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Harrison Ford, the Last American Hero

Harrison Ford, the Last American Hero

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From the Olivier Père's Blog

Every cinéphile, every spectator remembers their first movie emotions, more or less founders for the rest of their lives and personal relations with the movies. Evidently, it depends on your age, and the decade you were born in. As child, the first films that had awaken in me a particular fascination for the movies are American adventure features and science-fiction. Three in particular : Star Wars, The Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blade Runner. It didn’t took too much for me to realize that these three features, made me generate emotions at young age, a curiosity and excitement beyond suspicion (I still didn’t know that it was passion for the movies) interpreted from the same actor: Harrison Ford. I then urgently had to inform myself about this actor that became step by step the interpreter of two of the most famous  heroes of modern Hollywood cinema. Han Solo and Indiana Jones, as well as a private detective of the future in a film destined in becoming cult feature, and an insuperable classic of science-fiction cinematography.

Born in Chicago in 1942, Harrison Ford after catastrophic studies and dramatic art courses that trigger his vocation as comedian, decides to travel to California and take a chance at Hollywood. Debuts are difficult and the roles are rare. Harrison Ford obtains a small contract at Colombia Pictures for some appearances in TV series and some contradictive films where he is not credited. His name appears for the first time in the  generalities of a film with A Time for Killing by Phil Karlson, western (partially produced by Roger Corman) that has the particularity of being interpreted therefore at the falling (Glenn Ford) and two fabulous in small roles : Tim Carey and Harry Dean Stanton. It will be the only western starring Harrison Ford with the comedy Frisco Kid by Robert Aldrich (role expected at first with John Wayne, in 1979) and… Cowboys and Aliens by Jon Favreau.

At the beginning of the 70’s the career of Harrison Ford doesn’t take off and his contract with Columbia ends. The absence of charisma descends on him. Ford thinks to abandon the profession as an actor and suddenly decides to become carpenter, previous job until 1976. He remains in contact with the movie world from the moment  he decides to continues to  accept less important roles. He plays part with a short appearance in Zabriskie Point by Michelangelo Antonioni. Jacques Demy suggests that he should take the leading role of Model Shop, followed by the masterpiece  Lola shot in Los Angeles, but the producers prefer Gary Lockwood, one of the astronauts of 2001 : A Space Odyssey. Ford will remain however friends with Demy and Agnès Varda, that will invite him to part in his film tribute at the movies A Hundred and One Nights by Simon Cinema in 1995.

It is a fine art work for the filmmakers and producers that Harrison Ford reaches a good point where roles become interesting and the professional opportunities shine in the end. Fred Roos, director of casting at Universal introduces him to George Lucas that prepares his second feature film, American Graffiti. The film (showed once at Festival del film Locarno in  Piazza Grande) is a success and gives Harrison Ford hope. Francis Ford Coppola offers him some small roles in his masterpieces The Conversation and Apocalypse Now (film shot before but released after Star Wars, Where his character is named… Lucas) where they both obtain the Palme d’or at the Cannes Festival. Harrison Ford begins to be noticed. George Lucas gives him glory with the part of Han Solo in his work Star Wars. Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, Christopher Walken, Richard Dreyfuss are near in having the part, cynic character and in the end heroic, but Lucas is convinced of Harrison Ford and his qualities.

The quotes of this movie in the Box-Office came to be part of a legend. People at Fox can’t believe at the success of a movie without great views created by a man who will enter part with one of the greatest saga in history.

Harrison Ford plays again the role of Han Solo in the two Star Wars sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. He gains a still greater popularity with the character of Indiana Jones in the Steven Spielberg's The Raiders of the Lost Ark, a new global triumph. The movie is imagined by Spielberg and Lucas as a tribute to the serial comics of the Thirties and the adventure B-movies of the Forties. As the American cinema (in the Sixties and in the Seventies) had questioned the heroic and spectacular dimension of the Hollywood production, Spielberg creates a character on the wake of the roles played by Clark Gable, Gary Cooper or Spencer Tracy, and orchestrates the meeting between the cinéphilique nostalgia, special effects and humour. Indiana Jones becomes an extremely popular movie icone, on the same level of James Bond. Harrison Ford will play the famous archaelogist in four movies shot between 1981 and 2008, all signed by Spielberg.

Thanks to Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford is a movie hero. He is not yet recognized as a great actor or a star until he is chosen by Ridley Scott to play the role in Blade Runner, ambitious, violent, pessimistic and complex science-fiction production which is worlds apart compared to Lucas' and Spielberg's movies. It will be necessary to wait for the collaboration with Peter Weir so that Harrison Ford's talent receive its proper value, demonstrating that the actor can conquer audience and critics alike with new roles, far away from the heroes of comics or sci-fi works. With Witness and Mosquito Coast (his favourite role) Harrison Ford gains an extraordinary new popularity. He gives keen interpretations in the movies of Mike Nichols, Alan J. Pakula, Sidney Pollack. In the fantastic Roman Polanski's Frantic, shot in Paris, he plays a Hitchcockian character on the wake of Gary Grant or James Stewart.
Ford, actually, is one of the last classical Hollywood actors, to the contrary of an intellectual approach and the Actors studio method. In spite of his more realistic and psychological roles, he affirms his exceptional popularity in the world of action movies with Andrew Davis' The Fugitive, one of his biggest personal hits. Ford plays the role of another recurring character, the CIA agent Jack Ryan in two spy-movies adapted from Tom Clancy's bestsellers, Philip Noyce's Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. He is – as well – the President of the United States of America facing some terrorists in the Wolfgand Petersen's blockbuster Air Force One. Robert Zemeckis' fantastic thriller What Lies Beneath permits him to play the first « villain » of his career, beside Michelle Pfeiffer. He is the captain of a Soviet nuclear submarine in Kathleen Bigelow's K-19: The Widowmaker.

It is not every day that there is the opportunity to cheer the heroes of his own childood. In my case, it will happen at 9:30 pm at Piazza Grande, with the presentation as European premiere of Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens which marks the coming back of the star in the sci-fi cinema. Harrison Ford will be in company of the director, Daniel Craig and the beautiful Olivia Wilde.

Olivier Père
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