Auteur Series Part 5: 1940’s Howard Hawks and Americana
Welcome to our first American born auteur on this list. And this is all the more fitting as the films of Mr. Howard Hawks represent something that is truly American in the 20th Century. The point of this Auteur Series is to explore 12 decades of cinema as a compilation of minds. Specifically, we are focussing on a mind that has influenced a certain decade and the films that precede the work of each director. Howard Hawks is attributed to the 1940’s. Directors on this list usually began their careers about 15 years prior to their prime decade and continued to work throughout the next generation. Some will continue making great work and even hit an additional masterpiece latter in their life. Hawks represents everything cliched about the 40’s. America at war, America in its global expansion, and America as the land of the dreamers.
Nothin’ But the Good Stuff
We can break down the catalog of Hawks into three categories. Each finds the distinguishing qualities of an American passage. From the gangster flicks to the war pics, the value of glamour shines above all else. Everything in the world of Hawks has an overhyped sense of beauty that modern audiences can’t help but see as kitsch.
The Gangster Flicks
Only Angels Have Wings and Scarface are the mobster movies in Hawks universe that have stood the test of time. 50 years after their debut, Only Angels was featured prominently in Home Alone and Scarface already had two remakes. Hawks directs his actors to engage the audience in a game of touch and tickle. The camera lies straight into their gaze so the lines can taunt the audience and then machine gun fire can blast away. This is will come again as he enters the world of westerns. This is the dawn of the golden age for sound fx.
His Girl Friday and Dialogue
The Gilmore Girls can definitely cite this film as an influence. The snappy dialogue that has no pauses, uhms, lisps, or mumbles. This fast pace pulls the viewer into the world so we are hanging on every word without the time to think about anything other than the picture painted by the story.
Sergeant York the True Hero
Here, Hawks is proclaiming again that the American way of life is the best one there is. When America fights in a war, they are righteous and therefore victorious. He is glamorizing war as something terrible but necessary and with few consequences. This is an attitude that will hold for the next decade but cease quite soon after by the 1960’s.
Red River and the Great Westerns
We can turn to the classic Westerns as ultimate kitsch. They portray a life that in reality was very far from the depiction. They follow strict guidelines of good and evil. However, some of these conceptions are tested. These films question their own value system by enveloping the characters in a desire to achieve goals.
Kitsch or Classic?
So, Hawks is The Howard Hawks collection seems as at first to be iconic Americana. But what is that? It is both the self-observation that the self is greater than the other but the dilemma as to who we are ourselves without the comparison of the other.