Episode 5 – The Aviator

What happens when an icon of cinema takes on another icon? Well an Oscar for starters. This week we discuss Cate Blanchett’s performance as Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004).

Host: Murtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Manuel Betancourt, check out  his website for some of his writing.

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  • What is the film about?

From imdb: A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid 1940s.

  • What year did it come out?

2004- released in the US in December, the rest of the world in 2005.

  • Who does Cate play?

Katherine Hepburn. From Sylvia Scarlett to Woman of the Year; 1935 -1940.

  • How is Cate introduced?
  • 27 mins in – long wait – Hughes lands on the set of Sylvia Scarlett, first close up with her hand shielding the sun – iconic. Then the golf scene. Gets the movie star treatment of course.

Box Office: Domestic = $102,610,330 Int’l =  $111,131,129.

Metacritic: 77. Tomato Meter: 86.

notact

Topics discussed:

  •  Impersonation vs performance – did she get the emotions right? Was it just surface, all perfect accent work, perfect posing in the frame?
  • Who’s Cate’s classic mirror actress? Is it Hepburn? Bette Davis, I think of Blue Jasmine as a Davis film and Cate would’ve killed it in Jezebel or Of Human Bondage.. There are shades of Marlene Dietrich particularly in her androgyny and high glamour. 
  • It’s a series of big scenes / set pieces for Cate/Kate. Every single one a showcase for Cate, no wonder she won the Oscar.
  • Is this Cate’s riskiest performance? Daring to take on an icon in the same medium for which she was known and celebrated. 

“Representing Kate in the same medium, film, in which she existed was very daunting. But because she was so private and few people really knew her, we basically know Hepburn through her films. So of course you have to give a nod to her screen persona when playing her.”- Cate to the NY Times.

  • What constitutes risk in screen acting? Subject matter? Artistic merit / independence? Collaborators?
  • Hepburn’s legacy and screen persona.
  • How does this film fit into Scorsese oeuvre. 

Famous quotes by the character:

Do your worst Mr. Hughes.”

I’m Not Acting.”

Howard, there’s a rather alarming mountain coming our way

I sweat and you’re deaf

And from Leo “You are a movie star. Nothing more

Costumes we loved:

  • The green gown at the movie premiere is to die for.
  • At the club with Hughes and Errol Flynn.
  • The golf outfit.

Scenes we liked:

See above basically all of Cate scenes. Sylvia Scarlett set, Golf, the night club, plane, bathroom, Hepburn family, breakup and later on outside Hughes’ door.

What seemed off:

Basically everything after Howard and Kate break up.The energy left the movie with Cate/Kate. Or is it just me?

kateB

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • Her first Academy award.
  • Came at the tail end of a few years of films – with the exception of LOTR – that didn’t connect with audiences or critics.
  • Was the start of a few years in which she collaborated with top tier international directors: Soderbergh, Inarritu, Fincher.

Film within the context of year it’s been released:

Awards: Won 5 Oscars (Cate, Sandy Powell, Thelma Schoonmaker, Cinematography and Art Direction). Nominated for Best picture, director, sound mixing, screenplay, Leo and Alan Alda. Cate also won BAFTA, SAG and came in 2nd at National Society of Film Critics. Leo won GG.

What reviews said of Cate:

Cate Blanchett has the task of playing Katharine Hepburn, who was herself so close to caricature that to play her accurately involves some risk. Blanchett succeeds in a performance that is delightful and yet touching; mannered and tomboyish, delighting in saying exactly what she means, she shrewdly sizes up Hughes and is quick to be concerned about his eccentricities.”-  Roger Ebert.

a cheerfully stylized performance.”-  Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.

A merely imitative Cate Blanchett, horsy and cursing, “Hot Dawg!” – Ella Taylor, LA Weekly.

Before he stopped cutting his toenails and hair and spiraled into oblivion, Hughes earned a reputation as a serial romancer. Hepburn was only one of many conquests, but she plays a central role in “The Aviator” because she gets Mr. Scorsese closer to the black box at the center of the story. Ms. Blanchett doesn’t look a thing like Hepburn, a discrepancy she tries to overcome by adopting a purposeful gait and delivering an overblown approximation of the actress’s legendary lock-jaw. For the most part Ms. Blanchett sounds as if she’s channeling one of Hepburn’s own overblown performances. But she gives the story a shot of adrenaline and, more importantly, does her job by making Hughes seem palpably human. So much so that when she runs off with Spencer Tracy you feel her absence immediately.” – Manohla Dargis, The New Times.

This cockeyed romance, which lasts considerably longer in the film than it did in real life, proves as charming as it is unlikely, thanks in large measure to Blanchett’s dead-on rendering of the star’s hauteur and vocal peculiarities.Todd McCarthy – Variety.

Cate in relation to these co-stars, director, costume designer:

  • Only collaboration so far with Scorsese and Di Caprio.
  • First collaboration with Sandy Powell, who’ll go on to costume Cate in Carol And Cinderella.

Press coverage:

  • 2nd of ultimate 5 Vogue covers coincided with the release of this film, Dec 2004.

NYTimes profile:

It’s such a brave performance by Cate, with the accent and mannerisms, that naturally there are those who will feel a certain way about it,” said Mr. Scorsese, who had been impressed with the actress’s “precision and boldness” since “Elizabeth” and considers Ms. Blanchett’s role in “The Aviator” one of the most “daunting in the film, even if some younger viewers won’t know who the real Katharine Hepburn was.

  • Great insight in the article on how she found Hepburn’s voice.

Some fashion moments:

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Like? Have a question? Leave us a comment.

 

 

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