Howard Hawks (1896–1977) is one of classical Hollywood cinema's great directors. He is regarded as the consummate Hollywood professional, creating narratively and directorially accomplished entertainment full of fast-paced thrills, humor and tension. His oeuvre spans the period from 1926 to 1970 and takes in nearly all the genres of the time: comedies, westerns, musicals as well as war, adventure and gangster films. Until the end of January, we will be showing a 20 film retrospective that presents famous classics alongside some less well-known discoveries.
After studying engineering and architecture, Hawks started out in the film industry as a props assessment, going on to rise through the ranks in almost textbook fashion to become one of Hollywood's most successful filmmakers in the space of just a few years. Nearly all of Hawks' films were commercial successes, a fact that allowed him to work more freely and independently within the studio system than almost any other Hollywood director, even at the beginning of the sound film era at the start of the 30s. Hawks produced most of his films himself, was nearly always involved in writing their scripts (usually uncredited), and only signed contracts on a film-to-film basis without ever tying himself to one of the studios. While the straightforward nature and sheer efficiency of his narrations were immediately acclaimed by audiences, film critics only began to honor Hawks' class following his "discovery" as an auteur by Cahiers du cinéma in the 50s. The narrative understatement of "craftsman" Hawks, the unobtrusiveness of his visual style, and the great simplicity attached to his camerawork – the camera at eyelevel, with camera movements only permitted when required by the narrative – are now recognized as comprising Hawks' unique stance, which was the result of an "ethic of efficiency and production" (Tavernier/Coursodon). This stance also left its mark on his chosen material and their aesthetic. The adventure films are often about the things that Hawks, himself a pilot, racing driver, fisherman and passionate hunter, knew and loved. Hawks draws sparingly on action to this end, with it never becoming a means to itself in his work, but rather serving to characterize the figures involved. Hawks prefers to either tell stories about men, primarily hardened professionals working in small groups, or confident women who serve as a suitable foil. They are complex stories about human triumphs and weaknesses, notable for their deeply humane worldview; films with wit, drive and tempo in which there is no place for sadness or sentimentality. Hawks shows a world of agency, friendship and solidarity and of fighting and control, in which humanity has not yet given up on a dignified life without alienation despite the justified skepticism brought about by fate.