Flying Solo The Aviator and Libertarian Philosophy

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The
first thing a genius needs is to breathe free air.
~ Ludwig
von Mises

The Billionaire
Underdog

Martin
Scorsese is the cinematic champion of the underdog, even if he happens
to be the richest man in the world. That explains how The
Aviator
(2004) fits into the impressive body of work Scorsese
has created in his long and distinguished career as a director.
At first glance, the billionaire aviation tycoon Howard Hughes would
not appear to be the sort of subject that would attract Scorsese.
As a rich and powerful businessman, a handsome playboy, and a media
celebrity, Hughes seems to be the archetypal top dog. He is exactly
the kind of person a typical Scorsese protagonist can only dream
of being. A Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, 1976) or a Rupert
Pupkin (The King of Comedy, 1983) stares at public figures
like Hughes and is driven to commit crimes in the hope of entering
the charmed circle of their publicity. Scorsese is the great poet
of the American underclass, focusing on the loners, the losers,
the misfits, and the malcontents, those on the outside of society
desperately struggling to get in. As an Italian American, he has
often dwelled in particular on the plight of immigrant subcultures
as they try to fit into the mainstream of American society, culminating
in his dark tribute to the immigrant experience in Gangs of New
York (2002). Howard Hughes would seem to be the opposite of
all this. Stepping right out of the American heartland, he was born
in Texas and inherited a fortune and, hence, social respectability.
As a record-setting aviator, he seems cut out of the mold of the
quintessential all-American hero Charles Lindbergh — and, hence,
worlds removed from a typical Scorsese psychotic criminal like Max
Cady (Cape Fear, 1991).

Yet The
Aviator manages to turn Howard Hughes into a trademark Scorsese
underdog, the Jake La Motta of the aviation industry. Scorsese's
Hughes is a street fighter, sometimes a bully, and always a scrapper.
He is portrayed as continually at odds with the establishment, whether
in Hollywood or the aviation industry, and, ultimately, he runs
afoul of the law and finds himself pitted against the U.S. government
itself.1 Despite the fact that he is surrounded by beautiful
women and, at times, an adoring public, the film reveals him to
be at heart a loner and a misfit, even a freak. To be sure, Hughes
is far more successful than the typical Scorsese protagonist in
pursuing his ambitions, and he does accomplish what they can only
dream of doing. Yet, in the end, Hughes is just as tormented as
Travis Bickel, Rupert Pupkin, or Jake La Motta. Like these earlier
Scorsese figures, he pursues his dreams obsessively, compulsively,
monomaniacally, and, therefore, cannot remain content even when
he achieves his goals. Driven by a perpetual dissatisfaction with
himself and the world around him, he seems destined to unhappiness.

Still,
Scorsese finds something triumphal, and, perhaps, even redemptive,
in Hughes's tortured psyche because it is, after all, the source
of his creativity. Precisely because the world does not satisfy
him, Hughes is always out to change it and improve it. His obsessive
perfectionism continually drives him to new heights of achievement.
He wants the perfect motion picture, the perfect airplane, and,
one might add, the perfect woman, and, in each case, he keeps on
molding and remolding reality to make it fit his visionary expectations.
Scorsese uses Hughes's story to explore the thin line between madness
and genius and, ultimately, shows that the line cannot be drawn.
Hughes's psychological obsessions make his achievements possible,
but in the end poison them and incapacitate him. The artist as madman,
the madman as artist — here is Scorsese's deepest point of identification
with Hughes and the reason why he is able to give such a sympathetic
portrait of a figure who could easily be presented in a very negative
light.

Scorsese
obviously saw a great deal of himself in Hughes — and with good
reason. As an independent filmmaker who bucked the Hollywood studio
system, as a perfectionist who kept reshooting scenes and reediting
film footage, thereby continually going over budget, Howard Hughes
was the Martin Scorsese of his day. As Scorsese himself describes
Hughes: "When he made Hell's Angels (a picture I've
always loved), he was a truly independent filmmaker, and he literally
spent years and a small fortune trying to get it right."2
Many of Scorsese's films have drawn on autobiographical material,
most obviously whenever he dealt with Little Italy, the New York
neighborhood in which he himself grew up. But it is remarkable how,
in turning to what at first seems to be subject matter utterly alien
to his own immigrant background, Scorsese nevertheless found in
Hughes a mirror of his own struggles as a creative artist. The Hollywood
scenes of The Aviator are probably as close as we will ever
come to seeing Raging Director: The Martin Scorsese Story.

The Businessman
as Visionary

As a result
of Scorsese's identification with Hughes as a filmmaker, The
Aviator offers something rare in a Hollywood movie — a positive
portrait of a businessman, precisely in his role as a businessman.
In the typical Hollywood production, whether in motion pictures
or television, the businessman often appears as a villain.3
Businessmen are generally presented as greedy, corrupt, uncaring,
and willing to do anything for the sake of profit. They typically
cheat customers, employees, colleagues, and investors, despoil the
environment, subvert the due process of law, and commit all kinds
of crimes. In one mystery after another, the murderer turns out
to be a businessman, trying to eliminate a rival, cover up an earlier
misdeed, or just make a buck at the expense of his fellow human
beings. Over against the capitalist villain, Hollywood offers a
variety of altruistic, public-spirited heroes who, by contrast,
put the common good above their narrow economic interests. Public
prosecutors, the police, government officials of all kinds, together
with an army of social workers, investigative journalists, environmentalists,
and other do-gooders, are presented as necessary to rein in the
antisocial impulses of private enterprise. Oliver Stone's Wall
Street (1987) — which ironically immortalized Gordon Gekko's
phrase "greed is good" — is only an extreme example of
the negative image of businessmen that Hollywood usually projects.4

Scorsese
himself has participated in this antibusiness trend in American
popular culture. In movies such as The Color of Money (1986)
and Goodfellas (1990), he portrays the corrupting effects
of the profit motive and works to link the world of business with
the world of crime. As part of his sympathy for the underdog or
little guy, he has generally adopted a left-wing attitude toward
big business/corporate America, namely, that it is evil and corrupt
and leads to the big fish preying on the little fish. But, in The
Aviator, Scorsese seems to strike off in a new direction and
look at the positive side of business for a change, perhaps because
he is dealing in part with his own business, filmmaking. The story
of Howard Hughes allows him to portray the businessman as visionary
and creative, even heroic. Hughes was, of course, heroic in a conventional
Hollywood sense. As a pioneer in aviation and, specifically, a daring
aviator himself, often serving as the test pilot for his own innovative
planes and setting speed and distance records, he was obviously
courageous in the way in which the traditional Hollywood hero normally
is. With the title of The Aviator, one could imagine Scorsese's
film assimilating Hughes to conventional Hollywood models of the
heroic aviation pioneer, from Charles Lindbergh to Amelia Earhart
to John Glenn. Hughes did have the right stuff. But, although the
heroic aviator archetype is integral to Scorsese's portrayal of
Hughes, the movie reveals much more than his raw courage in an airplane.

