Rocky Coast, Great Plain

Not until recently did I learn – entirely by happenstance – that a favorite, widely acclaimed movie director, John Ford, was born just outside of Portland, Maine.

It’s not, I don’t suppose, common knowledge. Nor ought one be expected to have such information at one’s fingertips.

I doubt any Regent exam or SAT tests for such trivia.

But there is an interesting contrast of physical locations.

Maine is well known for its long, jagged and rocky coastline. Painters have made careers painting it. Over and over again. So much so that one is tempted to shout. “Enough with the rocks!”

Ford is well known for, among other things, his Westerns, frequently starring John Wayne and with a stable of other character actors.

The Western saga (tale, or mythology) is uniquely American. Especially the geographic and landscape features that populate the Western and are integral to understanding the man-and-his-environment theme featured in Westerns.

Other things for which Ford is known include how he shot his movies. Ford favored in-camera editing with few retakes so his pictures would be released exactly the way he intended them to be seen, and without the interference of the front office Hollywood studio manufacturing the movie.

Ford also favored on-location shooting, well before this was fashionable, and long shots.

His Westerns, for instance, often involve long, wide shots of Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah state line. There, in the severe environment, his filmic characters were visually contextualized, unambiguously telegraphing to movie viewers just how insignificant the humans were in comparison to nature.

Ford’s camera would linger on a long, broad stretch of flat desert plains and, either off in the background or dominating the frame, there would be a tall butte rising up to 1,000 feet over the desert floor.

At the convergence of four streets in downtown Portland is a large bronze statue of the Academy Award winning director, pipe in hand and seated in a chair above a cluster of rocks.

About himself Ford said: “I make Westerns.”

“Yep,” any Westerner worth his spurs would respond. And for Ford, that encompassed most of America.

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