Who is he?
Celebrated Hollywood scenarist, producer and film director who made close to 40 films between the late twenties and the early seventies. Though not considered a serious film artist at home in America during his time, Hawks was “discovered” and valorised greatly by French critics, especially those at Cahiers du Cinéma. Jacques Rivette, for instance, wrote that “Hawks epitomises the highest qualities of the American cinema”.
What are his films about?
Hawks’ films never deal directly with political or social ideas, and instead centre themselves intently on the interaction between men and women. Nevertheless, a certain political conservatism and a love for his countrymen are visible in all of them. The male characters are archetypical, unsentimental men renowned for their strong professionalism, while the women, though never independent of men, display a degree of individualism, wit and resilience that matches their counterparts.
Hawks had a thoroughly functional, self-effacing style that was also austere and highly structured. The excesses of studio films like sentimentalism, heightened acting, dramatic flashbacks or visual grandeur are completely absent in his films. Scenes are written around conversations and actions and are shot and cut in a seamless fashion. Two-shots, rapid succession of dialogue and scenes of conviviality are commonplace. Twists in the narrative are rare and there is a lightness of approach which keeps assuring us that better times are just around the corner for the characters.
WHY is he of interest?
Hawks’ films were among the finest accomplishments in the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema and have starkly influenced later day filmmakers like Robert Altman and Quentin Tarantino. To many, these films embody the quintessentially American attitudes of directness and simplicity, without sacrificing intelligence or artistry. Today, it is considered a truism to call Hawks a true-blue American auteur.
WHERE to discover him?
Intended as a Republican response to High Noon (1952), which was seen as a statement against McCarthyism that plagued Hollywood, Rio Bravo (1959) is a self-consciously celebratory Western in which a band of misfits ward off a gang of armed men. Hawks most acclaimed movie, and perhaps the most endearing too, paints a picture of a joyful community in which everyone is ready to lend a helping hand, without risking the loss of their individuality, and, no matter how grave the situation looks, there is always time for a little music.