Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Aviator's Accursed Share

Even though The Aviator was directed by Martin Scorsese, the second coming of Citizen Kane it isn't, despite allusions to it.

The Aviator doesn't tell us much about Howard Hughes, nor what Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner saw in the man. The climax of the film is Pan Am-backed Owen Brewster's Senate hearing investigating Hughes' wartime contracts, to get Hughes to merge TWA's international operations with Pan Am's -- the battle between the anticommunist Maine Republican defending monopoly and the anticommunist Texas Republican championing competition. Before the film gets there, it has Hughes criticize Hepburn's FDR-loving rich liberal family (who say to Hughes, "We don't care about money here," to which he retorts, "That's because you have it") and invents a tabloid photographer who is set on publishing compromising photographs that show Hepburn and Spencer Tracy together until Hughes asks him, "You ever go to a Communist Party meeting?" That sums up the film's range of explicit politics.

The Aviator does remind us of the difficulty of making airline businesses profitable, mainly because we know that both TWA and Pan Am are no more.

Besides, if any mental illness is to serve as a metaphor for the spirit of capitalism, it has to be one that afflicted Hughes: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Alan Alda, a liberal actor who plays Brewster, puts it best: "What does his life have to say about the way we live now? . . . He was most concerned with speed and technology, and in a way those very things made him famous and kept him from having a meaningful relationship with anybody. His life is the model for our lives. He can't get out of that mantra, 'the way of the future.' He couldn't escape it. And we can't either" (qtd. in Roger Moore, "Alda Relishes Tour of Duty in 'The Aviator,'" Orlando Sentinel, December 25, 2004).

At the same time, the legendary Hughes fascinates us because his excess, originating in and yet ultimately unhinged from instrumental reason necessary for capital accumulation, transgressed the realm of utility and compelled him to dwell in the state of uselessness, "the accursed share." It's a shame that the director chose not to push the audience into it.


CEJ said...

Scorsese hits us with another stinker. What did they see in Hughes? What does Scorsese see in a witless actor such as Leonardo Dicaprio?

Unknown said...

We just saw it and liked it, there were some mixed feelings though, like with his real life, you felt let down in the end. Not a bad movie tough, they pushed much of his life into a short period of time. Howard is still the bomb.