Sunday, 1 July 2012

Remember that movie 'The Aviator'?

I was recently doing a bit of shopping at my local charity shops (they are a gold mine) and came across the DVD section finding The Aviator for a pound. Having a little nostalgia induced twinge, I purchased said movie and watched it. Do you ever get one of those feelings where you can't understand how you forgot about such a good movie from years earlier? That was me, and I thus went on to search for documentaries about Howard Hughes as he was such an interesting and complex character.

The movie is a biopic of the life of Howard Hughes, who, acquired many job titles throughout his career including businessman, investor, aviator, engineer, film producer, director and philanthropist. He lived a very privileged life and was one of the richest men in the world at the time, since the death of his parents who left him their fortune. He romanced some of the worlds most beautiful women, made some of histories most expensive films and created groundbreaking aircrafts which broke all the world air-speed records.
This amount of talent mixed with unlimited limitations would to some be seen as a recipe for greatness but for Hughes it would end up a disaster. Being diagnosed as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder would be the ultimate limitation for a man who could have everything. OCD is described as, "an anxiety disorder characterised by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviours aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such compulsions and obsessions. Symptoms of the disorder include excessive washing or cleaning; repetitive checking; extreme hoarding; aversion to particular numbers; and nervous rituals"(link).

The Aviator is one of the most stylish films I've seen, with incredible detail for every set and garment worn. The women character clothing is beautiful and give me a longing for the hope that the fashion world will somehow revolve itself to bring back some of the fashions of that time. It oozes sophistication and glamour, showing the world how it's done properly.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hughes in the movie in what I feel is the best role he has ever done. The character is played with such resounding sadness especially at parts where Hughes himself is finding his condition extremely painful to live with. At times even opening a restroom door-handle gives such great distress to Hughes, it is reminiscent to that of a terrified child who hates the dark.
Love is a major theme throughout, with the main loves of Hughes being that of Hollywood movie stars Katherine Hepburn (played by Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (played by Kate Beckinsale) who both played the now iconic females of the time with complete grace and elegance. Blanchett particularly stood out for me, she is one of my favourite actresses anyway and can only be described as an acting chameleon.
The movie shows Hughes love for Hepburn which was so great that there is a touching scene where he takes her out for a impromptu private flying lesson and shares his bottle of milk for her to drink out of, showing him letting his guard down in his own way. However it wasn't meant to be as Hughes determination to constantly be the worlds best aviator/director/businessman took centre stage and Hepburn felt left out and then fell in love with someone else, someone who gave her the attention she was so accustomed to in her professional life. It also didn't help that Hughes was frequently pictured out with every starlet in town, a fact that humiliated and infuriated Hepburn.

This heartbreak was to set Hughes off into an oblivion of mental health disorders which gained more strength everyday. The more the pressure got to him, the more grasp his OCD took hold, as if his own illness fed off his self. He began bugging his phone lines and repeating sentences before eventually becoming a self imposed reclusive, stuck in a deep depression and locking himself in a screening room where he didn't wash and even went as far as urinating in his empty milk bottles - before lining them up in order. The movie captures these painful times with, what I feel, is great respect and honesty.

I remember watching a documentary years ago about the life of Howard Hughes and it was more traumatic than the movie. It interviewed those who knew him back then (they are elderly now) and some shocking claims were made. Apparently during the last years of Hughes life, he signed his company assets over to a cult-like organisations (reportedly that of a Mormon background) who severed what little contact he had with the outside world, including friends and business associates who had always loved and worried about him. This group played up to his metal illness and even encouraged it with harrowing memories being retold such as the time Hughes wanted to live in a hotel in Las Vegas. Vegas to Hughes was the dessert. which was clean and empty, therefore comfortable and somewhat safe for him. When took to a hotel and shown to his suite, Hughes apparently saw a bright room with a view out over Nevada and stated he liked it and asked whether they (his 'people') thought he should stay there. They then disgustingly said no and ushered him into a windowless room where he was told he would be safe from germs. He had an excruciating ending to his life, full of neglect and mental abuse and upon his death in 1976 weighing as little as seven stone which for a man who was six foot four inches tall, is horrendous. His legacy now lives on with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute being funded with some of his billion pound fortune left in his estate. This is a non-profit medical research organisation which Hughes founded in 1953 and is now the second-wealthiest philanthropic organisation in the US and is the second best endowed medical research foundation in the world.

Personally, I feel as though Howard Hughes story is as relevant now as it was then. Speaking from a mental health point of view, I can only imagine how hard to must of been for him back in those days to live with something like that. I mean those were the days where people with, what now is classified as schizophrenia, were lobotomised for acting odd. Even now almost eighty years since the time of Hughes, are the general public that different when it comes to mental health disorders as they were then? To me there seems to be a great shame in that subject, which is still a taboo condition to talk about openly and accept. Hopefully, though, as the world is evolving and we understand ourselves better as a species, we can educate ourselves and not be prejudice to those who need our sympathy and help with mental health problems.

(images via GoogleImages and altgf)

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