Friday, July 07, 2006

Shorter Stephen Metcalf: I could tell you why I don't like The Searchers but I'd rather offer bizarre explanations for why other people like it.

When I clicked on the article, I was hoping for a good contrarian take on why The Searchers isn't a good movie; I love it, but I'm aware of its flaws and I wouldn't mind seeing an article arguing that the flaws outweigh the good points. Metcalf doesn't do that. He devotes all of one paragraph to explaining what's wrong with the movie, and he does a pretty bad job of it: apparently it is "off-putting to the contemporary sensibility" (sez who?), and Hank Worden's character is annoying (he is annoying, but the movie's fans have been saying that for years).

The rest of the article is spent offering psycho-analytic reasons for why so many people love The Searchers. And the problem with that kind of analysis is that it overlooks the most obvious explanation: because they think it's a great movie. So, to sum up: Stephen Metcalf saw an old movie, he didn't like it, and he devoted his column to explaining that everybody who likes the movie doesn't really think it's good, they're just looking for something they can interpret to death. Yeesh.


Anonymous said...

You know, sometimes I don't agree with you. But in this instance, I concur with your assessment of Metcalf's article. What a pompous, pretentious article.

Anonymous said...

What's even worse is that the reasons he seems to be condemning the movie for don't even really make sense. For instance, he puts a LOT of criticism into the so-called embarrasing "man's man" iconic John Wayne imagery here, but completely ignores that this was Ford's starkest portrayal of that figure ever - especially the marked racism which Metcalf flippantly misinterprets or just disregards as "kinky allure". No, when Ethan intentionally buries the dead Indian in a way because he knows their people are haunted by it, that's creepy, not amusing.

daringadventurer1 said...

I agree with you about him not making the case against The Searchers at all well (it seems to come down to "I'm allergic to John Wayne" which is a legitimate and common POV, usually expressed as here in terms that have little to do with the film at hand), but I think you give him too little credit on two points:

-One, he *uniformly* dislikes the acting. Nearly all of it, not just poor ol' Hank Worden.

-Two, although he is contemptuous of the pleasure others get from Searchers, I think he's drawing a valid distinction between the *immediate* pleasure of watching a well-made movie, and the pleasures of analyzing a movie that means more than it says. I haven't seen The Searchers recently, and didn't get much out of it the one time I did, but the man who wrote something to the effect of, "There are five or six other possible movies hiding in the penumbra of [The Searchers]", really shouldn't, imo, be casting stones at the proposition that the pleasures of *analysis* are a large part, maybe the larger part, of what the film has to offer.