Interview: Adrian Wootton on An Introduction to Howard Hawks
As part of Edinburgh Filmhouse's two-month long Howard Hawks retrospective, Thursday 3 February sees author and Film London CEO, Adrian Wootton, present an illustrated introduction to the director's work.
Jonathan Melville spoke to Wootton about Hawks' career and what cinemagoers can expect from his talk.
When did you first develop an interest in the films of Howard Hawks?
As a child watching To Have and To Have Not and The Big Sleep on late night TV with my Mum, and Rio Bravo and Red River on Sunday afternoons with my Dad. Much later I connected the dots and realised they were all directed by the same person!
Hawks' work is difficult to categorise, with film noir, romantic comedies and Westerns all part of the mix: is there something in his directorial style which binds them together?
Hawks was a master of many genres and there is no particular style consistent across his work. He wanted the filmmaking to be invisible although he worked with the same crew and technicians over and over again, had long working relationships with particular actors, such as Cary Grant, John Wayne and Walter Brennan, and especially a group of scriptwriters, i.e. Ben Hecht, Jules Furthman, William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett. Howerver, there are consistent types of characters stories and themes across his work.
In all his action and adventure movies Hawks is interested in the professional group (who could be flyers, racing car drivers or gunfighters) who work hard, play hard and live to an unspoken code of courage, bravery and self reliance. They don't do what they do for society, moral good or family they do it out of loyalty and friendship to each other and to prove they are the best or die trying.
In Hawks' comedies of Bringing up Baby, His Girl Friday or Gentleman Prefer Blondes, those themes are still there but the world is chaotic and it's the characters own often crazed actions and personalities that can make a deranged kind of sense.
In terms of romance, Hawks' heroines, i.e. "The Hawksian Woman", are invariably sexy, smart, tough-talking and as "insolent" as any man - they're modelled largely on Hawks' second wife and embodied by Lauren Bacall and Angie Dickinson.
There are, however, no happy families in Hawks and he is relentlessly unsentimental: sex and seduction, yes, home and hearth, no.
Which of the 14 films being shown do you think most typifies Hawks? Where should a novice begin?
Some would say Only Angels Have Wings is his masterpiece but The Big Sleep has everything: action, romance, fantastic characters and loads of glamour.
For belly laughs, His Girl Friday. Rio Bravo for summing up his whole career in one movie, plus it has John Wayne at his best plus Ricky Nelson and Dean Martin both singing!
What can people expect from your talk?
A tour through the truth, lies and legends of Hawks' life and career in tinsletown, packed with anecdotes and interspersed with loads of photo slides and great film clips.
Adrian Wootton's An Introduction to Howard Hawks takes place at Edinburgh's Filmhouse on Thursday 3 February at 18.30.