Howard Hughes: The Real Aviator Bill Schwartz

With the success of Martin Scorsese's epic depiction of Howard Hughes (The Aviator), it's obviously a good time to release this documentary on the legendary producer/engineer/eccentric. Unlike the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle, this documentary covers Hughes's life from birth until death and exposes the creative liberties that Scorsese took with his version. For instance, his relationship with Katherine Hepburn (which the Scorsese film depicts as the great love of his life) is only mentioned in passing in the documentary, while other women get more focus. Also, the story of why he went into hiding is quite different here than it is in the fictionalisation of his life. At the same time, notorious elements of his life story are either skimmed over or sometimes completely omitted from this documentary. The idea of mental illness and specifically his obsessive-compulsive disorder (which is a big focus of The Aviator) are not even mentioned. Rather, old colleagues and friends who were interviewed and are sprinkled sparsely throughout this film say Hughes became addicted to painkillers after his big crash landing over Beverly Hills and that was a factor in his downfall. The effect of being forced to testify at the Senate hearings and the public's lowered opinion of him also contributed to his decision to go into hiding. These interview clips are the most interesting part of this documentary, and it isn't until the end of the film that they are shown in abundance. Most interesting are the memories of Hughes's personal aide (George Francom) and Jack Real (his best friend and confidant). They explain in detail how Hughes spent his last days hiding out in a Las Vegas hotel, locked in a room, completely naked, eating only chocolate bars and drinking milk. Black and white sketches show us what this may have looked like. Reminiscent of The Kid Stays in the Picture's visual style of documentary, Howard Hughes utilises still images that pop out of the screen and are constantly changing. In the former, Bob Evans is the voice behind his own story. Since Hughes has been dead for nearly 30 years, voiceover actor Michael Ferreri portrays Hughes, narrating the story of his own life. This is a bit hokey, since we know Hughes is dead and may never have said these things, but it's a little more interesting to listen to than the staunch documentary narrator. Since there is so much to say about Hughes's life, and only so much time in an average movie to cram it all in to, many parts are skimmed over, making certain aspects (such as who he is married to at what time) hard to follow. But to see the story of the wacky millionaire's life, and with the DVD extras featuring real clips from his flights and his Senate hearing testimony, it's worth a watch. (Shout Factory/SMV)