This is a very pointed letter. I wish to begin by saying that I have enjoyed all of your work that I have seen. I think that your films are wonderfully entertaining and well-constructed- all great hallmarks of quintessential and classical Hollywood blockbusters. However, up until recently, I would not have considered including you amongst my favorite directors. It was nothing personal, only that your films never resonated with me on a level beyond that of pure entertainment. I would have hesitated to call any of them (that I have seen, of course), works of art. Then I watched The Lone Ranger. I’ve been meaning to put all of my thoughts regarding the film on paper much sooner than now. This movie was so unfairly criticized in the media when it was released, and I think it’s important for you to hear from someone who could appreciate the film for what it was: a revisionist Western of the highest caliber in film-theory terminology, and an exquisitely crafted homage to some of the most important directors in American cinema’s history.
Initially I wasn’t even going to watch it in theaters. It took some convincing on my parents’ parts. It looked entertaining to me, but something that I thought I could probably wait to watch on DVD. Then they went and saw it and were quite adamant that I go see it in theaters too. I was in Washington, D.C. at the time, and I managed to catch the last weekend showing in one of the fanciest theaters in which I have ever had the pleasure to watch a movie. I was one of maybe 5 people in the theater, and I spent the entire film with my mouth agape, slack-jawed in wonder at how I almost missed out on such a magnificent film. The beauty about your interpretation of The Lone Ranger is that it is easily appreciated on a variety of different levels. An audience-member is able to watch it as I previously watched your movies: purely for entertainment, and there is certainly no shame in that. However, if the audience-member happens to possess some knowledge of American cinema, then the film becomes a film connoisseur’s paradise. I know that I should not make any quick and unfounded judgements about my fellow movie-goers (I don’t know what knowledge of film history each possessed), but I remember feeling so full of emotion as I watched the film because it seemed to me that no one could possibly be appreciating it as much as I was at that particular moment given my own passion and background knowledge on the subject. As each scene passed by I isolated shot after shot that I had seen before in a John Ford film, Once Upon a Time in the West, or Buster Keaton’s The General, and it filled me with such happiness to realize that you possess a knowledge and love of American Cinema.
My last quarter of college I took a course entitled “Amerindian Literatures.” My capstone project for the course was to write an essaying describing the Indian hobbyist movement in the United States and Germany. Being a life-long film lover and aspiring filmmaker, my essay emphasized the representation of the Native American in Hollywood film. I spent a considerable amount of time researching John Ford films and other Westerns and came across the concept of the ‘Revisionist Western.’ These Westerns are characterized by sympathetic and three dimensional portrayals of Native Americans as opposed to the ubiquitous noble or vicious savage reductionist archetypes common in Western films. I familiarized myself with the scholarly discourse surrounding casting difficulties and the dearth of Native American actors in Hollywood as well as portrayals of indigenous rituals, and the linguistic differences between the English spoken by white and indigenous characters.
At the time of its release, your decision to cast Johnny Depp as the Native American character resulted in quite a bit of criticism, and critics, both amateur and professional alike, maligned the portrayal of the indigenous people in the film. No critique that I read during this period explored new ground. People involved in the online debate only continued to dredge up scholarship from the ’80s and ’90s without bringing any new perspective to the fore. I was shocked at the lack of commentary on the portrayal of the white characters in the film. These portrayals are what make your film distinctive in the Hollywood Western canon and are why I feel that I may call The Lone Ranger one of the most effective Revisionist Westerns ever seen in Hollywood. These characters were often very unsympathetic, but in a totally appropriate way. As a student of history, I feel that your film struck a very accurate emotional and social tone, which is commendable.
Academic analysis aside, I can easily say that this film deserves to be watched and remembered purely for the last shot of the picture. Tonto walks away from the camera towards the horizon into the wilderness and splendor of Monument Valley. This is not an unexpected shot and provides a fitting aesthetic and tonal conclusion to your film. But, again, this is a perfect illustration of how easily this film works on multiple levels of viewing and understanding. To me, this shot was an explicit homage to John Ford and Charlie Chaplin. Of course, the beauty of film is that it is open to interpretation, so perhaps I was viewing in that shot what I, and only I, wanted to see. I don’t think this was the case. It was so evocative of the end of Modern Times or the The Circus for me to deny your intention here. I was very moved while watching this new incarnation of the Tramp walking towards the horizon in a strikingly Fordian setting. It was modern and historical all at the same time. It was wonderful.
People who know, know that there is something more to this film than meets the eye. My hope is that those who appreciate the art form of film will continue to watch your rendition of The Lone Ranger, and that future viewers will wonder why on earth nobody understood it upon its release.
Above all, thank you for surprising me with this work.