Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator (2004)

Chris Robé

Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator focuses on the man's contributions to and obsessions with aviation.

Howard Hughes: the Real Aviator

Director: Bill Schwartz
Cast: Howard Hughes
MPAA rating: Not Rated
Studio: Shout! Factory
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2004-11-16

Released to coincide with the upcoming release of The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's biopic on Howard Hughes, Bill Schwartz's documentary, Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator, offers Hughes' own perspective on his extraordinary life. Based on his letters and journals, and complemented with interviews with friends and associates, the film earned the top prize for documentary at the 2004 Berkeley Video and Film Festival.

Unlike other recent documentaries on Hughes -- Howard Hughes: His Life, Loves and Films (2004), Howard Hughes and Jane Russell (2003), and Howard Hughes: His Women and His Movies (2000) -- Schwartz's focuses on the man's contributions to and obsessions with aviation. The film chronicles his breaking of the land-plane speed record in 1935 and the circumnavigation record in 1939. It also documents his development of the "flying boat," a 200-ton aircraft made of wood, and the XF11, a photo-reconnaissance aircraft, for the U.S. government while simultaneously addressing his growing reclusiveness and gradual dependency upon Codeine and Valium.

The documentary doesn't rehash the well-worn Hollywood gossip of Hughes' many relationships with stars such as Marion Davies, Carole Lombard, Ida Lupino, and Katherine Hepburn. Neither does it revisit his megalomaniacal idiosyncrasies while working within Hollywood: shooting 2.5 million feet of footage for the 15,000 foot film Hell's Angels (1930); hiring Howard Hawks to direct Scarface (1932) while Hughes was suing him for plagiarizing Hell's Angels; and designing a bra for Jane Russell to emphasize her breasts in The Outlaw (1943). Instead, The Real Aviator argues that Hughes's most important legacy belongs to aviation.

Yet this particular focus is also the film's weakness, as it depoliticizes his governmental aviation work and distances it from his rather notorious anti-Communism and anti-Semitism. Only one side of the coin is disclosed: Hughes as entrepreneur and patriot. Overlooked is how his patriotism led to the ruin of many individuals' lives. He assisted the House Un-American Activities Committee to weed out supposed Communists from the movie industry and actively petitioned Congress to prevent the Blacklisted film Salt of the Earth (1954) from ever being completed.

The Real Aviator's repression of such political issues creates a hagiographic vision of Hughes as a Great Man. Though he had personal problems (drug addiction and misogyny), the film mentions these as incidental, without consequence to the world at large, mainly self-inflicted wounds that make him the primary victim of his actions. He becomes another Charles Foster Kane, with planes serving as his Rosebud.

With regard to Hughes' famous misogyny, Robert Maheu, a Senior Executive for Hughes, briefly comments, "It was not so much that he wanted personal affairs with [women] but to control them in some form." Nothing more is said. Similarly, many interviewees claim that he became addicted to codeine and valium during his hospital recovery after a near fatal plane crash. But no one postulates how drug addiction might be related to more significant personal issues. The documentary mentions Hughes' close relationship with his mother -- his ex-wife Terry Moore refers to it as "smother love" -- and her death at a very early age. Yet it doesn't draw what seem obvious conclusions: the loss of his mother might have translated into his misogynistic attitude towards women, and his drug use and obsessive flying precluded any intimate relationships where he might be made as vulnerable as he was to his mother. The documentary's reliance on Hughes' journals and letters prevents such connections, since he was so disconnected from his past and the people around him.

The film thus offers a rather choppy narrative. When it presents Hughes' Hollywood-based pampering of Colonel Elliot Roosevelt in order to obtain a government aviation contract, it unexpectedly includes footage of the questioning of Johnny Meyer (Hughes' public relations man) during the Brewster Hearings, for charging a pair of nylon stockings for a starlet as "aircraft production." The relation between these two points remains unclear and circumstantial, and only later in the film is it explained that the Brewster Hearings were convened against Hughes for his alleged misappropriation of government funds in his flying boat contract.

For all its structural weaknesses, The Real Aviator provides stunning new footage of Hughes. The DVD extras, in particular, contain a wealth of rare archival footage, including interviews with Moore, Hughes' friend Jack Real, personal aide George Francom, and senior executive, Robert Maheu. Featurettes include Hughes Conquers Hollywood (trailers for Hughes' films Hell's Angels, The Outlaw, and The Conqueror [1956]); Hughes Takes on the U.S. Government offers newsreels and raw footage of Hughes at the Brewster Hearings; and The Flying Boat and The Constellation present outtakes and newsreels of Hughes unveiling his flying boat and monster helicopter.

Such imagery is thrilling for viewers who have only read about these events in such Hughes biographies as David Barrett and James Steele's Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes (1979) or Peter Brown and Pat Broeske's Howard Hughes: The Untold Story (2004). One wishes that the film incorporated this footage more fully, along with more biographical details.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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