Hawks on Hawks (2013)
Howard Hawks is undoubtedly one of the most important directors in Hollywood history, but he is also one of the most inscrutable. Over his long career Hawks ranged across genres, subjects and themes. At first glance, his filmography seems to be a chaotic gumbo of stuff – screwball comedy, hardcore gangster flicks, westerns, you name it really. And yet… there is something definite about the works of Hawks.
Howard Hawks is – perhaps quietly – one of the most important directors in the history of American cinema. While he is somewhat overlook, the book-length interview, drawn from seven years of interview by prolific film biographer Joseph McBride, captured in Hawks on Hawks is a fascinating read. Filled with Hawks’ own observations and anecdotes about his films and his career, these insights go further in defining the “Hawksian aesthetic” than any third party ever could.
Originally published in 1982, Hawks on Hawks was reissued by the University Press of Kentucky late in 2013. There’s nothing new here – there’s not even a new intro to recontextualize the place of Hawks in cinema history. But that matters very little. The power of this interview remains unchanged since it’s original publication. Just as the work of Howard Hawks defies the standard academic posturing of film theory books, so does the man. Howard Hawks is as plain spoken as his visual style – and as complicated as his thematic concerns.
So what is a Howard Hawks film? The answer to this question is necessarily broad. Typically there is a strong willed protagonist; there is a tight knit group, where group dynamics are shaken due to one person; there is often an assertive woman; there is a lot of rat-a-tat dialogue; friendships are important. Those are the basic schema. Perhaps more academically important, Hawks demonstrated preoccupations with notions of identity and gender norms in a time when those social constructs were in disruptive flux. Or hey, maybe Hawks just made awesome movies.
No matter how your admiration of Hawks shakes out – enjoyment of finely crafted, entertaining films or a cinephile’s exegesis on the aesthetic value of his work, Hawks on Hawks is a must have addition to your film book library. Or, as Francois Truffaut said about Hawks on Hawks: “I read Hawks on Hawks with passion. I am very happy that this book exists.”