Friday, 19 February 2010

Drop It Like It's Hawt..

Every now and then, it's amazing how clear things can become when you're writing.

Every now and then.

For ages, I struggle with a kind of grey muddy vision of things and when I decide to drop one story element that has been serving as a back story to the main character (after resisting it for a long time) things become much more simple (relatively, that is) and a new and more streamlined back story seems to propel the character into the story far more effectively.

Now I feel I can get on with the business of actually telling a ghost story, of dreaming up scary moments and ideas that are directly related to the character and his situation at the beginning of the story.

One little decision makes the morning worthwhile.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Stripping it Back

Away from my Hawks Hunt, I'm still trying to get to grips with a story I've been faffing* with for 10 years, now no longer faffing but molding it into a screenplay.

But even after 10 years, I'm kind of faffing, not by fiddling or wasting time (or am I?) but by trying to get ahead of myself. Consequently, this has resulted in some false starts and reinforces in me the need to get everything clear from the beginning. By refusing to look at things from the ground up, my story does move forward but then stops and finds itself with nowhere to go, specifically concerning the ending.

So, I'm stripping it back down to its roots and separating all of the elements so I know exactly what their place is in the grand scheme of things. And, hey presto, things start to become clear again. Avenues I'd forgotten about reappear and more story possibilities are, well, possible.

And most importantly, by reminding me that I can back out of a blind alley by carefully reversing, it makes me get excited about it all over again.

Lesson learned - don't get ahead of myself and keep it clear.

Coming soon, my thought on Hawks' Scarface. And then I'll be watching The Crowd Roars.

Hawks and Cagney. Love it.

*I'm surprised to discover "faffing" is recognised by the Google spellchecker.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Kids in Canvas Coffins...

My Hawks Hunt continues with The Dawn Patrol.

I did not expect to like this film as much as I did. In fact there were moments I simply loved. Hawks' first Talkie tells the story of two friends in the First World War as they fly out on bombing sorties in bi-planes over war torn France. The Hawksian theme of brothers in arms and male friendship is apparent from the get go. Richard Barthelmess and Douglas Fairbanks Jr play Courtney and Scotto with what appears to be real warmth. The sense of camaraderie is convincing amongst the men as they face death in the sky with each other, none of them knowing if they'll ever return each time they take off. The men drink (a lot), laugh and sing songs in their makeshift little bar at the airfield, waiting for the next batch of orders to be delivered by Neil Hamilton's Major Brand.

Brand and Courtney are points of antagonism for each other; Brand is a ball of anxiety, receiving orders, under protest, from the higher ups that will send young and inexperienced pilots out to their likely doom. And he has to deliver these orders personally to the squadron, led by Courtney, who does not realise Brand's own conflict over it all and subsequently a huge rift exists between the two men. Mention is made of them falling out over a girl in the past, but this seems unnecessary and is rarely if ever mentioned again. All we need to know is that Courtney thinks Brand is sending these kids out to die himself and hates him for it. Until the tables are turned and Courtney finds himself on the other side of the desk when Brand is promoted. Which in turn leads to a rift between Courtney and Scotto. Circles and circles...

One of the main things that struck me about this was the performances. And subsequent reading up about the film has filled me in. There is a natural feeling to the three main performances. I've only seen Richard Barthelmess once before in Michael Curtiz's The Cabin in the Cotton and I did not like him in that at all; let's be honest, it's really Bette Davis' film. And so when he appeared in The Dawn Patrol, I sank a little. But he's great in it. I've since learned that Hawks actually had a little trouble with the studio over the performances not being...well, loud and stagey enough. It seems that the world was used to and expected over-acting and non-natural sounding dialogue and Hawks received studio notes suggesting that no one would believe the film or its performances. They were dead wrong and the film received an Academy Award for best story.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr has come in for a little stick about his performance but I liked him. He lent the proceedings an air of needed joviality at times, with a hairdo that preceded Jedward by some 80 odd years. I've not seen colour pictures of Fairbanks from the period, but something in me says he had red hair during this time. Just an odd and pointless observation from me.

I;d only ever known Neil Hamilton from somewhere else and it took me some time and brow-furrowing before I realised he played Commissioner Gordon to Adam West's Batman in the 1960's. I don't know if he was trying, but there seemed to be a slightly Scottish lilt to his voice. The other accents in the film vary, with no one truly trying to do any sort of British accent except for the actual Brits onscreen. But the dialogue did seem geared toward that, without going over the score with any "Tally ho's"! One performance that did stick out was William Janney as Scotto's doomed younger brother. He was simply rubbish. The gee whizz factor emanated from him like nausea inducing sun rays.

Obviously, the major selling point of a film like this is the aircraft action. And in fact it took a while for that to really kick off onscreen, and with good cause. Even though it's clear Courtney is the main character, when the planes take off, we stay with Brand, anxiously downing drinks with his head in his hands, waiting for the sounds of the returning planes, counting them in. These were effective moments, boiling the weight and responsibility on Brand down to pretty intimate moments of a man counting the deaths he feels responsible for. And when Courtney takes over, we already know what he's in for.

