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John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man

John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man

Released 15 June 2012
Director Sé Merry Doyle
Narrator Gabriel Byrne

Maureen O'Hara, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Charles FitzSimons
Writer(s) Stephen Walsh
Producer(s) Martin Durac, Vanessa Gildea
Origin Ireland
Running Time 95 minutes
Genre Documentary
Rating PG

The Quiet director.

Released to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the film that literally every Irish person has seen, Sé Merry Doyle’s documentary examines the life of director John Ford through what many consider his most personal film. After all it took Ford more than twenty years to get the story, the finance, the studio support and the rest of the elements of the film in place. And where was it filmed but Connemara, where Ford’s parents had been born.

John Ford: Dreaming the Quiet Man examines how Ford was defined by his Irish roots, and how he came closest to portraying his dream vision of an ideal Ireland in his film The Quiet Man. Narrated by Gabriel Byrne, the story moves from Ford’s poor upbringing as the son of Irish immigrants, his journey to Hollywood, his development and revitalisation of the western genre, and finally to the long and arduous journey to make his “dream” film.

If one thing is missing from this documentary, it is Ford himself. The only time we see the elusive director in front of a camera he is being interviewed against the backdrop of Monument Valley. He sits there sullen and unresponsive as the interviewer asks him question after question, eventually uttering only a single word, directly at the camera: "Cut."

In place of any source material where Ford truly explains his motivation, the documentary provides a wealth of interpreters. Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jim Sheridan, Maureen O’Hara, Aissa Wayne (John’s daughter), a host of academics, Ford’s Irish relations the O’Feeneys and the people of Cong old enough to remember the film that transformed their town all give their interpretation of Ford’s oeuvre, and The Quiet Man in particular.

Much of the documentary dwells on the filming process of The Quiet Man in rural county Mayo. Unfortunately this is a story that much of the audience will already be familiar with. One of the final questions put to Maureen O’Hara is: “what did you whisper to the Duke at the end of the movie” and of course she smiles mysteriously and declines to answer. Just like that, John Ford: Dreaming the Quiet Man isn’t going to give you any groundbreaking new information, and a lot of what is in here you’ll have heard already in one place or another – possibly from a knowledgeable elder the last time you sat around and watched The Quiet Man as a family.

What really shines through John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man is the honesty. Unlike many posthumous documentaries, the film makes no attempt to hide negative characteristics. Nobody denies how mean and abusive he could be on set, nobody more so than O’Hara. But even she admits that, despite this, she, "would rather work with the old bastard than not." It is this honesty which really sets the film apart, and what makes it such a strong portrait of a complicated but brilliant figure.

- Bernard O’Rourke