Howard Hawks b Goshen Indiana May d December

Get Paid To Write Online

Get Paid to Write at Home

Get Instant Access

As well as racing cars and planes, the young Howard Hawks also worked vacations in the property department of Hollywood's Famous Players-Lasky studios. After serving as an army pilot in World War I and working in the aircraft industry, Hawks returned to Hollywood in the early 1920s as a cutter, assistant director, story editor, and casting director before writing screenplays and selling the story The Road to Glory (1926) to Fox on condition that he also direct. Thereafter, Hawks worked for over forty years in Hollywood as director, producer, and writer, one of the few filmmakers whose careers spanned the silent period, the heyday of the studio system, and the poststudio period, making over forty major features.

Hawks accommodated the demands and constraints—as well as exploiting the possibilities—of the studio system, covering a wide range of genres as well as making classic examples in several of them: Ceiling Zero (1936) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939) in the action-adventure genre; Red River (1948) and Rio Bravo (1959) in the western; Scarface (1932) in the gangster film; The Big Sleep (1946) in the noir thriller; and Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), and Monkey Business (1952) in the screwball comedy genre. In addition, Hawks's economical style—often referred to as "invisible"—makes his work a major example of classical cinema.

Though Hawks's talents were noted within the industry as far back as the 1920s, his work was not critically recognized until the 1950s, when French critics like Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer in Cahiers du Cinema took his work seriously and claimed him as an auteur whose work demonstrated a consistent personality and worldview. Hawks—along with Alfred Hitchcock— became a key test case for the possibility for authorship within popular cinema. Hawks's predilection for understated, everyday heroism, often in the context of the all-male group; his straightforward, direct visual style; and his flair for bringing out unexpected traits in stars like John Wayne, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart were seen as marking Hawks out as special. In the early 1960s Hawks was taken up by auteurist critics in the United States like Andrew Sarris and in the United Kingdom by Movie magazine and Robin Wood, who took Hawks as a supreme example of the understated artistry possible within the Hollywood system. Later, Peter Wollen emphasized the way in which the male struggle for mastery in the adventure and western films serves as an inverted mirror image of the comedies, which stressed gender role reversal and lack or loss of mastery.


Scarface (1932), Ceiling Zero (1936), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), I Was a Male War Bride (1949), Monkey Business (1952), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Rio Bravo (1959), Hatari! (1962)


Hillier, Jim, and Peter Wollen, eds. Howard Hawks: American

Artist. London: British Film Institute, 1996. McBride, Joseph, ed. Focus on Howard Hawks. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

--, ed. Hawks on Hawks. Berkeley: University of

California Press, 1982. Wollen, Peter. Signs and Meaning in the Cinema. 3rd ed.

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972. Wood, Robin. Howard Hawks. London: Secker Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1968. Reprinted, with ''Retrospect, '' London: British Film Institute, 1981; New ed. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2005.

Jim Hillier by the Cinémathèque Française), though directors like Howard Hawks (1896-1977), King Vidor (1894-1982), and Frank Borzage (1893-1962) had been identified as distinctive as far back as the 1920s.

Postwar France was thus fertile ground for critics trying to develop new ways of thinking about cinema, particularly American cinema. From 1944 and 1945,

Hollywood films that had not been allowed in France during the German occupation arrived in a flood and prompted insightful ways of thinking about cinema, especially American cinema. Examples are André Bazin's ideas about realism, responding to Welles's and William Wyler's (1902-1981) films with cinematogra-pher Gregg Toland (1904-1948), and the identification

The Road Glory 1926 Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks. everett collection. reproduced by permission.

Howard Hawks. everett collection. reproduced by permission.

of new strains in the crime thriller as film noir. The "egocentric conception of the director'' embodied by Welles was important: Francois Truffaut (1932-1984) later used as an epigraph to his collection of critical writings, The Films in My Life, Welles's dictum, "I believe a work is good to the degree that it expresses the man who created it.'' This was the atmosphere in which the young novelist and director Alexandre Astruc wrote in 1948 the polemic "The Birth of a New AvantGarde: La Caméra-Stylo [Camera-Pen]'' (Astruc in Graham, 1968, pp. 17-23). Although Astruc's precise meaning is not always clear, a central idea was that cinema was becoming a medium of personal expression like the other arts: ''In this kind of filmmaking the distinction between author and director loses all meaning,'' he stated. ''Direction is no longer a means of illustrating or presenting a scene, but a true act of writing. The filmmaker-author writes with his camera as a writer writes with his pen'' (Astruc in Graham, 1968, p. 22).

Contentions like Astruc's that filmmaking was as much an expressive art form as painting and the novel—art forms where the essentially Romantic idea of the individual artist before the page or canvas was easiest to sustain—and that the filmmaker arrives at self-

expression through the process of direction, helped nurture the development of the politique des auteurs—the auteur policy or polemic—in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma in the 1950s. Some confusion tends to arise from the fact that the auteurism associated with critics like Truffaut, Rivette, Eric Rohmer (b. 1920), Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), and Claude Chabrol (b. 1930) is usually linked with their enthusiasm and reverence for Hollywood directors like Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), Ford, Nicholas Ray (1911-1979), Anthony Mann (1906-1967), and Samuel Fuller (1912-1997), whom they identified as auteurs, while the essay often credited as setting the scene for the politique was Truffaut's critique of contemporary French cinema (in his essay, ''Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Francais'' (A certain tendency of the French cinema), in the January 1954 issue of Cahiers. As spectator-critics, the Cahiers writers enjoyed and admired American popular cinema, but as future French filmmakers-critics in the French nouvelle vague (new wave), they would inevitably make French films, not American Hollywood ones; thus, their major concerns included French cinema (along with, for example, Italian cinema, which offered conditions and possibilities much more akin to their own than did US cinema).