Scorsese's
Hughes is heroic as a businessman, displaying a different kind of
courage in his willingness to take economic risks, above all with
his own money. The Aviator is unusual among movies in capturing
what it is specifically to be an entrepreneur, a genuine innovator
in business. Scorsese's Hughes is creative in all his activities,
not just in his work as a filmmaker. What unites his activities
in the film and aviation industries is his ability to predict the
future. He is always alert to emerging technological possibilities
and the new demands of consumers, and he is willing to bet his own
money on what he thinks the wave of the future will be. In most
movie portrayals, the businessman has nothing to contribute to the
common good and, in fact, makes his money only by cheating, defrauding,
or otherwise exploiting the public. By contrast, The Aviator
presents Hughes as a progressive force in two industries, someone
who gives the public what it wants (e.g., talkies rather than silent
movies) and, more remarkably, correctly anticipates what the public
would want if it were made available (e.g., transcontinental and
transatlantic flights in reliable, fast, and comfortable aircraft).

Thus, even
though Scorsese may share the left-wing political opinions typical
of Hollywood, The Aviator in many respects celebrates the
spirit of free enterprise and, more generally, embodies a kind of
libertarian philosophy. One may profitably interpret the film in
terms of concepts derived from classic defenders of the free market
such as Adam Smith and also draw on the work of the Austrian school
of economics, one of whose chief representatives is Ludwig von Mises.
The emphasis in Austrian economics on the special role of the entrepreneur
and his ability to deal with the risk and uncertainty endemic to
economic life makes it particularly relevant to understanding The
Aviator. Although Smith and Mises are conventionally categorized
as economists, their work has a large philosophical component. Smith
was, in fact, a professor of moral philosophy at the University
of Glasgow and wrote on many philosophical subjects. Mises devoted
a significant portion of his writing to epistemological issues,
and he always approached economic questions from a larger philosophical
perspective. Both Smith and Mises can properly be regarded as social
philosophers, and, indeed, they rank high among the developers of
a philosophy of freedom. Their support for liberty is grounded in
an economic understanding of the virtues of free markets, but it
encompasses a larger philosophical vision of freedom as the proper
condition of humanity.

It is unlikely
that Scorsese was influenced by Smith, Mises, or any other libertarian
thinker; nevertheless, he may share the broad outlines of their
philosophy of freedom. There has always been a rebellious and anti-authority
streak in his movies that suggests an affinity with libertarianism.
In Gangs of New York and The Aviator, Scorsese seems
to be focusing on the government — and specifically the federal
government — as a prime enemy of liberty. In many ways, the most
distinctive — and libertarian — component of The Aviator
is the way in which it ends up championing the lonely figure of
the private businessman against the vast oppressive apparatus of
the federal government brought to bear on him. Normally in Hollywood
movies, the private businessman is the villain, and a noble representative
of the government — often a congressman or a senator — is necessary
to bring him to justice.5 The Aviator reverses
this Hollywood stereotype, casting the crusading senator as the
corrupt villain and the businessman as the victim of government
injustice. Usually in American popular culture, the government is
presented as the solution to all our problems ("there ought
to be a law"), and we almost never see the idea that free market
forces might be the real answer. By contrast, The Aviator
seems to suggest that the government itself is the problem, and
the entrepreneurial spirit is presented as the key to improving
the world. I do not wish to associate Martin Scorsese with Ayn Rand,
but I will say that not since the courtroom scene in The Fountainhead
(King Vidor, 1949) has a Hollywood movie vindicated the philosophy
of rugged individualism as forcefully as The Aviator does
in the Senate hearing scene.

Some Issues
of Interpretation

Before turning
to a detailed analysis of the film, I want to take up briefly two
preliminary but important issues of interpretation, one involving
Martin Scorsese, the other Howard Hughes. I have been talking about
The Aviator as if it were simply a Martin Scorsese creation
and he were solely and completely responsible for its content. In
fact, The Aviator is a rare example of Scorsese becoming
involved in a film project that he did not initiate himself. The
actor who plays Hughes, Leonardo DiCaprio, was the driving force
behind doing a film on the subject and worked closely in developing
the screenplay with John Logan — a talented and successful writer
whose screen credits include Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000),
The Last Samurai (Edward Zwick, 2003), Any Given Sunday
(Oliver Stone, 1999), and Star Trek: Nemesis (Stuart Baird,
2002). Scorsese was not even the first choice to direct the film,
but, when Michael Mann backed out (he stayed on as coproducer),
DiCaprio wisely approached the director he was working with on Gangs
of New York. Thus, the story of The Aviator had largely
taken shape before Scorsese started to work on the film, as we can
see from his own description of Logan's screenplay: "He had
written a character who was both tragic and triumphant, whose brilliance
was inseparable from his mania, whose vulnerability was inseparable
from his callousness, whose private vision of perfection drove him
forward and stopped him dead in his tracks, and then drove him forward
once more. Which is to say that The Aviator was a portrait
of the artist, writ large across the landscape of 20th century America."6

Clearly,
many of the ideas I have been attributing to Scorsese he found already
embodied in the script that was handed to him. Thus, any full account
of The Aviator must acknowledge Logan's contribution to the
creative process, and DiCaprio also played an important role. Film
is a collaborative medium, and, despite the attractions of French
auteur theory, one cannot regard any movie as the product of a single
creator. Nevertheless, it is still reasonable to talk about The
Aviator as a Martin Scorsese film. As I have shown, it fits
quite neatly into his body of work as a whole and, in fact, reflects
many of his characteristic preoccupations as a filmmaker. And, of
course, the finished motion picture bears the unmistakable stamp
of his unique cinematic genius. The genesis of The Aviator
is an excellent example of the creative serendipity that is more
typical of popular culture than we like to think. We might wish
that The Aviator were a project that Martin Scorsese had
carefully planned out himself from start to finish. But, in fact,
he was handed a script that was tailor-made for his distinctive
vision of the world and, what is more, gave him a chance to develop
that vision in new directions. The happy result was one of Scorsese's
most successful movies — artistically, critically, and commercially
— and, if he was not single-handedly responsible for it, one may
still say that the film carries his full endorsement and embodies
his view of the world.