Great shots of the rickety planes taking off, landing and crashing lend it all a sense of authenticity that is only broken by the fact that the airfield seems to be amongst the scrub of the Californian desert and not Northern France. I love the back projection shot, mixed in with the footage of the aircraft. I don't know, I just like back projection. Even James Cameron got away with it in Aliens. A beaut tracking shot of the planes as they prepare to take off lingers in the mind, Hawks love of aircraft very evident. And the fragility of these planes also comes across as they bounce back to the ground, offering the men inside a brittle security. But Hawks does not concern himself with the politics of war, just the lives of the men who fight it. In that respect, it reminds me at least a little of The Hurt Locker.

All in, a thrilling and compelling take of the realities of those who dare and do. Loved it.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Geek Disclaimer

I watched Hawks' The Dawn Patrol last night. I'll do a little write up about it later today. But before I do, I want to make something perfectly clear.

I am not a critic.

Sure, you say. Everybody's a critic.

Well, I'm not a film critic. So don't take anything written here to be an attempt at proper analysis. I was rotten at that kind of thing at film school (I find over-analysis to be...passion killing). I'm just a geek who loves movies in general and this is about improving and educating myself. Getting it down in written form on the blog will likely make it clearer in my head, which is usually about as clear and navigable as a sticky swamp in the middle of the darkest night whilst hidden under a black tarpaulin and blindfolded by Black Meg, the sight stealer.

Yes, I like Blackadder.

So, my thoughts on Hawk's first talkie later today. Before that, I have a script to be writing.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Remaining Silent Hawks

Well, my search for the rest of Howard Hawks silent films has drawn a blank. I can't even find clips of them. Some of them are available somehow.

Again, bugger.

There are still plenty of articles and reviews about some of them around so at least I can make some progress. However, there's loads still to see.

Up next, The Dawn Patrol.

Fig Leaves

I wasn't able to get a hold of Howard hawks' first film, The Road to Glory (1926), as it seems it doesn't actually exist anymore.


So, next on the list is Fig Leaves, produced in the same year as Hawks' debut. Unfortunately, and as can be the case with silent films, I've only been able to see about the first 30 minutes of what looked to be an amusing battle of the sexes comedy. And I'd better get The Flintstones references out of the way before I carry on; just about every article I've read in the film so far makes mention of the obvious connection. The film is book-ended with scenes set millions of years ago featuring Adam (George O'Brien) and Eve (Olive Borden) dressed, naturally enough, as cavemen. But no primitive fires and huddling in wet caves for this pair - life is lived in much the same way as it is during the film's contemporary scenes. Nice little gags involving coconut-dropping alarm clocks run by sand instead of clockwork and buses pulled by dinosaurs (large scale mechanicals by the look of it, or with performers inside). Yes, yes, yes, so far so Flintstone. I wonder what Hawks' reaction to Hanna and Barbera's cartoon was. Quiet amusement, I imagine.

The prehistoric scenes frame a modern day story (1920's) about a very similar couple, also named Adam and Eve and played by the two leads mentioned above. Eve wants to go out and work, but he's having none of it. Arguments ensue and slithery, serpent-like characters neighbour Alice and fashion designer Andre appear on the scene, each plotting to steal Eve and Adam respectively for themselves. Alice's devious nature is already suggested by her original appearance as the serpent in prehistoric Eve's life but, instead of tempting her, they gossip.

That's about as far as I was able to get given the limited scenes available to me. Themes about the predictability of the attitudes of the sexes to each other and their particular wants and desires are presented in ways very much of their time but Hawks' general representation of women throughout his career is established early on here, an example being Adam insisting on a seat on the dino-bus from a young lady (what a gent!) and her subsequent "We'll get our rights one day" line. If anything, the men do appear dafter, including the Troughtonesque Heine Conklin as Adam's assistant, who provides some laughs in a scene where he tries to convince Adam to get firm with his woman and squirms away when Eve shows up.

But the most Hawksian element, even in a silent, is the quick fire dialogue. We don't always hear what they saying but we know exactly what it is, regardless of the title cards. And Hawks also has some fun with his cards, giving a drunkenly childish Adam a great visual moment by playing around with the font. I actually laughed out loud at one moment where Adam, in response to Eve mentioning a fig leaf sale, replies, "Somehow I can't get hysterical over that".

A funny little film which I like to see the rest of sometime.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Doing Hawks

No, it's not an obscene riff on raptors.

I've decided to learn more about Howard Hawks, my interest having recently been aroused by a book of interviews with him (his mildly amused reaction to the passion of Nouvelle Vague interrogators Truffaut et all is interesting). He's someone I've know about since a kid, hearing my childhood film heroes talking about his influence on them and, having already seen a couple of his films in the past, I'm now on a mission to see and learn as much about him as I can.

Oddly enough, I'm not a fan of his later westerns (all the same film, it would appear) but I hope to see them more in context with the rest of his work; Rio Lobo and Bringing Up Baby are a million miles apart to me. Maybe it's Hawks' versatility that is the most interesting thing of all.

From what I've already gleaned, some of his earliest films, particularly the silents, may be tricky buggers to track down and I want to do this as chronologically as possible. Any help or info would be lovely.

There are some fragments of his first film, Road to Glory, somewhere. Here we go...