Sunday, May 29, 2005

Phony Real

Howard Hughes is an interesting subject. It's an odd combination of brilliance and madness, reality and phoniness, passion and perfection beside hypochondria and dysfunction. It seems to me that anyone can make a fortune (and lose a fortune), but not everyone has that extraordinary level of energy (or attention span) to pull off coup after coup after coup. A lot of millionaires, billionaires are driven by the same thing athletes and sportsmen are. Compulsion.

I've trained for a number of races, and every moment you're aware that your competitors are out there, using the available time to get stronger, fitter and faster. And you have to ask yourself, how can I do better with my time? Maybe the answer is to never rest, or seems to be. Often, that workhorse ethic, is part and parcel of success. Another thing is in forgetting and ignoring the risk, the downside. The adventure of it is what's important.

The love of aircraft is something I had too. I flew my share of kites (including a three eyed beast that went hundreds of metres up, and some even use for shark fishing), made my model aeroplanes. I went to the Air Force where the dream of flying fizzled. It seemed phony, the world around the airplanes, and the life in the armed forces was filled with such drudgery and retardedness, I couldn't wait to be rid of it. I was offered a contract to become a pilot (one of only two other candidates, subsequent to writing some math based aptitude tests) and I considered it. They were offering me a house, but they also wanted me to stay put, in this...environment...and the Air Force represented the 13th year of bondage (after 12 years of school) and I wanted to be free.

I can't say I like flying much anymore. Not on commercial aircraft, as a long haul passenger anyway. What could be a more boring way to fly than to wait hours for a plane, wait hours in a plane, seated....the only reward being the fleeting glimpse of a city, seen from the sky, as you disembark, and the magic appearance of a new destination from the sky.

My brother and I were lucky enough to fly in military and other helicopters when we were kids. That's still an abiding ambition, to pilot a helicopter. The area around Cape Town is notorious for its fires, as the dry season and windy season coincide. The seeds of many of the indigenous plants actually need to be smoked and/or burned in order to germinate.

There is a private company that operates Mi8's (helicopters)out of Cape Town with buckets slung underneath. Tragically one was lost, along with all 3 on board, in 1998 due to a tail-rotor strike while lifting an air conditioning unit onto the roof of a building in Town.

I've written at least 3 novels/works in progress featuring helicopters. One involves a shipwrecked Mi-26 (the world's largest helicopter) in the kalahari desert, which sets off an existential quest for the filling of the great wild, and empty heart of man. Another was a self-indulgent love story, which opens with a metaphorical resurrection (shipwrecked this time on a small boat, floating out to see, and airlifted/resurrected to safety)of the heartbroken protagonist. The third involved a pilot who inadvertently scoops up a shallow diver and tosses him, flippers and all, into a raging forest fire on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town.

A documentary of aviation explanes how these superaeroplanes (like Hughes' Spruce Goose, and even the Concorde to some extent) were superceded by smaller jets capable of using smaller runways. The latest airbus will probably be a casualty of oil, unless it can transport more people more cheaply. All this is reminiscent of the cheaper GSM phones wiping out a possible market for satellite phones, despite the technology being more sophisticated.

Back to Hughes, as he is depicted in the Aviator. Kate Blanchett is a work of artistic intelligence in motion, and her appearances in The Aviator are all interesting. DiCaprio is a good actor, but I can't help seeing him in every movie as a boyish character surrounded by older women.
The Aviator is an interesting movie, but it bares little resemblance to the real Howard Hughes, and only hints at the darker dealings he was involved with. Perhaps wisely, Scorcese has focussed on the flying aspect. That is possibly Hughes' defining magic, and what gave him some nobility and vision within all the corruption
that surrounded his life. The thing that Hollywood does, is it weaves a beautiful story of excess and love and passion, with all the rewards but not all the consequences.
We like to believe that life is like this, but if we really think it is, then we're phonies in a phony-real world.

The value in movies based on fact is that we once again remember people who have passed, how their era shaped them and made them, and that, into what is now. There is tremendous insight in hindsight, to go beyond just the glitz to exactly what they achieved and did that did not, and does still, endure today. What we see can help us be whoever we've made up our minds to be, or remind us in our forgetfulness, of all that we have forgotten to do.

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