario O’Hara, etc.

    Countries and continents where I haven’t even scratched the surface: South America, Africa, India, Spain, Portugal…. I could go on and on.

  • This is great news about Lewis night at TCM, and the screenings of DESPERATE SEARCH and CRY OF THE HUNTED. Have never seen either.
    Almost all the Lewis films everybody mentions are favorites. A LAWLESS STREET is a delightful film, like a child’s wind-up toy that moves along like clock work. It’s a symphony of color, camera movement and storytelling, and a work of pure joy.
    INVISIBLE GHOST is an obscure B-movie that has been gathering a reputation since Robert Keser singled it out in Senses of Cinema. It too is wonderfully exuberant in camera movement and story. By the way, it has no ghosts, invisibility or supernatural elements – it’s a crime thriller.
    DUEL OF HONOR from THE RIFLEMAN is my favorite Lewis film.

    Jaime, I wouldn’t fight for inclusion of THE FALCON IN SAN FRANCISCO in your list. Although it’s a good movie. But A LAWLESS STREET is really fine and outstanding and a key Lewis work.

    It also has livestock. Is there any livestock in Nuri Bilge Ceylan? (just a joke :)

  • “But there is just no such thing as a definitive list.”

    I’d open myself up to some well-deserved mockery if I laid claim to “a definitive list.” I hope not to define or exert authority but to compel people to seek out and see the films. Maybe they won’t like them but, with the decisionmaking I’ve been employing – and with y’all’s help – the odds weigh pretty heavily in favor of a lover of movies getting a [i]lot[/i] of good recommendations from it.

    What’s key, I think, is that I’m laying aside my own judgment as regards to the [i]films[/i], but using the judgment of others. Others, in whom I have great confidence.

    But at some point, maybe after a year or two of research, adding pieces of writing to explain why someone should see each film, after I get a chance to marshall the efforts of friends and associates who are “foreign correspondents” from the shores of the avant-garde/experimental/video world, etc., that the project will have some [i]kind[/i] of authority that is not overbearing or burdensome but at the same time carries some charge with it. I’d like people to be amazed at just [i]how much[/i] great cinema has been made.

  • jbryant

    Jaime: I just remembered one of my favorite 1945 films, which I’m guessing may not be on your short list. George Marshall’s MURDER, HE SAYS isn’t available on DVD, never shows up on TV, and only seems to be available via an out-of-print VHS that runs upward of 30 bucks on amazon. But it seems to have a strong rep among those who remember it. I saw it many years ago on TV with my mom, and I thought we were both going to die laughing. Auteurist cred? I dunno, but it sure is funny.

  • Blake Lucas

    Hey, Jaime – Yes, I like what you are doing with those lists and trying to be inclusive with world cinema. It’s good to rely on experts like Noel Vera–when Phillippines cinema does finally make inroads to where people are seeing it, we will all have Noel to thank because he has been a tireless and caring champion.

    I’ll probably send you my titles as you stipulate on the blog–I guess I could do it here, but don’t want to burden this space too much. I’ll try to stick to Top Tier omissions though I’ve loved a lot of films and still do. And no, not many Oscar winners and for that matter, in American cinema it’s often directors who missed Sarris altogether and that’s why they are off your radar maybe, but I won’t claim I’ve never not loved one of those official classics, like the 1960 Best Picture Winner that missed your lists altogether (but I think that has to be your decision).

    I’m actually expecting to get on to a lot of things I haven’t seen and will want to from looking at your lists.

  • @ Blake – looking forward to what you have. You’re right that I left off THE APARTMENT. It could be my own prejudice but I just don’t think it carries much water with our community. If I listed that – and films like it – it’d just be the IMDb 250 all over again.

    @ Jerry (aka YancySkancy) – I have that film on the “Essential Viewing” section for 1945.

    Just want to make that clear: the titles I submitted for review on this blog were the ones where I wasn’t sure if they should be included or not.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jaime, my sense of it is that THE APARTMENT carried quite a bit of water with a proportion of our community. Blake, for one, has often said that he considers it to be Wilder’s best film.

    It is quite possible that I haven’t paid close enough attention to your methodology in putting together this list. Is the collective amount of water a film carries in our community an important criteria?

  • Blake Lucas

    “I won’t claim I’ve never not loved one of those official classics…”

    Just noticed that double negative, folks. Of course, it should have said “I won’t claim I’ve never loved one of those official classics…”

    Yes, THE APARTMENT is my favorite Wilder film–and I do think at least three other Wilders are great too. But whatever methodology Jaime is using, it’s his and it’s up to him to decide whether it’s on the list or not. And that goes for any other film.

