Several years ago film historian Ron Haver raised a point about the Skull Island wall in the original King Kong (’33) that was so fundamental that it had been ignored for decades. Why, Haver asked, did the natives build a huge gate in the wall that was big enough to allow 30-foot tall apes and dinosaurs to walk through?
I have a similar-type question about John Ford‘s relentless use of Monument Valley as a backdrop in his westerns, particularly his use of it in The Searchers. Why are people there in the first place? There was no reason at all for settler types to live there in the old days because MV is a 100% worthless area for farming and cattle-raising. No rivers for trade, no railroads, no cottage industry of any kind. It’s just scenery.
The dry typography tells you there’s not much in the way of rainfall. There don’t seem to be any rivers or lakes nearby. There’s no grass for cattle herds to feed upon. One look tells you there’s no nutritious soil to grow crops with. There was no such thing as tourism in the settler days. The only settler-sustaining industry of any kind was uranium mining, which reportedly happened between 1948 and 1967.
And yet decade after decade film monks have been praising the John Ford Monument Valley westerns without so much as mentioning — not once! — the absolute idiocy of anyone living in such an environment during the 1800s or early 1900s. The reason for this willful logical shutdown is that Monument Valley is infused with such a tremendous sense of myth and grandeur that it’s regarded by film buffs as a kind of spiritual cathedral.
Every time I watch The Searchers, I ask myself “what the fuck are all those settlers doing there? What’s the damn point?”