American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 88

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Visions of Grandeur

70mm negative of the final scene in the film.

88

April 2015

the production, and the vast amount of
detail that it captures."
Even with a $2 million budget, a
crew of 200 (including 22 in the camera
department), and an ex-cowboy director who'd once driven cattle from
Veracruz to Texas, The Big Trail was
looking like a big risk. Of course, it was
the kind of risk Raoul Walsh was used
to taking. After all, he'd just cast an
unknown prop hand working on the
Fox lot to star in the film.
Walsh was used to directing
inexperienced actors. For his first film,
the semi-documentary The Life of
General Villa, he'd famously asked
Pancho Villa to restage the Battle of
Durango for the cameras. Savoring the
publicity, the general gleefully obliged.
By comparison, directing Marion
"Duke" Morrison - an unknown 23year-old fresh out of USC - would be
easy.
Walsh was "dynamic, manly,
forward-moving, bold, a craftsman,"
John Wayne's son Ethan Wayne recalls.
At the John Wayne Enterprises
archives, Ethan showed AC a carved
bone knife given by Walsh to Wayne,
commemorating The Big Trail 's
Wyoming shoot. Cradled in a bone
sheath, the huge knife has an archaic
quality that captures both the film and
the primitive circumstances in which it
was shot.
AC and John Wayne Enterprises
also identified previously unseen
footage from behind the scenes of The
Big Trail, culled from a collection of
Wayne's home movies. The extraordinary footage features rare glimpses of
wagons being lowered down a cliff,
Raoul Walsh hard at work, and John
Wayne and Ward Bond joking around
in front of the Tetons. Wayne's casual
confidence, especially at age 23, is
uncanny.
"John Wayne at that point in his
life was simply a beautiful man," says
film critic and historian Richard
Schickel. "Whatever awkwardness he
had was covered over by his energy and
general pleasure in his work. He obviously liked being an actor."
American Cinematographer

"He was a born movie star," adds
Scott Eyman, author of the best-selling
biography John Wayne: The Life and
Legend. "He had that physique, he had
that smile, he had charisma, he had
presence. Your eye goes to him when
he's on camera." Still, the young actor
had to learn on the fly as the huge
production kicked off in Yuma, Ariz. on
April 21, 1930.
Immediately, Edeson began
getting arresting images with his
Grandeur camera - huge, detailed
vistas of pioneers trekking off toward an
infinite horizon. Documentary-like
panoramas with breathtaking depth of
field began pouring into the Fox labs.
Like Ansel Adams with a large-format
camera, Edeson and his Grandeur were
capturing the sublime landscape of the
still-pristine West. The Fox studio brass
had never seen anything like it. In "The
Log of The Big Trail," Evarts writes that
Fox officials "informed Walsh that the
opening scenes were the greatest that
had ever been received in Hollywood."
Indeed, Grandeur's depth of field
in stopped-down, daylight situations
was so great that Edeson began referring to the effect as "pseudo-stereoscopic." At the same time, the
cinematographer's compositions never
let foreground characters get swallowed
up by nature's spectacle. Taking full
advantage of Walsh's long takes,
Edeson's foreground figures ramble
across the wide frame, casually asserting
their dignity against nature's indifference like migrant Dust Bowl families in
Dorothea Lange's photographs.
Most importantly, Edeson's
deep-focus compositions allow the
audience's eye to wander from foreground characters to background vistas.
"The film is very modern-looking in
terms of the use of widescreen," says
Hora. "They knew right away what
they were doing in terms of how to use
the frame, how to have people cross it
instead of panning with them.
"There's a kind of involvement
you get, because you're participating in
the image," Hora continues. "In terms
of the screen and composition, it wasn't



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - April 2015

Contents
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Intro
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 1
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 2
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Contents
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 4
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 5
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 6
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 7
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 8
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 9
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American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 38
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American Cinematographer - April 2015 - 64
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I1
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I2
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I3
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I4
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I5
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I6
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I7
American Cinematographer - April 2015 - I8
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American Cinematographer - April 2015 - Cover3
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