Monday, April 24, 2023

Recommendations from Reel Adventures

For each Reel Adventures at R.W. Norton Art Gallery in addition to the highlighted movie I’m providing a few other recommendations. Here are the first three sets of recommendations from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Rear Window and Chinatown.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Trivia from 3rd Reel Adventures

Here's the trivia we asked at our 3rd Reel Adventures:

1. Who was the man who shot liberty valance?
2. What does Valance repeatedly call Stoddard throughout the film?
3. What is the name of the town where the majority of the film takes place?
4. What American icon is framed behind Pompey in the classroom?
5. What can Hallie not do when Stoddard first meets her?

6. What does Ranse tell the undertaker to put on Tom?
7. What does Valance say to Stoddard as he whips him?
8. How does Tom light his cigarette in the kitchen of the restaurant?
9. What is on the board in the kitchen?
10. What is Peabody’s usual dessert?

11. What is the quote on the blackboard behind Stoddard in the classroom?
12. What is the name of the stagecoach Ranse takes when he originally arrives to town?
13. How does Stoddard get the Marshall to remove his hat in the classroom?
14. What kind of style did John Ford have?
15. What does the doctor ask for when he’s summoned to take care of Liberty?

16. What is the name of the type of shot Ford primarily uses to film the first gunfight between Stoddard and Valance?
17. What does Ford use visually to facilitate a smooth dissolve into the second flashback?
18. One of Valance’s two henchmen would go on to star in a couple of films directed by the most famous, non-American director of westerns. Name the two films.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

3rd Reel Adventures Talk

It was such a great night last night for our 3rd Reel Adventures at R.W. Norton Art Gallery! Keep an eye out for our next one in late July. Movie announcement and date coming soon.

Here was my talk from last night:

I want to welcome you all. I know most everyone but for those of you I don’t know, my name is Jeffrey Goodman. And even though I’ve directed a number of films, I am here first and foremost as a cinephile. Or someone who has arguably spent more time than I should watching and thinking about film.

I really appreciate all of you being here and I greatly appreciate Lewis and Ruth Norton and Emily Feazel who have worked tirelessly to make this idea of a film club happen.

I have about fifteen minutes worth of words I’d like to share on tonight’s film. But before I get started, I’m curious how many of you had never seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance prior to the announcement of tonight’s event?

Wow, that’s great. Okay here we go.

I have a thing for first works of art and final works of art. But this is neither.

The first work of an artist usually has a sense of urgency to get an early lifetime worth of ideas out on the table. Meanwhile, the final works of artists generally have a reflective aura to them, a certain looking back and wondering if this is the work that will be the final statement.

John Ford has 226 director and/or producer credits between 1917 and 1970. He directed 54 westerns and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the fourth to last film he directed in his epic career.

So what is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and how do you do it justice, as well as John Ford’s storied career, in fifteen minutes? I think the best way to tackle it is to use as a jumping off point the two most famous lines in all of John Ford’s work:

"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

I like to think of Ford approaching Valance as possibly his final film, his last chance to look back at his life and career and communicate things still unsaid or misunderstood. I see it as Ford wanting to set the record straight. A confessional film of sorts where Ford is reckoning not only with the mythology and genre he helped popularize, the western, but also with the medium he used for creating it, film.

Let me explain what I mean.

The western, more than any other film genre – more than the musical, the comedy, the thriller, the crime film, the horror film, the science fiction film – is engaged in telling the history of our country. Yet, the history depicted in westerns, although rooted in fact, is legend and mythology. It is history romanticized and it is history idealized.

Westerns were elaborate stories our young country told to make itself look comparable to other more established countries who had centuries of rich and exciting history. And westerns were a way for our young country to establish its identity by creating a unique framework of heroes, ideals, and values for its people to look up to and rally around.

