Will Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes film return him to pop culture relevance?

The idea that Warren Beatty is writing, producing, starring in, and directing a film again makes me very happy.

And the idea that it’s finally going to be his Howard Hughes movie?  Well, color me ecstatic, because this one’s been simmering for a while.

I’m not sure what place Warren Beatty holds in our pop culture at this point, if any.  I think his place in film history is secure, no doubt about it.  He’s proven himself to be a gifted and smart collaborator many times over, and as we get closer to the release of his Howard Hughes film, we’ll probably do a special series here at the blog to look back at Beatty’s career and make the case for why he is one of the greats of his generation.

But in terms of modern current pop culture?  If you were to ask 100 people under the age of 30 about Warren Beatty, what comes to mind for them?  How well do they know his work, if at all?  “Dick Tracy” was his last hit of any significance, and that was 21 years ago.  His last film, “Town and Country,” was an epic bomb, one of the most expensive money-losers ever made when you consider budget to return, and even that was a decade ago.  How many teenagers today even remember that “Love Affair” or “Bulworth” or “Bugsy” came out?  That’s all that they could even have been aware of in their lifetime.

And honestly, Beatty’s filmography as a director is very small.  “Heaven Can Wait,” “Reds,” “Dick Tracy,” and “Bulworth.”  That’s it.  So why am I so excited that he’s getting behind the camera again?

Well, for one thing, Hughes is the perfect fit for Beatty.  There are a number of filmmakers who have become obsessed with Hughes over the years.  Scorsese actually got his film made, which is more than we can say for most of the rest of the guys who have been drawn to the story of the reclusive billionaire.  Christopher Nolan keeps mentioning his desire to make a film about Hughes, but I’m betting it never happens.  The siren song of the story is very potent, but finding the exact right way to turn the fascinating details of Hughes’s life into a film is the trick, and it sounds like Beatty has finally, after spending literally decades working on it, has finally found his way in.

I’m also just plain curious to see what a Beatty film looks like in the year 2012.  He’s never been a guy who seems terribly interested in chasing trends or following the lead of others, and I’m curious to see which of his collaborators he brings back this time.  Vittorio Storaro is still working, but his last English-language movie(s) was when he shot both of the miserable “Exorcist” prequels in 2004, and that was a long way from the best work he’s done in his career.  Storaro hasn’t really been Storaro for a while now, but the guy is 71 years old, so if he chooses to slow down, I don’t really see that as a problem.  I’m guessing Beatty will really miss his close friend Richard Sylbert, who was an amazing production designer and an all-around important part of the process for Beatty.

At the rate Beatty works, this is most likely it, one last movie, and for that reason, more than any other, I’m rooting for this one to work.  I would love to see him have one last moment where he really pulls it together and reminds people just how great his work has been and can be, and you can expect that we’ll be covering this one closely as it moves forward.