The other
issue I must deal with briefly is the question of the accuracy of
the movie's portrayal of Hughes. It appears that we will never know
the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the
real Howard Hughes. His life has become surrounded by so many myths,
mysteries, mystifications, fabrications, and lies that we will probably
never be able confidently to separate fact from fiction in his case.
The Aviator is grounded in a great deal of research into
Hughes's life and draws on Charles Higham's biography (the movie
offers, however, a much more positive interpretation of Hughes than
the book does).7 DiCaprio studied newsreel footage of
Hughes in preparing for the role, as is particularly evident in
the Senate hearing scene. Substantial newsreel clips from the actual
hearing survive, allowing DiCaprio to imitate Hughes's behavior
on this occasion quite closely (much of the dialogue in this scene
is transcribed verbatim from the recorded testimony). At the same
time, The Aviator takes some artistic liberties with the
historical truth. The hearings were not, in fact, televised, and
Hughes's persecutor, Senator Owen Brewster, was only a member of
the Senate committee, not, as the film claims, its chairman. With
exceptions such as this, The Aviator is, in general, true
to the facts about Hughes that can be determined, but, like any
work of art, it selects and interprets those facts and, thus, ends
up emphasizing certain aspects of Hughes's life at the expense of
others.

Insofar
as I have been able to sort out the historical facts, I would say
that the Howard Hughes we see in The Aviator is generally
a more admirable and attractive figure than the real Howard Hughes.
The mere fact that the film deals with only the first half of Hughes's
career — before he completely withdrew from public life and became
a bizarre recluse — means that we view him in a more favorable light.
The Aviator does acknowledge the dark sides to Hughes's character
and presents some of his more questionable deeds, but it does so
in the larger context of treating him as a hero rather than a villain.
Thus, I want to make it clear that, in this essay, I am discussing
a fictionalized portrait of Hughes, the Howard Hughes of Scorsese's
film, not the real Howard Hughes. The historical Hughes would be
a much more dubious choice as a poster child for free enterprise.
Particularly in the second half of his career, when he earned most
of his money from secret defense contracts, he became a part of
the military-industrial complex and, hence, largely a partner of
the federal government, even its creature, not someone who heroically
stood up to it. It is, of course, interesting to point out the ways
in which the historical Hughes differed from the fictionalized portrait
given in The Aviator, but it would not be a refutation of
the idea that the film embodies a libertarian philosophy to say
that the real Howard Hughes was not truly a good model of a free
market entrepreneur. For the purpose of analyzing The Aviator
as a Scorsese film, what matters is how it portrays Hughes, not
what Hughes was really like. In fact, by comparing the historical
Hughes with the film's significantly idealized portrait of him,
one gets a sense of what the director was trying to emphasize, namely,
the heroic side of the entrepreneur.

In sum,
when I use the phrase Scorsese's Hughes or just plain Hughes
in this essay, it should be read as shorthand for the more cumbersome
phrase the fictionalized image of Howard Hughes shaped by Martin
Scorsese, John Logan, Leonardo DiCaprio, and other contributors
to "The Aviator," an image based in a mass of historical
facts about the real Hughes but departing significantly in artistic
ways from the full truth about Hughes insofar as it can be determined.
In short, in this essay I am writing about a character in a movie,
not a historical figure, and it is that character, I am claiming,
who is a celebration of the entrepreneur in the spirit of libertarian
philosophy.

Risking
One's Own Money

The Aviator
begins with a brief prologue, a scene of Hughes's childhood, that
attempts to locate in his relation to his overprotective mother
the source of his lifelong obsession with cleanliness and with his
health. The film then jumps ahead to Hughes as a young man, soon
after the death of his parents left him extremely wealthy as the
owner of Hughes Tool Company. Hughes is in southern California making
Hell's Angels (1930), a film about World War I flying aces
and their aerial combat. We get our first glimpse of Hughes the
perfectionist as he does everything he can to make the movie on
a truly epic scale. He has assembled "the largest private air
force in the world" for the picture,8 and, as the
story begins, he has decided that an unprecedented total of twenty-four
cameras is still not enough to shoot the aerial combat scenes the
way he wants them — he needs two more. In his quest for the elusive
additional cameras, he approaches one of the grandest of movie moguls,
Louis B. Mayer, and the film introduces the motif of Hughes's ongoing
battle with the establishment. Mayer treats him with contempt as
an outsider in Hollywood and dismisses him with the curt comment:
"MGM isn't usually in the practice of helping out the competition"
(8).

In the
opening sequence of the film, we are, thus, immediately confronted
with images of Hughes's visionary power and his iron will in making
his dreams come true. His first words in the film, as he deals with
technical problems with the aircraft, are appropriately: "Don't
tell me I can't do it! . . . Don't tell me it can't be done!"
(3). These words could serve as the defining motto of the Howard
Hughes of The Aviator. At every step of the way, he refuses
to compromise and accept the seemingly practical solution that,
according to conventional wisdom, the situation demands. For example,
after he concludes that he needs clouds in the background to make
the excitement of aerial combat visible to movie audiences, he waits
months — despite mounting costs — for the proper weather conditions
to materialize. After finally finishing the film — well behind schedule
and over budget — he is on the verge of releasing it in theaters
when he discovers the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer
(Alan Crosland, 1927) with Al Jolson. Without hesitation, he announces
to his weary business manager, Noah Dietrich (John C. Reilly): "You
see, this is what people want. Silent pictures are yesterday's news,
so I figure I have to reshoot Hell's Angels for sound"
(22–23).

Hughes's
perfectionism is vindicated when Hell's Angels turns out
to be a critical and a commercial success. But, as we see throughout
The Aviator, Hughes pays a price for perfection, literally
in terms of how much money it costs him to keep reworking Hell's
Angels to meet his high standards. Fortunately for Hughes, his
inheritance ensures that he has enough money to pursue his dreams,
as he tells Dietrich: "My folks are gone now so it's my
money" (4). The Aviator keeps emphasizing this point
— that Hughes's own money is at stake in his artistic and business
ventures. It is not just that he is a visionary — "Leave the
big ideas to me" (10) — it is even more important that
he has the courage of his convictions and is willing to put his
money where his mouth is. Even when he borrows the money to finance
his enterprises, he puts up all his personal assets as collateral.
To raise the money to finish Hell's Angels, he instructs
Dietrich: "Mortgage Toolco. Every asset." The results
could, of course, be disastrous, as his second in command tells
him: "If you do that you could lose everything" (26).
But, as a businessman, Hughes is a gambler, and he plays for high
stakes. He does not simply risk his money; again and again he risks
it all. The Aviator distinguishes itself from most movies
about business by constantly reminding us why entrepreneurs are
rewarded. It is for taking risks, and the biggest winners are often
those who take the biggest chances.

