5. John Ford (1894 – 1973)
John Ford was a man of few words. Honest and straightforward in personality and technique, he was an all-American director who influenced a diverse slate of moviemakers from Martin Scorsese to Satyajit Ray. With film school not an option until much later in the 20th century, John Ford’s films became moviemaking class for budding directors the world over.
Ford was one of the most prolific directors in the history of cinema, and one of the few to be just as successful in the silent era as he was in the talkies. Though many consider his crowning achievement to be The Searchers, nearly his entire filmography attests to his genius. Primarily remembered for his westerns, Ford tried—and succeeded—at various genres. Stagecoach and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are considered great westerns, but his romance The Quiet Man, his adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath andhis documentaries The Battle of Midway and December 7th were also widely revered.
Technically, Ford was the master of the long shot. His long, sweeping epics helped establish setting as a primary character. Says director Allison Anders: “For me the impact of seeing John Ford’s westerns was the use of space and American landscape. And presenting the land itself as powerful as it is on the screen, he was forced to also reveal several things: American mythology, the existential condition of the individual and, eventually and inevitably, the relationship of the Native American to the land we call America. That impact—his use of space and landscape and how that alone spoke volumes for the core of the American experience and myth—continues to be felt in every filmmaker who attempts to create a film about non-urban America.”