I’ve been reminded of the source of that famous Howard Hawks line about how a good film always has “three great scenes and no bad ones.” It’s from Joseph McBride‘s “Hawks on Hawks,” which has just been republished by University Press of Kentucky. I referenced the line in last night’s “Howard Hawks Wants to Know” piece. But the broader Hawks quote contains a side-thought that nobody ever mentions these days.
“Not that you’re trying to make every scene a great scene, but you try not to annoy the audience,” Hawks tells McBride on page 36. “I told John Wayne when we started to work together, ‘Duke, if you can make three good scenes in this picture and don’t annoy the audience the rest of the time, you’ll be good.’ He said,’“Do you believe that?’ I said, ‘Yeah. If I make five good scenes in this picture, and don’t annoy the audience, I think I’ll be good.’” Wells insert: Now wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute…did Hawks believe that nailing three great scenes was all you needed, or did he believe that five was a much better tally and that three might not be enough?
“So [Wayne] started to work on that. And he always comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, is this one of those scenes?’ and I’d say, ‘This is the one where you get it over just as quickly as you can and don’t annoy the audience.’ ‘OK.’ We work that way, and now he preaches that as though it’s gospel,and he does a great job of not annoying the audience. As we got to be better friends working together, I could hear him telling some actor who was trying to ham it up, ‘Look, the boss says this. You see that you do it. Get it over in a hurry. This is one of those scenes.’”
How many directors even think about not trying to annoy their audiences, much less act upon this? I feel as if 80% of the big-time directors out there not only know they’re annoying me but are almost trying to intensify my anguish. Does anyone believe that while cutting together that 80-minute-long battle between Superman and General Zod in Man of Steel that the concept of “not annoying the audience” even occured to Zack Snyder?