Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Re-Print: Hawks on Hawks

Broadly speaking, what is a Howard Hawks film? Typically there is a strong-willed protagonist who works within a tight group, where maybe one member has a personal demon they need to confront, and then the group dynamics gets shaken by an assertive women who joins them, while they also confront an external threat. Hawks has worked in almost every genre and most of them somewhat reflect this schema. His world is one of action where friendship is important, relationships are mysterious, violent threats are overcome, people die, and life goes on. 

Howard Hawks is one of the most important directors in the history of cinema and reading his thoughts in Hawks on Hawks, a book-length interview with Joseph McBride, from late in his life, is fascinating for his remarks, observations and entertaining anecdotes on his films and career

There aren't too many good books on Hawks. And it's great that Hawks on Hawks is back in print along with a recent enough re-print of Robin Wood's Howard Hawks. But how come Todd McCarthy's epic Howard Hawks biography is still out of print? And how come Noel Howard's Hollywood sur Nil, on the making of The Land of Pharaohs, has never been translated? And why isn't George Plympton Shoot-Out at Rio Lobo available? And what about the footage from the Academy Awards where Hawks received a life-time achievement award? Where is the new writing on Hawks by today's younger film writers? 

The new edition of Hawks on Hawks, which was initially published in 1982, does not even include a new introduction, contextualizing its original historical position, and according to Wood's revised introduction The Land of Pharaohs is still a failure. There is something wrong with this situation and it needs to be resolved.

How can one measure Hawks' influence today? Is it because Hawks' style is invisible, not as poetic as Ford's, that his influence is harder to evaluate? Is his approach closer to the television series format as illustrated by the work of Aaron Sorkin? How come Fig Leaves, Scarface, Rio Bravo and Man's Favorite Sport aren't remembered today?

In Monkey Business and I Was a Male War Bride Hawks was already commenting on the notion of identity as a social construct and blurring traditional gender norms, which seems relevant today as some of the most interesting films are about mutating humans experiencing the limits of bodily experiences whether it is in last year's Cosmopolis and Holy Motors and in slightly more calm register Tower and Krivina, or this year in the liberation of phantasms and desires as shown in L'Inconnu du lac, Spring Breakers, Les Rencontres d'après minuit, La Vie d'Adèle, A Touch of Sin, The Oxbow Cure and The Dirties.

Even though thematically these films are similar to Hawks, they might not be stylistically. The directors that do owe to Hawks, in this respect, and can be seen as more clear successors include John Carpenter, Brian de Palma, James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow, John McTiernan, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Alfonso Cuarón, Hayao Miyazaki and the Farrelly brothers. Now that's a broad influence!

There are still fascinating things going on in cinema today and some directors - the good ones! - owe a lot to Hawks. It's time that Hawksian cinephiles pick him up again and re-visit his work. If the major voices and outlets of film criticism do not want to go into this direction, it will be up to the online film community of bloggers to do so!

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