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🎬 #29 Single-Minded Cinema.
I think one of the reasons we are so drawn to great characters is that they exist in a brilliantly singular way and do only what they want with such focus as to make us envious. We watch with admiration of the fact that they have chosen a path and see it all the way through, whether that leads to success or tragedy is the thing that’s compelling about cinematic choices. In a way, great characters, although realistic are actually larger than life, in that, they are exist to do basically one thing. By being reduced to follow one path, they enact our wish fulfilment of being just as single minded. Becoming lost in one pursuit so compelling to them that they don’t worry about the realities of life that we, as real living people, have to.
Both this week’s films deal with both the good and bad of being so dedicated to a single-minded pursuit.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: THE AVIATOR
2004 Dir Martin Scorcese
Even the title defines who Howard Hughes saw himself as - an aviator. One of many of his interests, this became his sole obsession that plunged him from lofty highs to the lows of obscurity. From oil drill bit heir to movie mogul to inventor, and record breaking aviator. Martin Scorcese’s biopic tackles Hughes’ younger years as we see that obsession with the skies really take hold.
The real Hughes was a man of immense talent and intellect, matched only by his commitment and obsessive drive that few could keep up with. The tragedy of his story is that this obsessive quality, unchecked, would ultimately lead to his demise.
Scorcese, DiCaprio and crew tackle this story with an obsessive drive all of their own, with cinematographer Robert Richardson realising each time period in the film stock most emblematic of cinema at that time. The film starts in ‘2 colour’ the heavily tinged red and green of the frame reminding us of early Hollywood before it transitions into full blown Technicolour. This commitment to the reality of the time period along with costume and production design that is dazzling, focuses us all the more into Hughes’ obsessive mindset. We can barely keep up with his relentless pursuit going the fastest, going the furthest and building the biggest.
This could have been a love letter to Hollywood but instead this story of one man’s journey into mental illness plays out with his tertiary interest, Hollywood, as backdrop. The flare of camera bulbs during a premiere sear the first pangs of Hughes’ mental illness into visceral reality. From there it’s his battle against his own mental illness that propels the story. Yes, he faces external set backs in the shape of tumultuous relationships and foes in the form of Alec Baldwin’s Juan Trippe, but the real antagonist is his OCD - the dark side of his perfectionist drive.
The operatic scale of the film plays perfectly with the intimate but sprawling inner life that is captured in John Logan’s excellent screenplay. His mind brought to life via Schoonmakers ‘jumpy’ purposefully disorientating editing, and DiCaprio’s deep commitment to the part - making that internal life spring out visually for all to see.
There are many great sequences that capture these internal struggles but one in particular - a bathroom scene, will make you wince from something you never thought you’d wince from. This is a portrait of a man driven by obession, but also a sensitively real vision of a brilliant man too often known by the caricature image of his lonely later years.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hr 50 mins of my precious life watching this? Go deep into obsession as Scorcese paints a compelling, tender, celluloid portrait of a modern Davinci.
*Available for a small rental fee on Google Play, YouTube, Amazon, Apple, Sky Store.
Fact: Christopher Nolan wrote a film based on Howard Hughes life that was set to star Jim Carry as Hughes. It remains his favourite screenplay but he rendered it null and void after he made his own trilogy about an obsessed billionaire in the shape of Bruce Wayne.
Bonus: Michael Mann had developed the project and was set to direct but instead handed the reigns to Scorcese to focus on Collateral.
FILM TWO: PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER.
2006 Dir Tom Tyker
Tom Tyker is an interesting filmmaker - he’s able to make those mid-level budget films with compelling ideas that seem to be becoming more and more rare. After bursting onto the world cinema stage with Run Lola Run [which won the Sundance Audience Award in 1998] he’s been able to drive a committed path with originality and bold choices.
Perfume is a perfect example of this. Ben Wishaw plays the lead character - Jean-Baptise Grenouille. A man born with a supernatural sense of smell. Like Howard Hughes in The Aviator it is this superior talent that inevitably leads to his downfall. Wishaw plays a man obsessed with scent, with creating the world’s ultimate perfume. His performance tinges the character with a child-like innocence, no matter how far he goes, we can’t help but remember him with that naivety and the cruelty of his childhood in mind. Even if he stops at nothing to fulfil his obsessions.
Tyker directs with a sumptuous-ness that vividly brings this world of scent to life - inspired by masters like Rembrandt and Carravaggio. And like them there is density to the visual image that evokes a richness, a tactility that almost makes you feel like you have heightened senses. He captures Jean-Baptiste’s abilities with a splendour that renders smell as material as a moss covered rock in an epic Italian landscape. Every aspect of the filmmaking feels like it has a rare detailed patina - the make-up, wardrobe and camera all working to illicit this feeling of what it must be like to possess a sense of smell as powerful as his. When you look at a frame you feel like you can smell it and you get a sense of why Jean-Baptiste is driven to the edge of madness because of his talent.
The journey that results from Jean-Baptiste’s unchecked pursuit of his wildest dreams and even wilder talents is as captivating as the scents that find themselves in his perfume cabinet. What starts as a story of an underdog, soon twists and morphs into something as disturbing as it is seductive and sensual. A man alienated because of his superior talent, a story to which Hughes can relate.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hr 27 mins of my precious life watching this? Lose yourself in scent as Tyker distills a disturbing tale of obsession into a rich, long-lasting film that is incredibly satisfying - not just because of its bravado act 2 climax which makes perfect sense but still comes as a surprise of pure rapture.
*Available for a small rental fee on BFI Player, Amazon and Apple.
Fact: Among the many directors who were attached to the project was artist and filmmaker, Julian Schnable.
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