The motif
of "one's own money" runs throughout The Aviator
and develops a moral dimension. Hughes makes many daring decisions,
and he often makes them on the spur of the moment and by himself,
against the advice of others. At times, he appears to be erratic,
eccentric, or irresponsible. But, the film implies, as long as it
is his own money that he is risking and he is willing to bear the
consequences himself, he has the right to do so. In the last main
plot sequence in the film, when Hughes is building the giant flying
boat that he called the Hercules and that a skeptical public came
to know as the Spruce Goose, the moral basis of his business conduct
alters precisely when, as a defense contractor, he starts risking
taxpayers' money. The Aviator would truly be a libertarian
film if it were suggesting that Hughes's eagerness for government
contracts was what, in the end, corrupted him as a businessman,
but I am not sure that the film goes that far. But it does at least
begin to raise doubts about his morality as a businessman only when
he enters the world of big-government spending and factors like
bribery become more important in winning contracts than genuine
economic competitiveness. Hughes is able to vindicate himself at
the Senate hearings only when he returns to the motif of one's own
money, telling the committee: "You see the thing is I care
very much about aviation. It's been the great joy of my life. So
I put my own money into these planes. . . . I've lost millions,
Mr. Chairman" (179).

The Nature
of the Entrepreneur

Beyond the
moral dimension of risking one's own money as a business principle,
The Aviator suggests that doing so makes one a better businessman.
In his struggle to get Hell's Angels right, Hughes reveals
what is driving him to perfection: "My name depends
on this picture. If it doesn't work, I'm back to Houston with my
tail between my legs, making goddamn drill bits for the rest of
my life" (10). Hughes's personal pride is bound up with his
personal fortune, and we see that the fact that he has such a personal
stake in his business enterprises makes him a much better steward
of the money he has at his disposal. If he were spending other people's
money, as government bureaucrats do, he would have less incentive
to be careful with it. In such circumstances, if he made a mistake,
he would not suffer the financial consequences himself, and, if
he made the right decision, he would not reap the financial reward.
But, as The Aviator shows, Hughes is a true entrepreneur
because he plays a high-stakes game in which he stands to lose or
gain millions personally.

The film
thus displays a solid grasp of the libertarian understanding of
the entrepreneurial function in the free market, a point made cogently
by Mises when he distinguishes the true entrepreneur (who invests
his own money) from the mere manager (who handles other people's
money):

Society can
freely leave the care for the best possible employment of capital
goods to their owners. In embarking upon definite projects these
owners expose their own property, wealth, and social position.
They are even more interested in the success of their entrepreneurial
activities than is society as a whole. For society as a whole
the squandering of capital invested in a definite project means
only the loss of a small part of its total funds; for the owner
it means much more, for the most part the loss of his total fortune.
But if a manager is given a completely free hand, things are different.
He speculates in risking other people's money. He sees the prospects
of an uncertain enterprise from another angle than that of the
man who is answerable for the losses. It is precisely when he
is rewarded by a share of the profits that he becomes foolhardy
because he does not share in the losses too.9

When people
complain about the "obscene" profits entrepreneurs make,
they conveniently forget about the appalling losses they risk at
the same time. Entrepreneurs are fundamentally rewarded for taking
risks, indeed, for living with a level of risk that most people
would find utterly unacceptable. The Aviator shows clearly
that Hughes's great financial successes were constantly haunted
by the prospect of financial disaster. The movie grasps the difference
between a true entrepreneur and a mere manager, and, indeed, it
shows Hughes always concentrating on the big investment picture
while leaving the details to his managers. In portraying Hughes
as willing to make a big business decision, stick to it, and accept
the consequences, The Aviator celebrates the authentic courage
of the entrepreneur.

One would
think that more Hollywood filmmakers would appreciate the role of
the entrepreneur, given the fact that filmmaking is one of the most
entrepreneurial of businesses.10 Huge amounts of money
are made and lost in Hollywood as producers try to anticipate what
entertainment the fickle public wishes to see. The entrepreneurial
character of The Aviator itself is stressed in an article
appropriately entitled "This Year, the Safe Bets Are Off"
by Patrick Goldstein. Goldstein discusses what distinguished the
five Oscar nominees for best picture in 2004: "They were largely
financed by outside investors. . . . Most of the nominees aren't
even classic outside-the-system indie movies. They're artistic gambles
financed by entrepreneurs. . . . The Aviator, though released
by Miramax, was financed largely by Graham King, who was responsible
for roughly $80 million of the film's $116-million budget (the rest
coming from Miramax and Warner Bros. Films)." Ironically, the
chief reason it proved difficult to raise the money to make The
Aviator was Scorsese's reputation as a difficult director, one
who has trouble respecting schedules and budgets. Goldstein cites
King: "He says The Aviator met with rejection everywhere,
even with DiCaprio attached to star. Everyone was scared that Scorsese
would be uncontrollable." As it turned out, despite wildfires
on location in California that interrupted shooting, Scorsese managed
to finish the film on schedule in November 2003 and without large
cost overruns. Still, everyone involved in the film had reason to
feel grateful to King for his $80 million gamble on the project.
Goldstein writes of the way DiCaprio showed his gratitude: "Hanging
in King's office in Santa Monica is a framed picture of the star
kneeling in front of one of the film's biplanes, with the hand-scrawled
inscription: u2018To Graham, thank you for being the only one to have
the [guts] to make my dream a reality.'"11 Goldstein
adds his own tribute to King: "It's no wonder why King alone
has produced three best picture nominees in the last five years:
The Aviator, Gangs of New York and Traffic.
Unlike the studios, King, who bankrolls his films by selling off
the rights in foreign territories, is in the risk-taking business."12
The story of the making of The Aviator neatly parallels the
story the film itself tells. Indeed, it is the same story of the
courage of the entrepreneur in risking large sums of his own money
on what he believes will sell in the marketplace.

