Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Low flying high flyer

At first, the Aviator seems to be all sub-plot. You suspect that the story of Howard Hughes is simply too big and Scorsese should have chosen a more modest yarn, like biopic’ing Howard Hughes from Ever Decreasing Circles.

It jumps from one preposterous adventure to another, the world’s most expensive film, the world’s fastest plane, the world’s biggest plane, buying TWA, dating Katherine Hepburn and Ava Gardener, taking on the US Government and Pan Am and winning. Hughes did it all, and in this film, he does it really really quickly.

You get no real sense of his impact or the perspective and environment in which he operates. He’s accused of being a war profiteer, but you don’t get a chance to understand whether that’s true, or even that there was a war on. This may just be a reflection of the general detachment the US had during the War. They probably ran their own World (Series) War (Bowl) at the same time proclaiming the Denver Spitfires World War Champions in the process. It feels like you’re watching Hughes’ life through a frosted window, with ear muffs on, and a towel in your mouth… and, well you, get the picture… or not, as it turns out. Eventually, however, the story emerges. It’s about his obsessions; his ability to pull off stunning audacious projects is simply the result of a neurotic fastidiousness he struggles to control.

From compulsive hand washing to fully blown Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Hughes struggles to channel his mania into something productive, and then fails completely. Whilst it’s an overly long film that broods rather than thrills, it’s this that lifts it from a straight Biography Channel story.


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