“Someone has suggested that Ford’s most Irish film is The Grapes of Wrath,” wrote Thomas Kenneally: it “resonates against memories of the Irish coffin ships headed across the Atlantic. . . . In this film, Ford’s thematic material, Ireland and the West, touch each other.”
Joseph McBride, author of two books on John Ford (including the 2001 biography Searching for John Ford), and professor of Cinema at San Francisco State, explores the blend of comedy and tragedy in the films of the great Irish American director. McBride will defend Ford’s often-criticized use of comedy and show how his intermingling of tragicomic elements is one of his artistic strengths and how it reflects his Irish heritage.
Ford’s 1940 film version of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (written in Los Gatos), about dispossessed Okies in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, was influenced by his ethnic memories of the Irish Famine: “The whole thing appealed to me — being about simple people — and the story was similar to the Famine in Ireland, when they threw the people off the land and left them wandering the roads to starve.” That catastrophe caused his own parents to emigrate to the United States. This classic film is a somber work suffused with Ford’s characteristically passionate anger toward poverty and injustice.
His 1952 film ‘The Quiet Man’ — set in Ireland and starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne — is based on a short story by Maurice Walsh of Listowel, Co. Kerry. This joyous romance shows Ford in a lighter mood. But McBride will show how that beloved film also draws from Ford’s subversive, anarchic side. Clips from these and other Ford works as well as from his tongue-in-cheek interviews will reveal surprising facets of his enigmatic personality. McBride’s presentation will offer a fresh look at the man often considered America’s greatest filmmaker.
The event will be introduced and moderated by Ford aficionado Tom McEnery, former San Jose mayor and owner of the Irish Innovation Center and Silicon Valley Global.