The Way
of the Future

In this business
of anticipating consumer demand, The Aviator also celebrates
the intellectual qualities of the entrepreneur. As we have seen,
the key to Hughes's success is his orientation toward the future.
He immediately sees that the arrival of talkies has made the silent
movie obsolete, and he acts accordingly, without hesitation. He
is a great pioneer in aviation because he is always asking himself
what the public wants and how airline service could be improved.
He builds TWA into a major airline by following his vision of the
future: "We build a plane that flies above the weather
and we could get every man, woman and child in this country to feel
safe up there. . . . An airplane with the ability to fly
into the substratosphere — across the country — across the world.
. . . Now that is the future" (37). At the end of The Aviator,
right after Hughes has finally gotten the Spruce Goose to fly, he
is still thinking about the future of aviation as he turns his mind
to the potential of jet aircraft for commercial use. This is one
of the points where the film departs from historical accuracy. The
real Howard Hughes was, in fact, slower than his competitors in
equipping his airline with jet aircraft.13 But, to strengthen
its presentation of the entrepreneur as visionary, The Aviator
shows Hughes one step ahead of his competition even in this area:
"I've been thinking about something. Something new — jet
airplanes. . . . Whoever can start utilizing jet technology
on commercial airlines is gonna win all the marbles. . . . We gotta
get into it. Jets are gonna be the way of the future. The way of
the future. The way of the future. The way of the future . . ."
(189–90). The Aviator emphasizes Hughes's role as a forward-looking
entrepreneur by choosing these as his last words in the film. The
film ends with him repeating this phrase over and over again while
his aides hustle him off so that no one can see him finally plunging
into madness. In the film's view, Hughes was a victim of what is
now called obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the perfectionism
that made him succeed as a businessman was linked to a pathological
condition that eventually drove him crazy.14

The film
links Hughes's madness to his genius by suggesting that it is what
makes him think outside the box. He does not behave the way ordinary
people do, and he does not think the way they do either. When he
orders a meal, it must be "New York cut steak, twelve peas,
bottle of milk with the cap on" (42) — twelve peas, no more,
no fewer, arranged symmetrically. We see here his childhood obsession
with order and cleanliness at work, and it makes him appear weird.
But the same obsessiveness is at work when he sets out to produce
the world's fastest plane: "The rivets have to be completely
flush, every screw and joint countersunk. No wind resistance on
the fuselage. She's gotta be clean" (36). In short, it is precisely
because Hughes is a misfit that he stands out from the crowd. He
is always doing what is least expected of him and proves the value
of a contrarian stance in economic matters. Once again, The Aviator
develops a portrait of the entrepreneur that is familiar in libertarian
philosophy in general and Austrian economics in particular. Here
is Mises's classic description of the entrepreneur:

The real
entrepreneur is a speculator, a man eager to utilize his
opinion about the future structure of the market for business
operations promising profits. This specific anticipative understanding
of the conditions of the uncertain future defies any rules and
systematization. It can be neither taught nor learned. If it were
different, everybody could embark upon entrepreneurship with the
same prospect of success. What distinguishes the successful entrepreneur
and promoter from other people is precisely the fact that he does
not let himself be guided by what was and is, but arranges his
affairs on the ground of his opinion about the future. He sees
the past and present as other people do; but he judges the future
in a different way. In his actions he is directed by an opinion
about the future which deviates from those held by the crowd.15

The Aviator
is fully in accord with Mises's conception of the entrepreneur.
By acknowledging that there may be an element of madness in entrepreneurial
genius, it emphasizes the individuality of the great businessman,
the uniqueness of his vision, the fact that he simply does not see
the world the way ordinary people do.

A Socialist
Dinner Party

While celebrating
the visionary power of the entrepreneur, The Aviator also
does a remarkable job of identifying the sources of opposition to
this creativity and originality. As the representative of the future,
the entrepreneur is constantly running afoul of all the representatives
of the past, members of the establishment who have a vested interest
in seeing the status quo remain undisturbed. In The Aviator,
the establishment consists of three principal forces: old money;
big business; and big government. Hughes ends up in conflict with
old money as a result of his affair with Katharine Hepburn, who,
according to the screenplay, comes from a "patrician Yankee
clan." When the actress brings Hughes home to her "ancestral
Connecticut manor" (66) to meet her family, he cannot fit into
this upper-class environment and is rejected by the Hepburns as
a nouveau riche upstart. Here is another point where the film departs
from historical accuracy. To emphasize the contrast between Hughes
and the Hepburns, it downplays the fact that Hughes was not exactly
nouveau riche, having inherited a great deal of money himself. And
his family did send him to an exclusive New England boarding school
in the Boston area (Fessenden).16 But the film may be
allowed some poetic license here for the sake of creating a dramatic
contrast and making an important point about old money. Moreover,
with his roots in Texas and California and his stake in the motion
picture and aviation industries, Hughes does represent the brash
new economic forces from the West Coast and the Southwest that challenged
the supremacy of the East Coast establishment in twentieth-century
America.

The
Aviator presents this struggle as a culture war. Hughes represents
the new popular culture of Hollywood, while the Hepburns represent
the old high culture of New England, with its ties to Europe. Even
though Katharine Hepburn is a movie actress, from her first appearance
she makes it clear that she prefers traditional drama to film: "I
adore the theater. Only alive on stage" (33). The Hepburn family
looks down on Hughes as crass, uncultivated, and uncouth, as a kind
of mechanic who has no appreciation for art and all the other finer
things in life. He reads "flying magazines" (actually
aviation journals); they "read books" (71–72). In the
arts, the Hepburns keep current with all the fashionable contemporary
trends. The painter in their little artist colony is "abstract
of course" (68), and they sit around debating the merits of
Goya versus Picasso while quoting Jean Cocteau about Edith Piaf
(72–73). The film presents the Hepburns as affected snobs of the
worst kind. The screenplay reads: "Welcome to Fenwick where
all the blood is blue and all the jaws are clenched" (68).
Clearly, we are meant to sympathize with Hughes in this scene. For
once, he seems to stand for normality in the midst of all this aristocratic
pretension and pseudo-intellectualism.

