Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sergeant Rutledge, John Ford, 1960

One detail in the train scene early in the film: While getting to know each other, Constance Towers's Mary and Jeffrey Hunter's Tom are standing in the middle of one of the compartments of this rather un-trainlike looking train. They are facing each other while being aligned perpendicular towards the direction and movement of the machine. When the train suddenly breaks they should, according to the laws of physics, stumble parallel to the movement of the train, and also parallel to each other. However, they stumble towards each other instead, resulting in Mary falling into Tom's arms.

On the one hand this is a precise definition of movie magic: Cinema has the power to alter ficticious force, to refract it by 90 degrees (these 90 degrees might also be thought of as the romantic bias of cinema). On the other hand, the very strangeness and exposed antinaturalism of the scene fits this particular film perfectly. In Sergeant Rutledge, the chains of cause and effect aren't exactly broken, but they work in peculiar, almost absurd ways. The extremely beautiful, and despite its strangeness extremely moving film is first and foremost concerned with celebrating and mythologizing the „buffalo soldier“, with inscribing the faces of black americans on the iconography and texture of the hollywood western / of Ford's cinema... but it does this through a convoluted, meandering plot, structured around an investigation which, for most of the film's running time, seems to move not towards, but away from the crime it is supposed to solve. Only to be thrust back to it in the end by way of a rather bizarre deus ex machina development, resulting in an almost ecstatically overacted confession scene.

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