Friday, September 11, 2009

Howard Hawks' "I Was a Male War Bride" (1951)


Describing a Howard Hawks movie with stills is truly impossible. Every one of his films are odes to movement, whether it is the movements of humans, animals, or vehicles. And there is the always-attentive camera, slightly following each movement, emphasizing every happening within (and without) the frame.

All the great writers-on-film (I hate the word "critic"!) underline Hawks' dance with biology. Perhaps the main key to appreciating Hawks is watching, carefully, the very tiny, and partly improvised, camera moves... Almost invisible, sometimes to a little left, and a little to the right, etc. reacting to the movements of the characters. Some movements can't be noticed without paying attention to the borders of the frame. And great stuff always happen at the very corners...

It is true that all these moves always refer back to things that happen in the frame, so re-direct our attention to the movements of the main characters. But this does not mean that someone who wants to get the highest pleasures should stay unaware of what is happening. What Tag Gallagher wrote about the so-called "invisible cuts" is also true about "invisible movements":

"One is certainly not less involved with music by being conscious of the rhythm, the meter, the phrase structures, the harmonic motion, the contrapuntal lines, which instrument is playing, how the instrumentalist chooses to phrase and articulate. Quite the contrary, the more we are consciously aware of these elements, the more we shall become engulfed in the emotions, in the world, of the music.

So too with movies. Not being aware of cuts is just being oblivious, cutting oneself off from actual sensual contact with cinema. It's a denial of pleasure, of experience. It's stupid.

I don't think it's true that things affect us without our being aware of it. Experiencing art is not like being etherized for an operation. It's above all a physical and emotional awareness. If you're not intelligent, you're not aware."


If you really want to see Hawks, pay attention to the tiniest camera moves. I would say his camera moves are not so far below Stan Brakhage's methods in training our eyes to see more, and more.

Here is one great example, which, by definition, might look inconsequential until one knows everything that happens before (or after, for that matter) in the sublime film called I Was a Male War Bride.