Alexandre O. Philippe

Scen.: Alexandre O. Philippe. F.: Robert Muratore. M.: Dave Krahling. Mus.: Jon Hegel. Prod.: Kerry Deignan Roy con Robert Muratore, Cathy Trekloff per Exhibit A Pictures. DCP. D.: 76’. Bn e Col.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

“This is The West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. And this has been the fate of Monument Valley, the awesome desert plateau in Colorado dominated by steep columns of red sandstone Buttes which, beginning with Stagecoach, was immortalised by John Ford in seven of his classic Westerns. Through a cornucopia of film clips and alternating voices of unseen academics and specialists who are only identified in a final roll call, Alexandre O. Philippe (who previously documented the making of Alien and The Exorcist as well as Psycho’s shower scene in 78/52) vividly illustrates in The Taking how this sparse location has come to symbolise all that is both inspiring and terrible about the West. Ford himself, as seen in his infamously gruff interview with Peter Bogdanovich, offered little insight as to his choice. But the mythical landscape he created – the barren valley even stood in for Texas in The Searchers – disguised a deeper history of the brutal displacement of the indigenous Navajo tribe. Ford’s depiction in his films of threatening hordes of Native Americans revealed little or nothing of this specific history, preferring to reinforce that of the White Man’s struggles in founding a nation. And celebrating visual potency over tragic truths, subsequent generations of film-makers have regularly been inspired to pay homage to Ford’s use of the location, from the loving gesture of Sergio Leone’s sweeping camera in Once Upon A Time in the West to its exploitation in crass car commercials. In tackling the mythological aspects of the valley in a wider political context, some of Philippe’s commentators over-reach themselves, but overall the forensic detail and visual flair of this documentary make it a compelling examination of an indelible image in cinema.

 David Thompson

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