    THE APARTMENT–and the half dozen other Best Picture Oscar Winners that I think are great as opposed to so many others I cannot bear–can take care of itself. It’s the same film whether it is on IMDb top 250 or AFI top 100 or Jaime’s list or won an Oscar or not. One thing is sure–it will always be revived much more than the Mirisch Brothers FORT MASSACRE (Joseph M. Newman) from two years earlier. And that really concerns me more.

  • Barry, I don’t have much of a methodology. I look at top ten (or ten-plus) lists from certain people, and try to pay attention to discussion. There’s a lot of instinct involved, and a good measure of trust in my fellow cinephile.

    Originally I had begun by highlighting on the films (great or near-great) that were generally undervalued for some reason or another. This allowed me to exclude everything from THE APARTMENT to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

    A few weeks ago, I felt like it was necessary to set up a category, above and beyond those selections, that would be the filmic equivalent to Sarris’s Pantheon (plus maybe a few Far Side of Paradises thrown in), disregarding the “underrated” qualifier completely. Not wanting to risk copyright infringement, I called this group “Top Tier.”

    Still, I feel weird about including THE APARTMENT. But then again, I felt weird including DR. STRANGELOVE, a Kubrick film that this Kubrick devotee has never come to terms with (as comedy, as art, as satire, as anything), but after some helpful conversations around the time my 1964 list went up, I was persuaded that the following for this film went far beyond the GODFATHER/SHAWSHANK-ists I’d originally and exclusively attributed it too.

    That’s the reason why I pre-emptively set up the alibi, “these lists are flawed, the project is organic and evolving,” long before the project went online. It allows me a backdoor in case I omit something (deliberately or not) and am persuaded later to make a correction.

    Unexamined Essentials – hankering for a name change, but no one has complained except me – has an undeniable auteurist streak. It’s hard, really hard, to separate the auteurist philosophy from its history, its camps, its bloodshed. It feels weird to go back and re-instate STRANGELOVE, but I have one foot in “that camp” anyway (having given several Spielberg films Top Tier admission) so… in for a penny, etc.

  • “It’s the same film whether it is on IMDb top 250 or AFI top 100 or Jaime’s list or won an Oscar or not.”

    Absolutely. Remember what James M. Cain said when asked if he thought the movies had ruined his books…

  • Barry Putterman

    Jaime, it sounds to me as though the basic tension within your decision-making is balancing how much the selections should factor a film’s current critical reputation against how much the selections should reflect what a film merits on an abstract blank slate. THE APARTMENT vs. FORT MASSACRE makes an interesting polar contrast in that regard.

  • Jim Gerow

    Let me add to Jaime and Blake’s praise of Noel Vera’s invaluable work in regard to cinema from the Philippines. In fact there is a New York Filipino Film Festival beginning today, which I only learned about by chance thanks to a link on Noel’s blog. They will be showing some rare classic films by Brocka, Bernal and O’Hara which I’m looking forward to, as well as recent festival favorites Brillante Mendoza, Raya Martin and Auraeus Solito.

    http://sari-saringsinengpinoy.blogspot.com/2010/05/2010-new-york-filipino-film-festival.html

  • @ Barry, that sounds about right, although I want to say that that tension you describe is what I’m trying to *escape* from but at the same time I have to recognize that ultimately I cannot. I would like to avoid “following the rules” in terms of being “current.” Being dated is a severely underrated way of life! :) And the blank slate option is, of course, impossible.

    I’m fumbling around the idea of building a canon that is not Old Testament brutal in its authority, yet is not, all the same, afraid of being prescriptive. We should be prescriptive. We should say: see Sirk films, they’re better than David Lean films. See Nick Ray films, they’re better than Fred Zinnemann films. Maybe some folks will disagree, but taking the wider view, the credibility rating for those folks tends to taper off considerably.

    @ Jim – I plan to see THREE YEARS WITHOUT GOD (TATLONG TAONG WALANG DIYOS) on Saturday. Those who’ve spoken with Noel for more than a few minutes know that he considers this the greatest Filipino film ever made – and, by definition, one of the greatest films, period.

    @ Blake – Just got your e-mail and scanned it briefly. It sounds like a lot of great stuff, I look forward to sitting down with it later. Thanks so much for sending that. I only wish I had a hundred such e-mails from a hundred other cinephiles as well! It would help eliminate the “hunt & peck” nature of building Unexamined Essentials as I head into the early ’40s.

    RE World Cinema – a side effect of the project is hopefully to destroy that term, and replace it with Cinema.

  • Alex

    I used to love “The Apartment,” but, looking back, the film’s endless apartment scenes seem rather schmaltzy and repetitive and it’s only the film’s early office scenes, where every virtue of Wilder Diamond, the casts, Trauner’s masterful office (t tival the office sets in “The Crowd” and Welles’ ‘The Trial”) and LaShelle NYC-savvy shooting of that office world and some surrounding street life that stand up. They carry the film through a lot of doldrums, giving it the propulsion to get to the final, effective strains of Adolph Deutsch sappilly great theme.

