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13 March, 2005

Review: The Aviator (2004)

I saw 'The Aviator' last night, at The Dukes, and enjoyed it.  I didn't know much about the era, so found that interesting, and both the production and acting were good.  One minor negative point was the repeated use of an odd lighting effect reminiscent of theatre lights brightening at the start of a scene in a stage play; I presume there was some deliberate stylistic reason, but I'm afraid it eluded me.

If I'd left it at that, I would have come away with an undiminished favourable impression of the film (and Howard Hughes, for that matter). However, as I left, I picked up the Dukes' programme notes (a photocopied page from, I think, 'Time Out'), which argued that it was somewhat superficial, presenting a 'Boy's Own' adventure rather than greater insight into the undeniably darker aspects of the real man's life. Once it was pointed out, I had to agree.

I was impressed by Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Katherine Hepburn (or rather, I liked it; I'm not familiar with Miss Hepburn or her films, so I can't truly comment on the accuracy of the representation), so, if only to remind myself of how the real version looked in the 1930s/40s, I looked her up in the IMDb, which led me on to Howard Hughes' entry, and more specialised sites. These expanded summaries of his biography not only provided details of his later life (of limited relevance to the film, which leaves the story in 1947, 29 years before his death) but highlighted omissions, aspects glossed-over and changed timings.

Concatenating events is a standard technique in making biopics or films of preexisting novels, but it's not one I like, and when a story purports to be true, changing chronologies (and hence emphases) diminishes confidence in narrative accuracy. For example, an early scene shows Hughes hiring Noah Dietrich on the set of 'Hell's Angels' in 1928, whereas they'd really worked together since 1925; trivial in this context, yet it makes one wonder what else is changed, and whether any of the story can be accepted as true. Wider reading also gives the strong impression that the 1947 Senate hearings weren't as simple as 'Hughes vs. Senator Brewster (and hence Pan-Am)', though simplification makes it more confrontational and hence cinematic.
One shouldn't compare such minor tweaks with the gross distortions of true events in 'JFK', but those excesses of Oliver Stone do (unfairly) make one less trusting of Martin Scorcese's 'The Aviator'.

So, having watched the film, I enjoyed it, but having investigated further, I think less of it. Reviewing changes the reviewed.

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