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Howard Hawks-master of the ensemble


slaytonf
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There are many things I like about Howard Hawks' direction.  One that he was particularly good at is arranging a number of people in the screen in group.  Other directors composed similar shots, but none did it as skillfully, or returned to it as often as he did.  It's a treat I look for in his movies.  While others constructed the shot with multiple planes, or simple grouping around a focus, Hawks positioned his people and objects to create the impression of a three-dimensional space that included the audience.  There were many variations of it, from the brilliant shot of a spare circle of men ranged around the ice-embedded flying saucer in The Thing From Another World (1951), to the fliers ranged around the bed of a dying pilot in Air Force (1943), to Lauren Bacall singing with Hoagy Carmichael in To Have and Have Not (1944).  The best of these came in Only Angels Have Wings (1939--and on early tomorrow morning for you insomniac Jean Arthur fans).  It is not only the best example of his composition, but it demonstrates another element in his ensembles lacking in other directors, his assembling of it on the screen.  He develops it so skillfully, it's hardly noticeable until the end, when its full accumulated force hits.  It's really got a fabulous energy.  The only thing wrong with it is you want it to go on for about four or five more minutes.  It starts with Geoff (Cary Grant) messing around at a piano with some other musicians, and doing a bad job of it.  Bonnie (Jean Arthur) hears and migrates over, first only showing him the wrong notes he plays:

 

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At this time the elements of the final shot are there, but the people are in disorganized clusters around the screen, in the foreground and background-all involved in their own business.  Eventually, Bonnie takes over the center of the screen, pulling in the other musicians and directing the playing.  Other people from around the room hear, and are drawn in:

 

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Finally, with the climax of the sequence, the screen is crowded with players and attenders, the ones in the foreground looking back, pulling our gaze into the picture.  Notice how not only are people ranged around Bonnie and Geoff from side to side, but stacked toward the top of the screen in the background:

 

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Describing it only gives a poor impression of it.  Here's the scene from YouTube:

 

 

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To add to that, I like the way he uses voices. An example is in His Girl Friday, in which he creates a kind of music, using Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell's (quite similar) voices, talking over each other to create a kind of symphony.

 

Bringing Up Baby is interesting for all those reasons as well -- and for the fact that it should be seen on a double bill with Hitchcock's Rear Window!

 

(Two men who have lost their "bone" -- sorry.)

 

 

 

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