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The Complete Howard Hawks

Sep 7 — Nov 10, 2013

Organized by Chief Curator David Schwartz

All films directed by Howard Hawks, unless noted. All titles to be shown on film.

Howard Hawks was the quintessential Hollywood director, a master of many genres who moved easily between drama and comedy with a style that was always lucid, energetic, and direct. Hawks worked in relative anonymity until the 1950s and ‘60s, when auteurist critics discerned a directorial signature that gave depth and coherence to his extremely diverse films. In his influential book Howard Hawks (1968), Robin Wood wrote, “If I were asked to choose a film that would justify the existence of Hollywood, I think it would be Rio Bravo. Hawks is at his most completely personal and individual when his work is most firmly traditional: The more established the foundation, the freer he feels to be himself.”

Cinema is a medium of action, in which everything must be expressed on the surface, in concrete physical terms. In Hawks’s film, behavior is everything. An instinctive existentialist, Hawks depicts a universe where groups of men and women battle the abyss by sticking to a precise code of conduct and behavior, where professionalism under pressure is the ultimate virtue. No great Hollywood director has ever shown less interest in such institutions as government, family, and marriage. And Hawks displayed a healthy disregard for gender roles. “In the end, the traditionalist Hawks may be more modern than the modernists,” wrote Molly Haskell, “in perceiving that as a mutual adventure of equals, sexual union, like sexual antagonism, is a meeting not of subject and object, but of two self-determining subjects.”

Resolutely unpretentious, Hawks said, “I try to tell my story as simply as possible, with the camera at eye level.” His definition of a good director was “somebody who doesn’t annoy you.” Hawks left the theorizing to the critics, such as Eric Rohmer, who wrote in Cahiers du Cinema in 1953, “The best Westerns are those signed by a great name. I say this because I love film, because I believe it is not the fruit of chance, but of art and men’s genius, because I think one cannot really love any film if one does not really love the ones by Howard Hawks.”

Museum members receive free admission to all Hawks films, plus have reservation privileges. Join the Museum today (individual memberships begin at $75) for these and other benefits.