Monday, April 19, 2010

Four Things I Noticed About HATARI!

Somehow, Tom had gone his entire life without ever seeing Hatari!, the 1962 Howard Hawks film, something which his Mary, who had seen the film several times, remedied this evening. It's a remarkable film, one that I look forward to seeing many, many times in the future. But four things stuck out during this first viewing, those being:

-- How episodic the film is. While each scene and sequence definitely exists in the context of the others, you don't get the sense of some arbitrary over-arching thing or some sort of threat; there's no headlong rush towards some kind of final confrontation. The film ends when the hunting season ends. There's a lot of attention to process, and I wonder how many procedurals, police and otherwise, would benefit from a more episodic structure.

-- Also, how languid the film is. It's two-and-a-half hours, takes its time, is unhurried. It reminds me of something Capra once said about It Happened One Night, which had opened as a flop both critically and commercially before slowly building word-of-mouth: "People found the film longer than usual and, surprise, funnier, much funnier than usual. But, biggest surprise of all, they could remember in detail a good deal of what went on in the film and they found that everybody else did and that it was great fun talking about this and that scene. And let's go see it again and take the Johnsons." I think films that are longer than usual are funnier, more exciting, and more memorable than usual because they are long. The extra time gives you more of a sense of the characters, of the setting, gives you a greater feel for the work.

-- That said, there are some characters that I'd like to have a little less time with. After the first ninety minutes or so, Red Buttons start to wear awfully thin.

-- And somewhere around the ninety minute mark, the film transforms from lots-of-manly-action plus comedy to lots-of-comedy plus manly action, and, the gratingness of Red Buttons aside, I had no problem with this shift. In fact, it felt right, and part of that I think has to do with qualities number one and two-- how episodic and long the film is. Those qualities give the film the freedom to shift gears, to build in another direction. It's not merely a matter of "mixing" genres, of shoehorning one into another, but of shifting them smoothly, of creating enough room for something else.

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