Saturday, December 19, 2009

Robin Wood on Howard Hawks's "El Dorado"

Robin Wood, the author of two great books on Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, has passed away.

Wood didn't like Hawks's El Dorado as much as I do but he had great things to say about it:
"Yet there is a way in which it all makes artistic sense-though it is not quite the sense of a self-sufficient work. Hawks is now in his seventies. W. B. Yeats was a few years younger when he wrote
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal stress.
The words and imagery suggest at once the need to recapture a childlike, unselfconscious spontaneity, and the contradictory fact that with advancing age attempts to do so will have to be more and more deliberate. In El Dorado Hawks is 'singing louder'; there is exactly that balance of recaptured spontaneity and the contradictory sense of deliberateness that Yeats's lines define. And when one realises this, one realises the real subject of the film - a subject virtually all-pervading, yet never stated explicitly: age."

Keith Uhlich wrote a short post about Robin Wood, with some links. You can find more info on Robin Wood here.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, September 11, 2009

Howard Hawks' "I Was a Male War Bride" (1951)

Describing a Howard Hawks movie with stills is truly impossible. Every one of his films are odes to movement, whether it is the movements of humans, animals, or vehicles. And there is the always-attentive camera, slightly following each movement, emphasizing every happening within (and without) the frame.

All the great writers-on-film (I hate the word "critic"!) underline Hawks' dance with biology. Perhaps the main key to appreciating Hawks is watching, carefully, the very tiny, and partly improvised, camera moves... Almost invisible, sometimes to a little left, and a little to the right, etc. reacting to the movements of the characters. Some movements can't be noticed without paying attention to the borders of the frame. And great stuff always happen at the very corners...

It is true that all these moves always refer back to things that happen in the frame, so re-direct our attention to the movements of the main characters. But this does not mean that someone who wants to get the highest pleasures should stay unaware of what is happening. What Tag Gallagher wrote about the so-called "invisible cuts" is also true about "invisible movements":

"One is certainly not less involved with music by being conscious of the rhythm, the meter, the phrase structures, the harmonic motion, the contrapuntal lines, which instrument is playing, how the instrumentalist chooses to phrase and articulate. Quite the contrary, the more we are consciously aware of these elements, the more we shall become engulfed in the emotions, in the world, of the music.

So too with movies. Not being aware of cuts is just being oblivious, cutting oneself off from actual sensual contact with cinema. It's a denial of pleasure, of experience. It's stupid.

I don't think it's true that things affect us without our being aware of it. Experiencing art is not like being etherized for an operation. It's above all a physical and emotional awareness. If you're not intelligent, you're not aware."

If you really want to see Hawks, pay attention to the tiniest camera moves. I would say his camera moves are not so far below Stan Brakhage's methods in training our eyes to see more, and more.

Here is one great example, which, by definition, might look inconsequential until one knows everything that happens before (or after, for that matter) in the sublime film called I Was a Male War Bride.

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 15, 2009

Howard Hawks' "Monkey Business" (1952)

In a post to a_film_by on August 2003, Tag Gallagher, talking about Howard Hawks, asked: "Is sanity truly a goal or even a desideratum in Bringing Up Baby, The Big Sky, Red River... ?"

And in another post, the same day:
"I'm not sure that people are trying to cling to sanity, but I suspect that sanity is an illusion in Hawks, and that biology rules all, and from a male point of view (Hawks's) that's the power of women. Sanity may be a possibility, but it's irrelevant ultimately."

I think these statements go to the very heart of Monkey Business, which I saw countless times by now.

Here is a dialogue from the film:
Barnaby: Hello, Griffith Park Zoo, Snake Department. Sssshhh!
Oliver Oxley: Hello? Hello? What is this?
Barnaby: What do you want?
Oliver Oxley: This is Mr Oxley.
Barnaby: I'll see if he's here.
Oliver Oxley: No, I said *this* is Oxley!
Barnaby: Who is?
Oliver Oxley: I am, speaking!
Barnaby: Oh, you're Mr. Speaking...
Oliver Oxley: This is Mr. Oxley speaking!
Barnaby: Oxley Speaking? Any relation to Oxley?
Oliver Oxley: Barnaby Fulton is that you?
Barnaby: Who's calling?
Oliver Oxley: I am, Barnaby!
Barnaby: Oh, no, you're not Barnaby. I am Barnaby! I ought to know who I am.
Oliver Oxley: This is Oxley speaking, Barnaby!
Barnaby: No, that's ridiculous! You can't be all three. Figure out which one you are and call me back!

Not only it is one of the funniest films ever made, it also has THE most romantic kiss scene ever (the first one, when they're staying home from the Everett Winston party).

Labels: , , ,

Monday, December 01, 2008

Howard Hawks' "El Dorado" (1966)

Howard Hawks' "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Howard Hawks' "The Thing from Another World" (1951)

Howard Hawks' "Air Force" (1943)