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All trails lead to 'The Searchers'

Ethan Edwards, John Wayne and the ghost of Harry Carey.

I had a favorite lit professor in college, Larry Frank, who said that all of literature could be seen through the looking glass of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." He made a persuasive case, from Shakespeare to Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. In a beautiful piece about John Ford's "The Searchers" in the Sunday New York Times, A.O. Scott makes similar connections to Ford's masterpiece, and particularly the opening and closing shots through the doorway looking out into Monument Valley (where John Wayne's Ethan Edwards is definitely one of the monuments, solid as a weather-chiseled rock formation but destined to wander forever between the winds -- perhaps because he's too large, too wild, and too peripatetic to be contained within the walls of civilization and family): Ernest Hemingway once said that all of American literature could be traced back to one book, Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," and something similar might be said of American cinema and "The Searchers." It has become one of those movies that you see, in part, through the movies that came after it and that show traces of its influence. "Apocalypse Now," "Punch-Drunk Love," "Kill Bill," "Brokeback Mountain": those were the titles that flickered in my consciousness in the final seconds of a recent screening in Cannes of Ford's masterwork, all because, at crucial moments, they seem to pay homage to that single, signature shot.Scott is a "word guy" -- that is, he came to reviewing films from reviewing books. But he gets movies, unlike the abominable Clive James (proponent of the "movies are just the story" theory in last week's NYT Review of Books).

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