When discussing the very best contemporary filmmakers, Greta Gerwig has undoubtedly earned her place among the most highly acclaimed names, following great success with 2017s Lady Bird and Little Women two years later.
Gerwig’s Lady Bird proved to be one of the greatest contemporary coming-of-age tales, following the artistic ‘Ladybird’ and her navigation through the end of high school in Sacramento, California. Delicate relationships form a heartbreaking tale of the adolescent transition, as the director creates a palpable character study examining a parental relationship during such a time of change. For a story that feels so personal, it’s surprising that Gerwig reported, “Nothing in the movie literally happened in my life, but it has a core of truth that resonates with what I know” during a New York Film Festival press conference.
Clearly close to her heart, Lady Bird was instead influenced by the filmmaker’s personal inspirations, ranging from films such as the seminal coming-of-age film The 400 Blows from François Truffaut to Mike Leigh’s intricate family drama Secrets and Lies. One fascinating individual that Gerwig is consistently inspired by is the hero of the American western genre, John Wayne.
“For me now, I think my fascination is with not a film, but an actor: John Wayne. For the last year, he’s really occupied my thoughts,” Gerwig reported in discussion with The Dissolve. Citing classic John Wayne titles such as 1948s Red River, the director continues, adding: “He can be really scary in movies like Red River, or he can be very gentle. I like how much time he takes for everything; he really takes his goddamn time to walk, or to talk. Maybe because I struggle with it as an actor—taking your time, you don’t have to rush anything”.
Gerwig’s infatuation with John Wayne seems inextricably linked with her own romantic view of the Golden age of Hollywood cinema, a time when film was painstakingly processed instead of digitally printed. Discussing this sentiment, she notes, “Film is so precious. I know he’s making big Hollywood movies, but it’s still actual film. It’s not digital; they have to print this stuff…and he’s like, ‘I’m gonna take five seconds to walk to the door, ’cause that’s what I’m doing right now’. Everything is just so unhurried, and there’s something great about that”.
For a filmmaker whose past achievements include writing and directing the contemporary coming-of-age story Lady Bird, as well as penning the script for modern mumblecore film Frances Ha, her love of the old fashioned western womaniser is somewhat surprising. His acting stature and legacy is difficult to challenge, however, and Greta Gerwig has gotten us wanting to revisit The Searchers and Rio Bravo, among others, to allocate this disguised genius.
Concluding her impassioned speech regarding John Wayne, Gerwig states, “I love John Wayne; I think he’s great. I love the movies he made with Howard Hawks, and I think as an actor, he embodied a whole kind of cinema”.