How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford

How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford

How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford

How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford

Synopsis

James Stewart once said, "For John Ford, there was no need for dialogue. The music said it all." This lively, accessible study is the first comprehensive analysis of Ford's use of music in his iconic westerns. Encompassing a variety of critical approaches and incorporating original archival research, Kathryn Kalinak explores the director's oft-noted predilection for American folk song, hymnody, and period music. What she finds is that Ford used music as more than a stylistic gesture. In fascinating discussions of Ford's westerns--from silent-era features such as Straight Shooting and The Iron Horse to classics of the sound era such as My Darling Clementine and The Searchers --Kalinak describes how the director exploited music, and especially song, in defining the geographical and ideological space of the American West.

Excerpt

Huw Morgan in John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941) describes his Welsh village as ringing “with the sound of many voices, for singing is in my people as sight is in the eye.” Something very similar might be written about all the films of John Ford (1894–1973). Ford is unique among directors in the Hollywood studio system in his insistence on song, both vocal and instrumental, diegetic (i.e., heard by the characters and often with a source visible on screen) and nondiegetic (i.e., heard by the audience but inaudible to the film’s characters), in war films, social and political dramas, historical epics, comedies, and literary adaptations, genres not accustomed to accommodating such performances.

This book focuses on music in the western, a genre that Ford both defined and dominated. In fact, the preponderance of song is one of the most distinctive features of Ford’s imprint on the genre. Perhaps this is why so many memories of Ford westerns hinge on their production numbers: “The Girl I Left Behind Me” and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” sung by soldiers in Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949); “All Praise to St. Patrick,” played for the Grande Marche, and “Garry Owen,” played by the regimental band in Fort Apache; “The Streets of Laredo,” sung as a lullaby in 3 Godfathers (1948); “Drill, Ye Terriers, Drill,” sung by the railroad workers in The Iron Horse (1924), and “Sweet Genevieve,” sung by the protagonists of Hellbent (1918) (two of Ford’s “silent” westerns); “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” heard on a music box in Rio Grande (1950); “Shall We Gather at . . .

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