What is
most interesting about the presentation of the Hepburns in The
Aviator is their politics. Although they are wealthy and upper-class,
they are left-wing in their political opinions. In fact, almost
the first thing Mrs. Hepburn says to Hughes at the dinner table
is: "We're all socialists here!" (68). In practical political
terms, the Hepburns are Democrats and fans of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
and his New Deal, with all its antibusiness policies. Mrs. Hepburn
announces to Hughes with all her aristocratic hauteur: "I will
not have sniggering at Mr. Roosevelt at my table" (69). Roosevelt
was, of course, from an old, established, socially prominent East
Coast family himself. The idea that aristocrats might be socialists
and favor antibusiness policies may, at first, appear strange. But,
as several libertarian thinkers have argued, the extreme Left and
the extreme Right often meet in their distrust and hatred of the
free market.17 Like socialists with their commitment
to central planning, aristocrats believe in a static social order
and reject the supposed messiness and chaos of the free market.
The Aviator explores the socioeconomic dynamic of "aristocratic
socialism" by the contrast it draws between Hughes and the
Hepburns.

We tend
to lump the wealthy together into a single class, but The Aviator
suggests that how one acquires one's wealth makes a great difference.
The Hepburn family scene culminates in a pointed exchange between
Hughes and his hosts:

Ludlow: Then
how did you make all that money?

Mrs. Hepburn:
We don't care about money here, Mr. Hughes.

Howard: That's
because you have it.

Mrs. Hepburn:
Would you repeat that?

Howard: You
don't care about money because you have it. And you've always
had it. My father was dirt poor when I was born. . . . I care
about money, because I know what it takes out of a man to make
it. (74)

The Aviator
suggests that those who are comfortably born into money take it
for granted. The wealthy entrepreneur, by contrast, has made his
money by his own efforts and appreciates both the money itself and
the struggle it takes to accumulate it. Understanding how markets
work, the entrepreneur will be in favor of economic freedom and
oppose government policies that limit the flexibility entrepreneurs
need to respond to ever-changing market conditions. The representatives
of old money are hostile to economic change because they worry that
it can only undermine their upper-class status. Hence, old money
may, paradoxically, support socialist or antibusiness policies because
they hamstring the entrepreneurial activities that lead to the formation
of new money. To preserve its privileged position, old money may
favor government intervention in the market that hinders the accumulation
of new wealth by the next generation. The sociological analysis
implicit in the Hepburn family scene in The Aviator is subtle
and accords with libertarian thinking on the subject. In exploring
the conflict between old money and new, the film complicates our
understanding of social class and reminds us that, just because
people are wealthy, they do not necessarily share a common interest
or the same opinions about economic policy. Hughes is, in many respects,
at his most sympathetic in this scene, which shows how Scorsese
can treat even a wealthy man as an underdog. And where else has
Hollywood ever portrayed supporters of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
so unsympathetically?18

The Senator
from Pan Am

The other source
of opposition to Hughes in The Aviator is the sinister alliance
between big business and big government. The film builds up to and
climaxes with Hughes's struggle against the efforts of Pan Am, in
collusion with a U.S. senator, to keep TWA out of the international
airline business. The Aviator thus ends on a distinctively
libertarian note, dwelling on the confrontation between the heroic
individual and the leviathan state.19 As Hughes himself
puts it when being cross-examined by Owen Brewster: "I am only
a private citizen, while you are a Senator with all sorts of powers"
(170). In the contrast it draws between Hughes and Juan Trippe,
the president of Pan Am, The Aviator again differentiates
what many analysts, Marxist and otherwise, mistakenly lump together.
Not all businessmen are alike; some are genuine entrepreneurs and
serve the public, while others use the power of the government to
stifle free competition and, hence, innovation. Tripp represents
the business establishment, which is comfortable working with the
government and its regulations, especially when the regulatory powers
of the government can be exploited to entrench a company's market
position. In contrasting Hughes with Trippe and TWA with Pan Am,
The Aviator suggests that there are two ways that a business
can come to dominate an industry. TWA under Hughes's leadership
gains its market share the legitimate way, by providing the public
with what it wants in an economically efficient manner. Pan Am under
Tripp's leadership exemplifies the dark side of business. Using
its influence with the government to restrict access to its markets,
it, does not have to worry about being competitive in the services
it offers.20 The Aviator clearly distinguishes
between genuinely competitive business practices in a free market
environment and monopolistic practices in an environment of government
regulation.

The
Aviator presents Hughes as fighting explicitly against the principle
of monopoly: "No one airline should have a monopoly
on flying the Atlantic. That's just not fair! . . . [Juan Trippe]
owns Pan Am. He owns Congress. He owns the Civil Aeronautics Board.
But he does not own the sky. . . . I have been fighting high
hat, Ivy League pricks like him my whole life" (105). The
Aviator adopts the concept of monopoly familiar in libertarian
thinking. Unlike Marxists, libertarians do not view monopoly as
the inevitable outcome of economic competition and, indeed, the
ultimate stage of capitalism. On the contrary, they view it as the
opposite of capitalism, a holdover from the precapitalist system
known as mercantilism, in which governments granted special
privileges to businesses, often chartering them as the exclusive
proprietors in a given field. The script of The Aviator makes
it clear that Senator Brewster's Community Airline Bill has nothing
to do with capitalism; it is, instead, based on a European socialist
model of nationalized industries: "Senator Brewster is saying
that domestic competition will kill expansion into the global market
— because the nationalized foreign carriers, like Air France and
Lufthansa, can offer lower fares 'cause they don't have to compete,
right? So, hey, let's get rid of all that messy competition and
have a nationalized airline of our own. And, hey, why don't
we make it Pan Am?" (116).

In his
private meeting with Hughes before the hearings, Brewster tries
to present himself in typical big-government fashion as the friend
of the consumer:

Howard: You
think it's fair for one airline to have a monopoly on international
travel?

Brewster:
I think one airline can do it better without competition. All
I'm thinking about is the needs of the American passenger. (145)

At the actual
hearing, Hughes is able to cut through Brewster's rhetoric and focus
on the real reason behind his legislation: "This entire bill
was written by Pan Am executives and designed to give that
airline a monopoly on international travel!" (175).
The Aviator supports the claims of many opponents of government
intervention in the market — the agencies created to regulate the
market become clients of the very businesses they are supposed to
be regulating.