    I think Wilder had a great feel for New York and L.A, and that most of this his best films are the ones that take their background worlds in these towns seriously — The Lost Weekend and the Apartment (just for its set up) and Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. His more abstracted farces are pretty shallow, though some like Kiss Me, Stupid find depths. Sure “Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” impresses, but I think it’s Wilder et al.’s construction of that film’s London world carries the rest.

    One good thing about old Oscar winners is that most everyone’s seen them.

    On “bad” thing about uncovering new auteur’s is that it’s not a game everyone can rise to.

  • “On “bad” thing about uncovering new auteur’s is that it’s not a game everyone can rise to.”

    It’s a strange sensation – thrilling and lonely.

  • Every auteurist I’ve ever “met” through the net, myself included, has a sizable list of neglected directors they want to add to the auteur canon. They like auteurism, they want to canon to expand and get bigger.
    Blake mentioned Joseph M. Newman. He wrote an article on one of his films for Defining Moments in Cinema. I like Newman too. It’s an example.

  • J.R. Jones

    FYI if you live in the Chicago area: THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE screens Sat 6/19, 8 PM, at Bank of America Cinema, 4901 W. Irving Park; 312-904-9442. Don’t know if it’s 16mm or 35mm; I’m guessing the former. This is a great little Saturday-night repertory series, ongoing since the late 60s, that screens mostly classics unavailable on video.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Something you might want to check J.R.: I first saw The Enchanted Cottage in 16mm at Facets probably back in the late 1970s; at that point at least it was an edited/reissue print (about 75 mins as I recall). Obviously, a lot has happened since, including regular later AMC showings and then more recently TCM of the complete film, but there might be a chance that the 16mm prints are still truncated.

  • J.R. Jones

    Thanks for the tip; much appreciated.

  • The Warner Archives DVD of “The Enchanted Cottage” appears to have originated from 16mm. It’s among lesser quality titles released so far from them. I don’t remember any of the TV prints being incomplete, notwithstanding individual stations editing them for time, and am not aware of any cut 16mm negatives being in circulation.

  • I’m glad to hear more about THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE. I didn’t know anything about it before, but it sounds like I should make my acquaintance.

    Meanwhile, I hope my 1955 list meets with general approval. It went up just a moment ago:

    http://www.unexaminedessentials.com/2010/06/1955.html

  • jbryant

    Jaime, THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY was a 1956 release.

    1955 was quite a year for Phil Karlson–besides THE PHENIX CITY STORY, which you list, he had TIGHT SPOT and 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE, both of which I like a lot, and HELL’S ISLAND, which I haven’t seen.

  • Anything But Silent: Classics with Live Organ Accompaniment by MoMA’s Ben Model
    Tuesday, November 15, 2011 @ 7:30pm

    UPSTREAM
    The lost John Ford silent comedy @ Huntington’s CINEMA ARTS CENTRE

    This brilliant early silent film by John Ford (Stagecoach, The Searchers, Rio Grande) is one of 75 films recently discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive and restored. It will screen in the popular Anything But Silent Series, with live musical accompaniment by MoMA’s Ben Model on the Miditzer Theater Organ on Tuesday, November 15 @ 7:30pm at Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave, Huntington 631-423-7611 http://www.CinemaArtsCentre.org $9 Members / $13 Public / Tickets can be purchased online, http://www.CinemaArtsCentre.org at the box office during theatre hours or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006

    Here’s something you don’t see everyday: a new film by John Ford. Thought lost for more than 80 years, this delightful comedy was recently rediscovered in the New Zealand Film Archive and restored by the Academy Film Archive and 20th Century-Fox. The central focus of the film is a love triangle between a knife thrower (Grant Withers); his “target girl,” Gertie (Nancy Nash); and the egotistical Brashingham (Earle Foxe), a hammy Shakespearean actor. With the action confined mainly to a low-rent boarding house for scuffling vaudevillians, Ford’s skill at effectively defining and depicting characters finds space to flourish, featuring among others a pair of dancers, a squabbling sister-act, a long-suffering landlady and an aging actor long past his prime. Filmed at a transition point in Ford’s career, Upstream is the last completely silent film Ford made and was filmed at the beginning of what would become a 13-year break from the Western genre that had defined many of his earlier works. USA, 1927, 61 mins., 35mm print courtesy of 20th Century Fox Archive
    For over two decades Ben Model has served as resident silent film accompanist for The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and for over five years at Cinema Arts Centre. Ben composes and improvises all his own scores and performs in a style that both evokes the silent era and reflects a contemporary (and younger) audience’s appreciation of music and film scoring.