People just don't live like Howard Hughes anymore. Hughes was the
ultimate alpha male. He flew higher, went faster, planned bigger and
dated the most beautiful women in the world. Anytime someone suggested
that he could not do something, he would move heaven and earth to prove them
wrong. When he needed to test something, he did it himself. No
relying on his subordinates. The buck stopped with him, and if he
believed in something enough to build it, he believed in it enough to live
or die with it.
course, there was a dark side to Howard Hughes. Since his childhood,
he battled to keep his mental health. He had a paralyzing germ phobia,
he was often unreasonably paranoid, could be obsessive compulsive and
sometimes saw imaginary people. When he was young, these compulsions
could somewhat be kept in check, but as he got older, it became harder and harder to
interesting thing is that Hughes' neuroses were probably at least partially
what made him able to become the richest man in the world. His
obsessive compulsions honed his ability to understand complex problems and
his apparent lack of fear to risk everything personally and finacially for his company.
He was smart enough and lucky enough that it always seemed
to end up working out for him.
Hughes was born into money, but he never was willing to fall back into the
family's safe, rather boring industrial business. Hughes was much more
drawn to the glamour that money could bring. His first attempt to make
it on his own was when Hughes decided to get into the movie business.
As was his way, he couldn't do anything small and he was obsessive about
even the tiniest detail, so in the time of silent movies he spent two years
and an unheard of two million dollars to film his aerial war story Hell's
Angels. Then, when the film was finally ready but became a little
obsolete because of the advent of the sound picture, instead of releasing
his movie as is, he doubled the time and money spent to re-film the story in sound.
kind of expenditure should have broken him, and it would have a lesser man,
but Hughes was able to make it work. Hughes became the toast of
Hollywood society, becoming engaged to Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett in
an uncanny impersonation) and releasing films that were groundbreaking in
terms of violence (Scarface) and sex (The Outlaw with Jane
However, Hughes' true love was flying. He was a natural in the field,
teaming with his experts to create the fastest and largest planes ever,
taking over the struggling TWA airline and making it a powerhouse.
Scorsese is the perfect choice to direct Hughes' story because it is obvious
that he loves the shiny toys, baubles and beautiful women just as much as
his subject does. He has created the kind of film that Hughes would
have undoubtedly approved of. This movie is stunningly beautiful,
packed to the gills with interesting gadgets, flashing lights, retro glamour
and the kind of huge dreams that Hughes specialized in.
DiCaprio cements his reputation as one of the best actors working, creating
a multi-layered tycoon who was brilliant, fearless, charming and yet at the
same time tortured. Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale (as Ava Gardner) are
wonderful as the Hollywood starlets whom he never married but retained
long-standing friendships with after their romances fizzled.
There are a whole bunch of interesting cameos, including Jude Law as Errol
Flynn (continuing Law's impressive attempt to be in every movie released in
2004), singer Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, Kevin O'Rourke as Spencer Tracy,
Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) as Katherine Hepburn's mother and the
entire singing Wainwright family (father Loudon and children Rufus and
Martha) as a jazz troupe.
the film goes on, Hughes' demons start to overtake him and we see the
beginnings of his downfall. He never lost his fortune, but in his
later years Hughes almost never left his suite at the Desert Inn in Las
Vegas, never bathed, never cut his nails, just watched his movies over and
over alone. To
get a better idea of how Hughes ended up, go to your video store and try to track down Jonathan Demme's
great 1980 movie Melvin and Howard, which was based upon Hughes'
infamous contested Mormon will and featured Jason Robards in a staggering
supporting performance as Hughes towards the end of his days.
In a world where it sometimes seems that we have forgotten how truly dream
big, The Aviator is an exhilarating memento of American ingenuity.
It is also a sobering reminder of how closely connected brilliance and madness
can sometimes be.
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: January 1, 2005.