At its
heart, The Aviator thus champions the American principle
of free market competition against European socialism and the model
of nationalized industries. At the hearing, Hughes demolishes the
pretense of big government to represent the public interest and
shows that corrupt senators like Brewster are simply serving one
private interest (Pan Am) at the expense of another (TWA). The film
clearly suggests that the public interest is, in fact, better served
by an economic system in which genuine entrepreneurs are free to
compete with each other to introduce innovations in the marketplace.
In the Senate hearing scene, The Aviator brilliantly plays
with a Hollywood stereotype.21 When one sees anyone hauled
before a Senate committee on charges of corruption, one normally
expects to find the public-spiritedness of the government triumph
over the greed of the private individual. But Scorsese uses all
his cinematic powers to craft a scene that shows just the opposite,
revealing what often turns out to be the reality behind the illusion
of big-government benevolence. One company is simply using its influence
with the government to gain an unfair advantage over a legitimate
competitor.

The Invisible
Hand

In the way
in which The Aviator differentiates the good businessman
from the bad, it provides a useful reminder that free market thinkers
are not lackeys of big business, as Marxists often try to portray
them. Libertarians do not uncritically support businessmen; they
defend a system that forces businessmen, often against their will,
to compete with each other in serving the interests of consumers.
Libertarian thinkers are acutely aware that many businessmen resent
the sharp discipline of the marketplace and turn to governments
to relieve them from competitive pressures by granting them economic
privileges. Libertarians champion only the true entrepreneur, the
one who accepts the challenge of competing in an open market. For
that very reason, libertarians are very suspicious of big business,
which, as The Aviator shows, is often all too eager to collude
with big government to eliminate competition. That is one of the
central claims of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Smith
defended free trade and other free market principles, but he often
speaks of businessmen in extremely negative terms. In fact, he is
no friend of businessmen because he is a friend of free markets.
He believes that businessmen must be forced into free competition.
In his view, their natural inclination is to seek out economic privileges
from governments.

Smith sees
the baleful influence of businessmen behind the protectionist policies
of the European regimes of his day as well as the mercantilist doctrine
that stood in the way of free trade:

That it was
the spirit of monopoly which originally both invented and propagated
this doctrine, cannot be doubted. . . . In every country it always
is and must be the interest of the great body of the people to
buy whatever they want of those who sell it cheapest. The proposition
is so very manifest, that it seems ridiculous to take any pains
to prove it; nor could it ever have been called in question, had
not the interested sophistry of merchants and manufacturers confounded
the common sense of mankind. Their interest is, in this respect,
directly opposite to that of the great body of the people. . .
. It is the interest of the merchants and manufacturers of every
country to secure to themselves the monopoly of the home market.

Most people
do not realize that Smith traces the lack of freedom in the marketplace
to what he calls "the monopolizing spirit of merchants and
manufacturers."22 In the way in which it portrays
the battle between Hughes and Trippe, The Aviator offers
a concrete illustration of this basic libertarian principle. People
have a hard time grasping the fact that free market thinkers support
capitalism but not necessarily individual capitalists — especially
when they turn out to be working against the very principle of the
free market. Libertarians argue that free market principles are
needed precisely to discipline individual businessmen, to prevent
them from seeking out unfair advantages at the expense of their
fellow entrepreneurs.

This disciplinary
power of the market is one way of formulating the famous principle
of "the invisible hand," as articulated by Smith. Smith
argued that the best social order is not one that attempts to pursue
the public good directly. Far preferable is an order in which human
beings are free to pursue their private good as they themselves
understand it. The larger good of the public will, in fact, emerge
out of this free competition in pursuing private goods. As Smith
writes in one of the best-known passages in The Wealth of Nations:

As every
individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ
his capital in the support of domestick industry, and so to direct
that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every
individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of
the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither
intends to promote the publick interest, nor knows how much he
is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestick to that
of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by
directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be
of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is
in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote
an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the
worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his
own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually
than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known
much good done by those who affected to trade for the publick
good.23

This famous
passage might serve as a gloss on The Aviator. The film shows
that those who claim to be pursuing the public good are often hypocrites,
secretly pursuing their own private good behind a faade of respectability
and, in fact, stifling the entrepreneurial activity that is the
only real source of progress. And, in its complicated and ambivalent
portrait of Howard Hughes, the film makes a fundamental libertarian
point — one does not have to be a morally good man in order to serve
the public good. Scorsese's Hughes has many faults. He is ambitious
and vain, with a compelling need to be the center of attention.
He is a fierce competitor who is often willing to resort to unscrupulous
means to achieve his ends. He is not public-spirited in any conventional
sense. On the contrary, he is always looking out for himself, interested
primarily in his own fame and fortune. Yet The Aviator suggests
that, in pursuing his private obsessions, he ended up benefiting
the public. He advanced two of the great arts of modernity — aviation
and the motion picture — and, thereby, helped build the world of
the twentieth century. One is reminded of another famous passage
in Smith: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the
brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their
regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their
humanity but to their self-love."24 This may sound
like a very cynical doctrine, but it is also a realistic one. There
are many fantasy elements in The Aviator — it is, after all,
in part about the dream factory of Hollywood — but, as we have seen,
it is rooted in an unusually solid grasp of economic reality. It
offers one of the fullest, most complex, and most insightful portraits
of the nature of the entrepreneur ever to appear in a film. And,
in celebrating the visionary career of Howard Hughes, The Aviator
becomes one of the great American motion pictures because it celebrates
the entrepreneurial spirit that made America great.

Notes

1. In an
interview, Scorsese says of Hughes: "He became the outlaw of
Hollywood in a way" ("Martin Scorsese Interview — u2018The
Aviator,'" http://movies.about.com/od/theaviator/a/aviatorms121004.htm).

2. Martin
Scorsese, introduction to The Aviator: A Screenplay by John Logan
(New York: Miramax, 2004), vii. Elsewhere, in response to the question:
"Do you see any parallel between Howard Hughes' obsessions
and yours?" Scorsese replied: "I have [had] over the years,
some close friends and acquaintances who have said, who have described
me at one point, u2018Don't go in the room. He's got the tissue boxes
on his feet.' . . . But basically I couldn't presume to say I've
been like Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes was this visionary. . . .
I usually like to lock myself in the screening room and just screen.
That's maybe the only similarity I see" ("Scorsese Interview").
Leonardo DiCaprio was more candid when asked whether he could relate
to Hughes: "The Hell's Angels sequence, being a part
of films that have gone on for many, many months and you're sitting
there with the director trying to get things perfect and do things
over and over and over again, that was something that I think Scorsese
and I immediately identified with" ("Leonardo DiCaprio
Talks about u2018The Aviator,'" http://movies.about.com/od/theaviator/a/aviatorld121004.htm).

