Alexandre O. Philippe, USA, 2021, DCP, 76′
The latest film from documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe (Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist) is a radical examination of Monument Valley’s representation in cinema and advertising since John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939). The Taking scrutinizes how a site located on sovereign Navajo land came to embody the fantasy of the “Old West,” replete with self-perpetuating falsehoods, and why it continues to hold mythic significance in the global psyche.
“’This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’ And this has been the fate of Monument Valley, the awesome desert plateau dominated by steep columns of red sandstone Buttes which, beginning with Stagecoach, was immortalised by John Ford in seven of his classic Westerns. Through a cornucopia of film clips and alternating voices of unseen academics and specialists, Alexandre O. Philippe /…/ vividly illustrates in The Taking how this sparse location has come to symbolise all that is both inspiring and terrible about the West. Ford himself, as seen in his infamously gruff interview with Peter Bogdanovich, offered little insight as to his choice. But the mythical landscape he created – the barren valley even stood in for Texas in The Searchers – disguised a deeper history of the brutal displacement of the indigenous Navajo tribe. Ford’s depiction in his films of threatening hordes of Native Americans revealed little or nothing of this specific history, preferring to reinforce that of the White Man’s struggles in founding a nation.”
– David Thompson, Il Cinema Ritrovato