The other night I watched Only Angels Have Wings, a 1939 film directed by Howard Hawks and set at a remote aviation outpost in South America. The film's been re-released this year in a beautiful print on DVD and Blu-ray by the fine folks at The Criterion Collection, may they live forever. (And among the extras included is the 60 minute radio play version featuring the movie's stars.) Hawks was a pilot himself, and he based some of the film on people and events he'd known or heard about. He'd already made one aviation movie before — Ceiling Zero with James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, which I haven't seen but am now curious about.
I was impressed by Only Angels Have Wings' stillness and quietness, the sadness, the dramatic and tonal complexity. The film is a strange mix of drama and comedy, with swaths of tense suspense when the pilots fly under dangerous conditions. While it includes some of the wry comedy and technical craft I expect from Hawks, it's a much different flavor than what I anticipated based on films like His Girl Friday or the original Scarface. This was his follow-up to Bringing Up Baby, which is now held up as a comedy classic but was a flop when it was released. It seems he didn't feel the need to play it safe, though, and his lack of caution paid off; Only Angels Have Wings was a big hit with critics and audiences both.
As the guy running the show, Cary Grant displays the dark side he rarely got to play but always did well with (also brought out by his films with Alfred Hitchcock). Jean Arthur does well with a less complicated part, bringing a fluster and snappy charm to her character. Rita Hayworth hits the screen in full-star power even in the supporting part she plays. Hawks generally peoples his cast with a great bunch of actors. He was smart with ensembles — I always enjoy the overlapping banter in his films, never better than in His Girl Friday. And he knew his way around a medium shot (sometimes with actors packed in middle ground and background), but he punches in for close-ups to pick up gestures and details when needed (a shaking hand, the meaningful lighting of a cigarette).
And the Oscar-nominated visual effects are expertly handled — just watching the movie, I couldn't tell what were miniatures and what were real planes!
Only Angels Have Wings is a bit episodic and doesn't quite hang together seamlessly, but several sequences are must-sees, and I was particularly affected by the relationship between Grant's character and "Kid" (played by Thomas Mitchell, the first actor to win an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony). I've long respected Hawks as a craftsman, but this is the most complex material with honest drama and genuine heart I've seen from him.
There's an 81 minute interview with Brian Eno from 2013 here that's worth your time. I always find his thoughts fascinating.
I was particularly interested in what Eno had to say about control and surrender. I've been recognizing my own obsession with that dynamic as it relates to various aspects of my life and identity... the creation of art when collaborating with others and when working by myself as well as how it relates to work like comics or film that you finish before sharing with an audience and live performance like theater where there's an element of creation in real time, control dynamics in work relationships and real friendships and romantic relationships, sex as a mutual experience of willingly losing control, my difficulties with sleep and insomnia and the lack of control I've had in that leading to having to drop out of high school and lose day jobs, growing up feeling trapped by my parents and not in control of my life and identity, wetting the bed as a kid, social situations within or outside my comfort zone...
I'd like to do a comic dealing with this theme, but I'm not sure what it'll be yet. Might be a long piece, might be something short. Maybe one or more of each. It's on my idea pile.
I also felt encouraged by Eno's perspective on deadlines, since I've given myself deadlines of releasing new pages of Flesh Machine every week.
"Things that make for good records: deadlines and small budgets.
Things that make for bad records: no deadlines and endless budgets."
Eno has over two thousand of pieces of music in his archives that remain unfinished... until he gets a deadline to finish them.
"When there's a deadline, there's also a destination, a context, a reason for something. And that's what makes me finish."
Manuele Fior's 5,000 km Per Second, translated and published in the states by Fantagraphics Books, is a European graphic novel done all in beautiful watercolor, with the dominant colors changing from scene to scene. It's an elliptical, realistic love story of sorts. Fior does it all with naturalistic storytelling and believable body language. I hope he makes many more graphic novels in the years to come.
I'd love to try doing a comic in watercolor eventually. Some of you will remember that initially I was going to do my current sci-fi comic Flesh Machine in ink wash (like watercolor but with black ink instead of paint, making various shades of gray), but I wasn't happy with how the ink wash pages were scanning (too light and the black wasn't solid black, too dark and the grays got too close to black). I'd still like to do an inkwash comic someday...
I love that there are so many different ways to make comics.
I make Flesh Machine 100% digitally in the program Manga Studio, using only black and white and three gray tones. I finish new pages every week and release them on Tuesdays. I'm up to 120 pages now. All of Flesh Machine so far can be read online at MichaelAvolio.com.