Movies We Like
I’m a sucker for lavish recreations of Hollywood’s Golden Age and they don’t come much more spectacular than Martin Scorsese’s epic retelling of the life of Howard Hughes, The Aviator. The story and various legends of Howard Hughes could fill a couple of films. He was rich, by all accounts insane, and had an enormous influence on everything from aviation history to the dismantling of the Hollywood studio system. His life was by turns both enviably glamorous and enormously tragic. The Aviator doesn’t try to completely deconstruct Hughes because I think Scorsese realizes that there is something fundamentally mysterious about the man that no one key event from his life or particular psychological tic will ever fully explain. Instead, Scorsese focuses on Hughes as a man of his moment, documenting his rise and just hinting at the fall to come.
The Aviator begins as Hughes (played by current Scorsese muse Leonardo DiCaprio) is commanding both a film production unit and a group of stunt pilots for his one film as Director, Hell’s Angels. His obsessive style exasperates both his crew and the money men in charge of bankrolling his endeavor (though they work for Hughes). His painstaking attention to detail regardless of cost is virtually unheard of in Hollywood because as an independently wealthy director he is beholden to no one. He stretches the shoot for months waiting for clouds to appear. Finally, he scraps the at-long-last finished film because it wasn’t shot for sound and was finished just as silent films were on the wane. He reshoots the film because he can.
The premiere of Hell’s Angels at Grauman’s Chinese Theater is one of the greatest events in Hollywood history and Scorsese paints an exhilarating picture of the night and Hollywood itself in the early 1930s as an art deco paradise flush with cash and exotic entertainments. He shot on location and makes excellent use of the Pantages Theater, the Chinese Theater, and the famed Sowden House on Franklin Avenue. There is also a magnificent recreation of the legendary Coconut Grove nightclub where several scenes take place.
DiCaprio plays Hughes as a man forever restless and constantly alienated from his surroundings as he obsessively plans for his dreams of making aviation history. He is also a hit with some of the most beautiful and beguiling women in Hollywood and has love affairs with Katharine Hepburn (played by Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (played by Kate Beckinsale). For all of his success, though, he is not a well man and his paranoid delusional tendencies begin to creep in to the picture, making him look less like a mad genius then someone who is truly sick and doesn’t know how to ask for help.
The film stops before Hughes historically really went off the rails and it’s probably just as well since no one really knows what he was like or what really happened to him in his later years. Before then he was a troubled man who lived an extraordinary life. Scorsese documents his exploits with insight and gusto.
________________________ The Aviator won five Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Editing. It was nominated for an additional six Oscars: Best Director, Best Picture, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Alan Alda), Bets Original Screenplay, and Best Sound Mixing.