Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Aviator (4 Stars)

I vaguely remember watching "The Aviator" when it was first shown on television more than ten years ago. All that stuck in my mind was the aerial scenes and the plane crash. Today I finally returned to it, determined to remember more this time. The chances are better. I write a blog now, so if I'm still alive in 2027 I can read this post to remind myself about the film.

The film is famous for several near misses at the Academy Awards. It's the film for which Leonardo DiCaprio should have won the Best Actor award. (He had to wait another 11 years until "The Revenant", which wasn't in the same class as "The Aviator"). It's the film for which Martin Scorsese should have won the Best Director award. (He had to wait another two years until "The Departed", which was definitely inferior to "The Aviator"). It should also have won the Best Film award. The top awards in 2005 went to "Miilion Dollar Baby", which is quite remarkable, because it really wasn't such a good film, as most critics agree today. Jamie Foxx was awarded the Best Actor award for his performance in "Ray", which is so ridiculous that I doubt even Jamie expected it. "The Aviator" was nominated for 11 Oscars in 2005, of which it won five, one for Cate Blanchette as Best Supporting Actress -- wasn't she the Lead Actress? -- and the other four in technical categories. It should have won twice as many.

"The Aviator" tells the story of Howard Hughes from 1926 to 1947.  He was a tortured soul who was unlucky enough to become America's richest man. He was born in 1905. His father made millions from the invention of a drilling bit that was used in drilling for oil. His mother died in 1922 and his father in 1924, making him one of the richest men in America at a precariously young age.

Howard Hughes had a passion for two things: films and flying. He was a multi-millionaire at 20, but his passion for films, or rather his obsession with films, put him in danger of being bankrupt by 25. At 21 he began to make a film called "Hell's Angels" about the fighter pilots of World War One. Over a period of two years he invested two million dollars of his personal wealth in the film (the equivalent of $30 million today). When the film was complete he was unhappy with it, because sound movies had just been invented, so he spent another two years and another two million dollars on refilming it. The gamble paid off. The film earned eight million dollars at the box office, enough of a profit for him to continue with his passions.

Howard made more films, but he gained notoriety for his flying exploits. He set several speed records for planes, including a round the world flight in 101 hours, less than four days. Howard designed planes himself, he let his engineers build them, he fine-tuned them himself, and then he flew them himself, much to the horror of his business associates who thought he was putting his life at risk. Flying was too much fun to leave it to others.

He also bought Trans World Airlines (TWA), which he intended to become America's largest airline company. He spent $18 million of his own money on 40 new planes, because the company itself didn't have enough money. This failed to make him a profit because the boss of Pan Am, Juan Trippe, bribed a Senator to write a bill not allowing companies other than Pan Am to provide flights to Europe.

With Howard's business sense and his knack for making money came a curse. He was obsessive and paranoid. He was constantly afraid of uncleanliness and being infected. He couldn't touch things that other people had already touched, things like door handles. Eventually it got to the state that he couldn't endure personal contact with other people. This became the most extreme in his later years, not shown in the film, but even in the 1940's he spent days alone in a hotel room. He was afraid to visit the toilet -- a place with a high risk of infection -- so he urinated into empty milk bottles in his room.

During his early years, as shown in the film, Howard had many girlfriends who were film stars. The most famous were Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner. He also had a relationship with Faith Domergue, who was only 15 when they met. He sent her to school every day in a chauffeur-driven car, because he insisted that education was essential.

Even within the 20-year time-frame the film omits many details of Howard's life. He was a complex man. He might not have been a likeable man, but the film concentrates on the details that make him sympathetic to the viewer. As viewers we rejoice in his strengths and pity his weaknesses. Leonardo DiCaprio excels in portraying him. He really should have won the Oscar for Best Actor.

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