3. A perfect
example of Hollywood's negative portrayal of the businessman is
the cruel banker Mr. Potter in the classic It's a Wonderful Life
(Frank Capra, 1946). For a comprehensive survey of the portrayal
of businessmen in American popular culture, see Don Lavoie and Emily
Chamlee-Wright, "The Culture Industry's Representation of Business,"
in Culture and Enterprise: The Development, Representation, and
Morality of Business (London: Routledge, 2000), 80–103. Here
are some representative figures from media studies: "Of all
the antagonists studied in over 30 years of programming, businessmen
were twice as likely to play the role of antagonist than any other
identifiable occupation. Business characters are nearly three times
as likely to be criminals, relative to other occupations on television.
They represent 12 percent of all characters in identifiable occupations,
but account for 32 percent of crimes. Forty-four percent of all
vice crimes such as prostitution and drug trafficking committed
on television, and 40 percent of TV murders, are perpetrated by
business people" (ibid., 84).

4. On the
hostility to business in culture in general, see F. A. Hayek, The
Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1988), 89–105; and Ludwig von Mises, The Anti-Capitalistic
Mentality (Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1956). For an interesting
analysis of the psychology of detective stories, see Mises, Anti-Capitalistic
Mentality, 52–55.

5. The
Hollywood archetype of the idealistic senator who takes on the business
interests in his state and fights corruption, even in the Senate
itself, is, of course, Jimmy Stewart's Mr. Smith in Frank Capra's
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

6. Scorsese,
introduction, viii. Elsewhere, Scorsese says of the movie: "The
approach on this material really, really comes from John Logan,
the writer" ("Scorsese Interview").

7. See
Charles Higham, Howard Hughes: The Secret Life (New York:
Putnam's, 1993).

8. The
Aviator: A Screenplay, 6. For the sake of convenience, I have
quoted from the published version of the screenplay, even though
the spoken dialogue occasionally departs in minor ways from the
text. Page numbers for subsequent citations are given in the text.

9. Ludwig
von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press, 1949), 303. On this point, see also Adam
Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of
Nations, 2 vols. (1776; reprint, Indianapolis: Liberty, 1981),
1:454, 456.

10. For
speculation on why people in Hollywood generally condemn capitalism,
see Mises, Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, 30–33.

11. The
bowdlerization in brackets is courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.
My guess is that what DiCaprio really wrote was balls.

12. Patrick
Goldstein, "The Big Picture: This Year, the Safe Bets Are Off,"
Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2005.

13. See
Higham, Howard Hughes, 179.

14. See
Leonardo DiCaprio, foreword to The Aviator: A Screenplay,
vi. Elsewhere, in response to the question: "Do you think Howard
Hughes would have been the genius that he was without the OCD [obsessive-compulsive
disorder]?" DiCaprio replied: "I think they're a direct
result of one another. It's like he would have not been as obsessed
about making the largest plane ever built. He wouldn't have been
obsessed about breaking every speed record. He wouldn't have been
obsessed about flying around the world faster than anyone else.
He wouldn't have been obsessed about reshooting Hell's Angels
for sound, having that movie go on for four years. . . . It was
all completely a part of his obsessive nature and his OCD that made
him have such an amazing, astounding life" ("DiCaprio
Talks").

15. Mises,
Human Action, 582.

16. See
Higham, Howard Hughes, 24.

17. See,
e.g., Mises, Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, 44–45. Joseph Conrad's
novel The Secret Agent (1907) provides a brilliant analysis
of aristocratic socialism and also traces the convergence of the
extreme Left and the extreme Right in a hatred of capitalism.

18. For
a parallel in Scorsese's work, one might look to the treatment of
Abraham Lincoln in Gangs of New York. With its suspicion
of federal war policies — and especially the draft — the film seems
to sympathize with the hostile response of New Yorkers to a stage
representation of Lincoln. American presidents who vastly expanded
the power of the federal government do not appear to be faring well
in Scorsese's latest movies.

19. Scorsese
and DiCaprio agree on this point. Scorsese says: "Ultimately,
what I really liked was the way the story developed into a struggle
between [Hughes] and the government and Pan Am. I thought that was
interesting. I think it has a lot of resonance for today, particularly
the investigation committee smearing people" ("Scorsese
Interview"). DiCaprio says: "How the hell do you make
this situation with Juan Trippe and Pan American Airways and this
Senator become a sympathetic situation towards Howard Hughes? .
. . I realized . . . it has to do with corporate takeover and the
involvement of huge corporations with our government, and they're
in cahoots and it's going on today with the Enron scandals and numerous
other things. That's what really made me say, u2018Okay, here's this
one man, he's his own boss, he is rich but he is a stand-up individual
and here he is with all these horrible things going on with himself
mentally, standing up in front of the Senate and battling the Senate
to stop the monopoly on international travel.' I think, ultimately,
people kind of got behind that. . . . They really loved this one
individual taking on the entire system, taking on the government,
taking on huge monopolies and corporations" ("DiCaprio
Talks").

20.
Let me reiterate here that I am not talking about the historical
facts of this case, only about the way The Aviator presents
them.

21. Specifically,
Scorsese seems to have in mind the great Senate hearing scene in
Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part II (1974). Although
we are sympathetic to Michael Corleone even in this scene, there
can be no question that he is, in fact, guilty of the crimes that
the Senate committee is investigating. Given Scorsese's lifelong
rivalry with Coppola, it is difficult to believe that he was not
trying to show that he could create a Senate hearing scene as powerful
as the one by his fellow Italian American director. A number of
the details in Scorsese's scene — Hughes's consultation with his
"consigliere," Noah Dietrich, his reading of a prepared
statement, his appeal to his patriotism, the confusion and consternation
among the senators when the hearing fails to go the way they planned
— all point to Coppola's corresponding scene. Note that both scenes
take place just after World War II; even the cinematography of Scorsese's
scene echoes Coppola's. Read against Coppola's scene, Scorsese's
takes on added meaning — Scorsese is showing that the senators are
the gangsters. (Coppola's film already hints in this direction;
one of the senators on the investigating committee, Pat Geary, is
shown to have ties to the Corleone family.)

22.
Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1:493–94, 493.

23. Ibid.,
456.

24. Ibid.,
26–27.

This essay
appears in The
Philosophy of Martin Scorsese
, edited by Mark T. Conard (The
University Press of Kentucky, 2007).

May
24, 2007

Paul
A. Cantor [send him mail]
is Professor of English at the University of Virginia and author
of Gilligan
Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization
.
Hear and
see him on Mises
Media
.

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