Howard Hawks

Michael J. Anderson

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Howard Hawks

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Critical and scholarly writing on Howard Hawks (b. 1896–d. 1977) has oscillated historically between moments of comparative neglect and extraordinary abundance. Writing in one of the seminal appreciations of the director, Andrew Sarris 1969 proclaimed that “Howard Hawks is the least known and least appreciated giant of the American cinema.” Noting Hawks’s exclusion from a number of the key film historical texts, Sarris nevertheless added that “Hawks has been greatly admired in France since Scarface (1932).” While Sarris’s view overlooked the director’s more perceptive earlier American critics—most of all Farber 2009b (cited under Earlier Critical Appreciations), which placed the director at the center of his “Underground Films” taxonomy five years earlier—it is essential to note that Sarris was writing in the immediate aftermath of the director’s canonization by the “Hitchcocko-Hawksian” auteur critics of the journal Cahiers du Cinéma, who more than any group deserves credit for Hawks’s consequent stature (see especially Rivette 1985 [cited under The Hitchcocko-Hawksians). Indeed, it was as the auteurist example par excellence that Hawks would move to the fore of film criticism and scholarship amid the “auteurist wars” that followed Sarris 1969 (cited under The First Wave of Anglo-American Critical Scholarship) and Wollen 1969 (cited under Single-Author Volumes). A decade later, Sarris’s partner Molly Haskell (see Haskell 1980, cited under The Hawksian Woman and Hawks’s Feminist Reception) was more than justified in claiming that Hawks had attracted “more buff attention in the last ten years than almost any American director.” Of course, it was not only as a touchstone for auteurist debates, but as one of the more fruitful targets of feminist film criticism—exemplified by Haskell and Wise (see Haskell 1974, Haskell 1996, and Wise 1996, cited under The Hawksian Woman and Hawks’s Feminist Reception)—that Hawks had loomed so large over the 1970s. At about the same time that Haskell wrote, interest in reading the director’s work against American history and culture (see Sklar 1996[bibItem-0095], the work of a social film historian) increased, against more interdisciplinary perspectives (Cavell 1981, cited under Single-Author Volumes), and against psychoanalytic and queer theory (Wood 1981, cited under Hawks and Homosociality, Homosexuality, and Psychoanalysis). All of these perspectives offered fruitful new channels for Hawksian scholarship. So, too, would the neo-Formalist approaches most often associated with Bordwell and Thompson 2010 (cited under Formalism, Neoformalism, and Close Textual Analysis). Hawks, in fact, remained central to the most current trends in film scholarship until at least the middle of the 1980s, with academic interest in the director running in parallel to those in the discipline as a whole. Nevertheless, in the two-plus decades since, Hawks never seemed to reclaim his former stature entirely—even if McCarthy 1997 (cited under Biography) subsequently produced one of Hawks scholarship’s most indispensable texts—as film history increasingly moved into studies of early cinema and later reception, and as film theory shifted toward subjective-based and postmodern approaches. (Neither would inherently favor the director as had the discipline’s earlier emphases on directorial authorship, feminism, and queer theory.) At the end of the 20th and in the early 21st centuries, it once again has become possible to opine that cinema buffs are forgetting Hawks, and to wonder, as has Hill and Davis 1997 (cited under Latter-Day Assessments), whether his position within the canon might just be less than secure.

Article.  9508 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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