It all started when his mother washed his balls
Moms can really fuck you up the most. And even if they can’t, it makes a hell of a plot point.
In their new biopic The Aviator, Martin Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio place all of the blame for Howard Hughes’ hang-ups, but (of course) none of the credit for his triumphs, on his hands-on momma, Allene Hughes. In terms of political correctness, if nothing else, it makes perfect sense — in this day and age, if you can’t trash an overprotective, racist, repressed, golden-haired, scrotum-groping southern belle, who can you trash?
Marty and Leo almost convince us that they take their vision of Howard Hughes seriously, that they’re making a picture about Howard because he was the one Hollywood legend who was more than just a pretty face, that he was a man, a real man, a man who actually went out in the real world and did things. But in fact this film isn’t about Howard, it’s about Hollywood — not the Hollywood where they make movies, but the Hollywood that was a movie, the place where larger-than-life stars like Kate Hepburn and Ava Gardner were even bigger off the screen than on. And it’s about Marty and Leo pretending to be Orson Welles.1
The script, performances, and, most of all, the production values,2 of this film fluff, mousse, and blow-dry the legend of Howard Hughes in a manner quite similar to recent treatments of EdWood and Andy Kauffman. He’s just a kid, damn it, just a big, sweet kid, with more guts than all of you phonies put together! No wonder you had to destroy him!
You have the feeling that Marty and Leo believe it, believe that for Howard and Kate and Ava and a few other “real ones,” Hollywood was the Hollywood they dreamed of, where success came just because you deserved it, where you didn’t have to cheat and lie like all the rest, where happiness was a beautiful ride on a beautiful night with a beautiful girl, instead of an all-night orgy with your buddies in Vegas, doing lines off the ass of a thousand-dollar whore.
Yeah, I think Marty and Leo believed it, because they made me believe it. The Aviator passed the Harry Cohen test with flying colors — my fanny didn’t twitch once for almost three hours. I don’t deny that I’ve got a bourgeois ass, but still that’s something.
The substance of The Aviator is endless jive. By and large, Howard Hughes made lousy movies3 and he made bad planes too, at least when he was using the government’s money.4) He had money to waste, and he wasted it. He didn’t have to kiss anyone’s ass, which in Hollywood must often seem like heaven, but it didn’t make him a genius. What’s all that stuff about power corrupting? Maybe it’s true.5
Cate Blanchett has a good time as Katherine Hepburn (right), playing her as an outright dyke6 who inexplicably prefers screwing men.7 She has the “hero’s best friend” role typically assigned gays in biopics, giving her Howard all kinds of good advice — not hard, because she’s obviously read the script. Kate Beckinsale appears as Ava Gardner, dropping in from Planet Noir as the femme fatale who saves your ass instead of skinning it.8 A gorgeous, fucked-up hero, two strong women, and one crotch-grabbing mom — definitely a balanced picture, definitely “right” for the oughties.
- Fat chance! Even when he was as skinny as Leo, Orson had more ego in his little finger than both Marty and Leo put together. [↩]
- Scorsese seems to be channeling Vincente Minnelli in one ear and Douglas Sirk in the other. Queer theorists will be living off this film for decades. Besides, you get to look at Leo in tight pants for three hours. Who could ask for anything more? [↩]
- Scarface (1932) is an exception to this crass and sweeping generalization, thanks to Paul Muni’s over-the-top performance in the title role, along with plenty of pre-Code babosity from Ann Dvorak and Karen Morley. [↩]
- Howard’s WWII spy plane, heavily featured in the film, wasn’t delivered to the government until almost a year after the war was over. German fighters were outperforming it in 1944. The giant Hercules cargo plane, the “Spruce Goose,” grossly underpowered and totally impractical, did not fly nearly as high as we are shown. (Hughes got it seventy feet off the water, covering a total distance in the air of less than a mile. And it only flew once. [↩]
- What was Howard Hughes really like? There are half a dozen biographies available, each one trashier than the last. If it was tacky, Howard did it, sometime or other. [↩]
- According to Charles Higham’s Howard Hughes: The Secret Life, Hughes was himself bisexual, bedding both Randolph Scott and Cary Grant, among others. But according to Howard Hughes: The Untold Story, by Peter Brown and Pat Broeska, Howard and Cary were just very good friends, for a very long time. [↩]
- Chicks weren’t butch enough for her, apparently. [↩]
- Beckinsale doesn’t make nearly the impression Blanchett does, both because she doesn’t get enough lines and because it’s hard to tell her apart from her bimbo competition (Kelli Garner as “Faith Domergue”). [↩]