Bringing Up Baby (1938, Howard Hawks)

It may rarely get credited as such, but Bringing Up Baby is one of the most beautiful films in the American cinema, as well as one of its most definitive. In very few other places would the American dream of independence be so thoroughly explored and so thoroughly exalted, even with the knowledge that it may leave one rushing head-first into a sort of self-and-social-destruction. Love in Howard Hawks’ screwball comedy is not necessarily a comfortable arrangement, but rather a discovering and enjoying of a partner who can set us off on this course, help us navigate and extend its duration and relish the final destination.
The plot and the stars are as familiar now as to not need going over again. Instead I will just leave a couple of paragraphs of notes, barely touched, that I made during another viewing of this masterpiece:
Is this film so much different from some of Sam Fuller in its assertion of the demented nature of life, in its claim that order exists only to be ruptured, chaotically broken down, by acts of insanity (albeit here a fun version of insanity, rather than the tormented, often immoral insanity seen in a Fuller film)? There’s a similarity too in pacing, in the rushing onwards and onwards, like a barrelling down a newly-discovered path through the world, through the universe, a frantic journey during which one cannot do much too contemplating about their position or transformation but finds, instead, a new self waiting at the end destination as if pre-ordained.

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A main difference between the two film-makers is probably that Hawks’ compositions have a feeling of lightness about them, a space which can incorporate those great busy group shots when needed; there is not so much the Fullerian focus on one singular corporeal form which dominates the frame.  Indeed, the last half-an-hour is one long, unbroken sequence of Hawksian brilliance, one of the finest is any of his films, the director at his best; a chaotic dinner gives way to a search through an almost fairytale forest of light and shadows, the twin promises of romance and danger (that now-loose angry leopard twin) hanging heavy and a near-wistful mood prevailing through this comedic adventure, and then there is the long, beautiful exercise and study in group dynamics in the police station, the male camaraderie so beloved of Hawks for once being presented as pompous, inadequate, silly and leading only to a situation of classic farce. Bringing Up Baby is a film that still stuns us because it still feels as if the world hasn’t caught up with its manic movement, that it’s still trailing in its wake, that it’s still perhaps hanging on desperately to the rear bumper of that car that ferries Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn out of the golf club and away into the paradise of irrepressible, irresponsible, impossible action. Everything continues to crackle, everything continues to spark, and we can dream of meeting someone careless and lovely enough to destroy all the wobbling structures of our ‘respectable’ lives and give us the gift of terrifying, joyful abandon.

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