John Ford was the most famous director of westerns and as such, he was responsible as much as anyone for popularizing the western mythology. But what I am suggesting is that at the end of his career, as he looks back on more than forty years of working in the western genre, he sees an opportunity. With Valance, Ford sees a chance to expose the western mythology he has been perpetuating for what it is, myth and not fact.

By titling the film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and then spending the entirety of the film building up to the point where he can show us who really killed Liberty Valance, Ford creates a film that builds a myth that it then tears down. In doing so, you could say that what interests Ford in making Valance is the opportunity to confess, just like Ransom Stoddard, to building a career predicated on something other than the facts.

And Ford’s confession does not stop there. What makes Valance so fascinating, so layered, is the fact that Ford seems not only to want to reconcile with the western genre but with the medium of film as well. Just like he lifts the veil on the less plausible aspects of the western history he has been giving us, he also comes clean about the medium of film, showing us that it too is a fabrication. Ford achieves this particularly in the way he discredits the shot-reverse shot.

For the majority of his career, John Ford’s filmmaking style can best be described as belonging to a group of classical filmmakers who sought to have an invisible style. With invisible stylists, the story is given priority over the storyteller and the goal is to preserve whenever possible the illusion that the story happening within a movie is occurring rather than invented by a group of filmmakers.

There are certain elements of film style that are common characteristics of invisible filmmaking. For instance, to call as little attention as possible to the camera and editing apparatus, invisible filmmakers generally move the camera only when the actors onscreen move and rely heavily on the shot-reverse shot sequence.

The shot-reverse shot is a way to film a scene of dialogue where the filmmaker cuts to closely follow the action in the scene. It is one of the key tools the invisible filmmakers use to help keep the viewer immersed in the illusion of a movie. In a second, I want to look at the most famous sequence from Valance and how Ford uses the shot-reverse shot sequence as his approach for presenting the scene.

SCENE – 24 shot-reverse shot sequence

The shot-reverse shot sequence is so common that viewers typically don’t even notice it. It is an “invisible” way of covering dialogue sequences that services the story without getting in the way. One inherent characteristic of the shot-reverse shot sequence is the trust between filmmaker and audience that nothing is being concealed or withheld. Or, in other words, that nothing narratively important exists in the larger space from which the shot-reverse shot is extracted.

In the scene we just saw, Ford uses almost only shot-reverse shots and constructs the scene with a total of 24 shots that reduce the viewer’s area of concern to the thin strip of space between Stoddard and Valance. But when Ford revisits this titular moment at the end of the film, he does it by exposing one of cinema’s most fundamental patterns, the shot-reverse shot, as founded on a lie and not to be trusted - Ford shows that narratively crucial information can in fact lie outside the shot-reverse shot space. In this case, John Wayne’s actions and his killing of Liberty Valance.


I would like to add that I think it is no coincidence Ford chooses to frame the story in Valance using a flashback that perfectly mirrors the flashback he himself is taking throughout the film on his life and career.

I would also like to mention that Ford was a lifelong student of western mythology and studied the masters of the genre whether it was those in written form like James Fenimore Cooper and Zane Grey or the great painters of the western genre like Remington, Rusell and Schreyvogel.

I think I would be remiss if I did not mention this since we are at Norton’s where they have such an extensive collection of the western painters. I came and walked around recently and found this painting by Remington which looks eerily close to numerous frames of John Ford.


Many people say Ford’s greatest talent was the way he arranged groups of people in a frame and his painterly instincts. It is clear from studying Ford and reading about his life and work that he picked up much of his painterly talent through his deep reverence for those who came before him.

As mentioned earlier, I have a thing for final films and I believe Valance is the film in Ford’s career where he is looking back at all he has done and trying to be honest with us about it. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance may not be Ford’s final film. But in the way it looks back at his long career and reflects on all he has done, it acts as a final film. And the manner in which Valance self-criticizes a lifetime of work to me gives it both great merit and makes it endlessly interesting to discuss.

Thank you.