Monday, December 20, 2010
Christmas Week with Marty Robbins, John Ford and the Siren's Thought Processes
So Sunday night the Siren admitted on her Facebook page to having this Marty Robbins classic on the brain all weekend and not something more holiday-appropriate, like "Frosty the Snowman." At the time, she couldn't figure out why. Peter Nelhaus popped up to point out that Marty is, of course, way cooler than Frosty and the Siren also bethought herself that Marty looks better in white. All true. But not a full explanation.
Then, during a two a.m. bout of insomnia that also featured guest appearances by the UPS truck that is hoarding one of the family's toy shipments as well as fresh turkeys that go bad and frozen turkeys that won't defrost, the Siren realized there was, after all, a Christmas connection here, and she wasn't as far afield as she thought. You see, Marty Robbins did the definitive version of "Streets of Laredo."
And "Streets of Laredo" figures in the Siren's favorite scene in John Ford's 3 Godfathers, from 1948. Harry Carey Jr. is dying, and as he asks to hold his godson, the canvas of the covered wagon stretches out behind him like the white linen in the song. We see a yellow blanket around the baby's head like a halo, and a blue blanket wrapped around that like a Madonna's robe. John Wayne's grief and guilt are plain though the camera shows mostly his back, as he walks away with that unique loping grace--tell the Siren all day that he was always John Wayne, but how many actors can do that? As Carey starts to sing and pace with the baby, the top of a chair in the foreground seems odd for a second, until it suddenly becomes a brief vision of the headstone Wayne and Pedro Armendariz won't be able to give their friend. Wayne and Armendariz are kneeling to one side; the Magi. They stand as though to pay respects. Now Carey crosses back through the shadow cast by the wagon. And, in a directorial choice that prompts all sorts of Christmas thoughts about the miracle of genius, the camera stays exactly where it is, as Carey sits down with the baby, and the wagon and the white canvas and the shadow embrace him and the child and hide them from sight.
In the giant clip-retrospective ever unspooling in the Siren's head, that, my friends, is one great Christmas scene.