Film Review: John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man – Film Ireland – June 11 2012

DIR: Se Merry Doyle WRI: Stephen Walsh PRO: Martina Durac, Vanessa Gildea DOP: Patrick Jordan ED: Nicky Dunne Cast: Maureen O’Hara, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jim Sheridan, Gabriel Byrne

At the time of writing, the spectre of Euro 2012 has really begun to grip the nation as the Republic of Ireland take part in their first major tournament in all of ten years. However, though the excitement in the exploits of Giovanni Trapattoni’s men has spread across the country, there will still be a certain section of Irish society who will only have a passing interest in how the Boys In Green fare in Poland and Ukraine.

With this in mind, there is always room for an alternative, and that is a role that the John Ford Symposium filled with some relish during its four-day run in the capital recently, starting on 7 June.

Amongst the events that took place during this time included a screening of Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven (Eastwood was the recipient of the John Ford Award last year), an outdoor screening of The Searchers, a real stand-out from Ford’s back catalogue, and public interviews with Peter Bogdanovich and Stephen Frears.

Another key fixture in the Symposium’s calendar of events, however, was the premiere of Se Merry Doyle’s insightful documentary, John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man, which takes an in-depth look at the Irish-American helmer’s time making his love letter to The Emerald Isle back in 1952.

In the long history of the Irish film industry, few films have made as inedible a mark as the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara fable, which sees Wayne’s Sean Thornton returning to his birthplace in the West of Ireland following an ill-fated encounter in America.

This is something that Doyle seeks to examine in his documentary, and he has secured a real coup by getting O’Hara to speak candidly about her role in the film for the very first time.

Though she is now in her early 90s, O’Hara seems as sprightly as ever, as she recalls vividly her experience of portraying the now iconic Mary-Kate Danaher. We also get interviews with the aforementioned Bogdanovich (who had previously made the documentary, Directed By John Ford, in 1971), Martin Scorsese, acclaimed Irish director Jim Sheridan, and a variety of residents from Cong in County Mayo, where a large portion of the film was shot, who all give their take on what has helped the film to stand the test of time.

Amongst the elements that have captivated the interviewees, Scorsese in particular, down through the decades is the mythical feel of the film, which is brought into sharp focus during Thornton’s arrival by train to the fictional Inisfree, and its depiction of Irish traditional life, which was largely alien to watching US audiences.

There is also quite a lot made of the fact that Ford had such a hard time convincing the major studios in Hollywood that The Quiet Man was a worthwhile project to invest in, with many of them feeling that it wouldn’t be a profitable project for them to pursue.

Profitable it was though, and Ford would go on to win the Best Director Oscar at the 1953 Academy Awards (for a record fourth time), with Winton C. Hoch and Archie Stout’s green-tinted Cinematography also being recognised.

However, as fascinating as it is to hear the ins and outs of the making of the film, this documentary also offers a greater understanding of what Ford was like as a director, and as a man. Footage from Bogdanovich’s documentary where he attempts to interview Ford, and Bogdanovich’s own recollection of shooting the film, shows us how difficult the man born John Martin Feeney could be, and O’Hara also reveals the problems she had working with Ford on The Quiet Man.

What also comes through, however, is how brilliant a filmmaker he was, and O’Hara herself has no hesitation in saying that Ford was the best director that she worked with. Ford himself often said that he didn’t have any great interest in films, and that he only ever saw it as a job, but it is clear that The Quiet Man was a film that was very close to his heart.

Given the legacy of The Quiet Man, Doyle’s documentary will undoubtedly have a life outside of the cinema, but for those who have been taken in by the recent Symposium, and are fans of Ford’s 60-year-old classic, it is well worth venturing to your local theatre to catch John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man while it is showing.

Daire Walsh

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