Alexandre O. Phillippe continues his odyssey through random corners of the film world with a work which throws an awful lot of content at the wall in less than 80 minutes but actually.. a lot sticks.
On the face of it, a look at how Monument Valley has been used in Film and associated media over the years, it starts to reveal itself as both a celebration of the expertise and precise nature of the film director’s vision but also a treatise on how the power of the image can corrupt our thinking regarding the things it shows. At first speaking about how the massive rock structures of the iconic location speak to the American dream of taking up a space and looking ever upwards and ending on a note of fear for the future, with an extended tribute to the work of John Ford and a reverence of An American Tail 2: Feivel Goes West which honestly may make you want to dust off your 30 year old VHS of that lovely bit of animation, the film seems to upend expectations at several points while always returning to the evocative landscape of Monument Valley. The film is both educational and discombobulating, an odd effect which lingers in the mind.
Adding to this is a bizarre but on reflection, joined-up decision to have a variety of talking heads but give zero context until the closing credits as to who these people are. With their often conflicting opinions and interpretations of the many famous films spoken of in its runtime, not knowing who they are gives an egalitarian, balanced view to their contributions with any unconcious bias as to whether you value what they are saying removed, unless you manage to recognise their voice (which in one case thanks to some classic Western DVD commentaries I managed to).
This approach does also dampen down the effect of some of what is being talked about. The negative approaches John Ford takes to Native Americans is powerfully explained in moments but is followed up by celebrations of Ford’s cinematic technique. No one in the film speaks to trying to defend Ford’s storytelling in these aspects but while it is fairly even-handed, the film does seem a little more in love with Ford’s technique than damning about his narrative shortcomings. The points made about geographical misplacement and how it adds to a sense of circular journeys among many others are fascinating though and for Film or Media Studies students, it feels like pretty much essential viewing.
Ending on a note most unexpected after the opening hour, The Taking is a thought provoking, engaging bit of work which could have perhaps done with some fine-tuning to dampen down the tonal whiplash felt at times. It is very much worth your time.