September 19, 2014

WATCH ME IF YOU CAN | Ten Years Later: The Aviator

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By MARINA CAITLIN WATTS

Ten years ago, Martin Scorsese released his biopic The Aviator, which revolves around Howard Hughes during his rise and fall of his career as a filmmaker and aviation genius. Hughes (portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio) is a film director and an airplane designer, but sees himself primarily as an aviator. Successful and smart, he lives his life lavishly with movie stars in Hollywood clubs.

Howard Hughes suffers from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and it consumes him entirely. It goes from only being able to drink milk from a bottle closed when given to him, to wrapping the entire interior of his house in saran wrap. It takes place from the roaring twenties to the post-war forties, as he battles with everything from scandalous Hollywood rumors to confrontations with the FBI.

Scorsese was able to take audiences into these respective time periods through the use of cinematography. In the 1920s, any color cinematography was focused mainly on the Technicolor boom. Thus, the scenes that took place during this era were shot through filters of that time. Reds and yellows were saturated, and greens were so intensely filtered that they appeared more blue than green. However, after the plane crash scene, the color pallet used changed, along with Hughes’ life. This switch was important in reflecting everything going on in his life, as he had reached his peak and OCD began to consume him more than ever.  Colors weren’t as vibrant, and everything looked blander as Hughes’ life fell apart.

The film was also shot in widescreen to reflect the style of old films. Dimming the lights was another effect Scorsese used to his advantage. It was a psychological effect since it drew the eye in certain directions when employed. Howard Hughes’ mental state definitely played a large role in the choices Scorsese and his team made. This allows viewers to better understand what is going on in his mind. Its style is effective, especially in the viewing room scene, and whenever montages appear on screen for the more tumultuous moments of Hughes’ life.

Soundtracks often can make or break a film. Its score, which won a Golden Globe, is phenomenal alongside the music compiled for it. Here, the soundtrack does more than justice for capturing the essence Martin Scorsese was trying to create for moviegoers. Big band music and artists from that period (Bing Crosby, the Ink Spots and especially Artie Shaw’s haunting “Nightmare”) capture the life and times of Howard Hughes.

Ironically enough, DiCaprio lost the Academy Award that year to another actor in a biopic, Jamie Foxx in Ray.  However, Cate Blanchet won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (and it was well deserved).

Why does this film matter 10 years later? Biopics are hard to do properly, since they must capture an entire person’s life within two or three hours. As a biopic, The Aviator shines. As a film, every aspect is absolutely perfect. The ensemble cast should not go unnoticed. By enhancing the story and drawing audiences in more, the cinematographic aspect of his film deserves a lot more credit than it gets.

To anyone who considers themselves a cinephile like me, I recommend this extraordinary film.

Marina Caitlin Watts is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at mcw236@cornell.edu. Watch Me If You Can appears every Friday.

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