However, although French cinema and American cinema were very different in some respects, in others they were not. The more personal and individual French cinema that Truffaut and the others admired—Jean Renoir (1894-1979), Robert Bresson (1901-1999), Jacques Tati (1909-1982), Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), Max Ophuls (1902-1957), Jacques Becker (1906-1960)— drew its strength and individuality from an essentially nonliterary originality and audacity of realization, or mise-en-scène—qualities that they also admired in American cinema. This French cinema they contrasted to the tired cinéma de papa (daddy's cinema)—the unad-venturous literary cinema of Jean Delannoy (b. 1908) or Claude Autant-Lara (1901-2000), or the academic technical competence of directors like René Clément (19131996) and Henri-Georges Clouzot (1907-1977), who, they claimed, merely put solid, worthy scripts into sounds and images.

As this implies, one of the crucial effects of this identification of auteurs was to shift to the center of film analysis the notion of mise-en-sceène as the means through which the auteur expressed his (or her—but American or European, the figures discussed were all male) personality and individuality. Writing in Cahiers in August 1960, Fereydoun Hoveyda argued that:

Air Force (1943): Auteur critics have emphasized the importance of the male ggroup in Hawks's films. everett collection. reproduced by permission.

the originality of the auteur lies not in the subject matter he chooses, but in the technique he employs, i.e., the mise-en-scene, through which everything on the screen is expressed As Sartre said: ''One isn't a writer for having chosen to say certain things, but for having chosen to say them in a certain way.'' Why should it be any different for cinema?... The thought of a cineaste appears through his mise-en-scene (Hillier, 1986, p. 142).

Although the Hollywood director might have little control over choice of subject and cast, or over the script, it was on the set, attentive to décor, performance, and camera positioning and movement—controlling what would appear on the screen—that the director expressed his individuality. Of course, many of the directors that the Cahiers critics championed as auteurs—Hitchcock and Hawks, certainly—were often their own producers and chose their projects and worked on their scripts, officially or not, and so had more control than the general model implied. Additionally, in the post-Divorcement Hollywood of the 1950s and 1960s, the growth of independent production meant that many other directors began to have more say in their projects.

Given the essential emphasis on mise-en-scene, it is somewhat confusing that Cahiers critics distinguished between those directors whom they regarded as auteurs and those they regarded as (mere) metteurs en scene, directors whose work lacked the individual personal expression of the auteur but who could be competent and even skilled interpreters of others' ideas. Clement and Clouzot might have been classified thus; regarding American cinema, arguments raged around particular directors—Vincente Minnelli (1903-1986), for example—as to whether they were auteurs or metteurs en sceene.

What appeared in Cahiers was not any kind of concerted "theory"; furthermore, there were disagreements in Cahiers itself. Chief among those who did not

Dangerous Ground
Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino in On Dangerous Ground (1952) by cult auteur Nicholas Ray. everett collection. reproduced by permission.

subscribe to the "excesses" of the politique des auteurs was the journal's chief editor (until his death in 1958) and best-known writer, Andre Bazin. Bazin shared his colleagues' enthusiasm for taking American cinema seriously, but at the same time he argued in the April 1952 issue of Cahiers that in the cinema more than in the other arts, and in American cinema more than in other cinemas, industrial, commercial, and generic factors came into play and meant that "the personal factor in artistic creation as a standard of reference'' needed to be seen in context (Bazin in Graham, 1968, pp. 137-156). It is also not quite right to credit Cahiers exclusively with thinking about authorship in popular cinema. In Britain during the late 1940s and the 1950s, the young critics who produced Sequence magazine and later worked on Sight and Sound—preeminently Lindsay Anderson and Gavin Lambert—identified the popular cinema of John Ford and Nicholas Ray, for example, as distinctive and personal. Strikingly, Anderson argued the case for John Ford's authorship in terms of his westerns rather than his more "worthy" prestige productions, while Ray became seen—by Cahiers and later by the British film publication Movie—as one of the supreme examples of the post-Orson Welles generation of Hollywood directors, consciously striving to make more personal films and often in conflict with the system.

Ordinarily, such polemics and debates in a French film magazine barely read outside of France would not have caused many ripples in American and British film criticism. However, by 1959 many of the Cahiers critics involved in those polemics had gained acclaim as new filmmakers. This was particularly true of two of the most controversial Cahiers critics, Truffaut, whose first feature, Les quatre cent coups (The 400 Blows, 1959), triumphed at the 1959 Cannes festival, and Godard, whose first feature, A bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960), also premiered in 1959. Chabrol had already had success with Le Beau Serge (Handsome Serge, 1958) and Les cousins (The Cousins, 1959). The international success of these nouvelle vague films drew attention to their directors' critical pasts, helping ideas about authorship, and new ways of thinking about popular cinema, become matters of debate in Britain and the United States at more or less the same moment.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment