Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Disappearance of Song

Anthony Esolen explores the use of song in John Ford films, saying:
Men and women, in Ford's movies, are titanic mysteries, kings and queens walking the earth in ordinary garb; endlessly fascinating to one another and so powerful in their masculinity and femininity that talk of equality misses the beauty and the danger altogether. How can you talk of equality when you encounter a whirlwind and an earthquake? The marriage of such creatures is always an unadulterated good, as it portends both creation and procreation: a farm, a village, a culture, and children.
Notable, therefore, in Ford's movies is song. I don't mean simply music; I don't know whether any of the scores he commissioned can come up, say, to the haunting music of Miklos Rosza in William Wyler's Ben-Hur. But while nobody does much singing in that biblical epic, in the work of Ford -- which, as I've suggested, is irrepressibly biblical and epic no matter where it is set -- people are forever singing. How Green Was My Valley is a tapestry of Welsh hymns and folk tunes: "Cwm Rhondda," "Men of Harlech," and "Bryn Calafria" are the three I happen to know, though there are many others.
Why are the people singing? Because they have something to sing about. They sing their union as a people. They sing their faith. They sing the beauty of man and woman, as they gather to celebrate (with good strong drink) the wedding night approaching. They sing for the birth of children.