2020 was a heavy year for virtually everybody in the world and I personally feel fortunate to have made it out of the year in the emotionally battered state that I am in, compared to what gut punches others must have stood from it. And yet it found room in its twilight hours to land one extra blow for a small circle of people whom I never met in person (and I expect few of that circle have) and most of whom I haven’t spoken to in years but were devastated all the same.
Marshall York Craig died on 18 December 2020. The manner of his death is so unexpected, tragic, and undeserved that I don’t have the energy to reiterate it. I first fell into Craig’s orbit around the beginning months of 2016 (a year where I definitely was going to need to make new movie friends if I wanted to stay interested) within a facebook film discussion group, a late inductee into a group that already mostly familiarized itself from a history talking to each on Rotten Tomatoes’ forums. He was a very outspoken man with a lot of energy to discuss movies and politics and his dog and I can only imagine the other passions he had that I was not privy to. We specifically got on via our mutual appreciation of Tim Brayton as a blogger and through there Marshall took his own personal interest round these parts in Movie Motorbreath while also messaging me practically every day for 2 years simply out of his own personal excitement and initiative.
In full transparency, our last full private conversation was not a very pleasant one – the context of which are the business of few people – and while I don’t regret the things that were said in it, I do deeply regret that it was essentially the last word between us… mostly of my own fault. Marshall, for his part, spent a whole year afterwards trying to spark further film discussion between us via messenger but I kept whatever answers I returned curt and short until he just stopped trying and even after he’d still forward Birthday messages that I expressed my appreciation for. The final notes in our interaction were chilly solely because I allowed them to be and it should not have taken Marshall’s unforeseen passing for me to have re-evaluated the manner in which I will disengage others.
And yet it is absolutely the case that Marshall was one of the earliest supporters of this silly project that is my blog Movie Motorbreath. At a pretty significant turning point for whether or not I wanted to keep writing here, Craig’s encouragement was something that kept me pretty productive at this while trying to divest myself into other areas of my life. He interacted, he engaged, he brought conversation to me on my thoughts about movies and constantly gave me constructive feedback on how I wrote. And the thing is I don’t think he’ll ever truly know the degree to which he gave me the energy to write here for 2 of my most productive years.
A few months before Marshall’s death, another distant friend of mine died in a similarly shocking and terrible manner. And while I was processing that, I fell right into a habit of watching myself chop herbs in a manner that friend had taught me to and recognized that we carry everybody who ever passed through our lives in quiet ways. I think the way I identified for Marshall was my appreciation for John Ford, which existed prior but only expanded tenfold from Marshall’s influence. Of all the film based subjects Marshall was eager to extol, John Ford was clearly the greatest: as a filmmaker, as an artist, and as a person, even in clarity of Ford’s faults. I don’t feel confident declaring his favorite filmmaker (he also had a love of Orson Welles that rivaled mine) but Ford is my best aimed guess and it’s by the unexpected manner that Marshall would pop into my private messages just to preach to me on the greatness of Ford without solicitation that Ford slowly became one of my favorite filmmakers over the past 5 years as Marshall’s lengthy diatribes paralleled my greater journey into Ford’s output.
The full filmography of Ford’s films is much too vast to tackle (with a good chunk of films totally lost or hard to find) and even if we limit a retrospective to all the movies by Ford that I full love, that would be too many for me to have such stamina for. However… a rewatch of what I consider Ford’s Greatest Hits was frankly a long time coming – I’ve had it in my mind for the past 4 years in fact, and given that they are among my favorite movies… it was definitely going to be a welcome personal comfort to perform in the wake of 2020 – but I guess if there’s any better opportunity to sit down with the highest points of possibly the Greatest American Filmmaker of All Time, it may as well be to honor an old patron of this site that had a higher appreciation of the man than I think I will ever have. For the 7 days of next week starting on Sunday, I will be posting a review of each of the 7 movies in Ford’s filmography that I consider five-star masterpieces, one of which I already reviewed but would like to revisit with a few more thoughts. These reviews will be in chronological order. And I will be doing each one in the honor and memory of Marshall and if you’ll join me… I hope that I help you see John Ford the way Marshall helped me see him.