We just went to see Scorcese’s Hugo, based on Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, an amazing graphic novel in its own right. This movie was a beautifully emotional and visually awesome paean to the magic of film, the poignancy of loss, and the power of redemption. Though a children’s story on the surface, Scorcese has broken that age boundary and created a tangible, visceral, stunning film experience for the viewer, the experience of which is in part what the film is about.
Loosely based on the filmmaker Georges Melies’ life, the film centers on an orphaned boy living behind the walls of the Montparnasse train station in Paris who is working to repair an automaton his father had found in the basement of a museum. This is all he is left once his father dies and he comes to believe that by repairing it, it will hold a message from his father. This message, of course, connects to the magic of film.
We saw this film in 3-D and I must admit that other films I have seen using this technique have seemed somewhat gimmicky and sometimes give me a headache. But Scorcese has the perfect sensibility for this technique. It is not overdone but flawlessly used to enhance not overpower scenes, to support not overshadow the story. The opening sequence through the Montparnasse train station is fabulously spellbinding, especially as the sequence ends with the young boy’s eye peering out from behind a large wall clock in the station.
As a film buff myself, I have posted below two Georges Melies films, which were referenced liberally in the film along with other early films (especially in the second half). Melies’ great joy in experimentation and the innocent love of the craft of making movies nearly ooze from these films. In the first, The Conjurer 1899, Melies, a magician, is playing with the medium of film as only someone enamored with illusion and legerdemain would. In his later and most famous film, The Trip to the Moon 1902, he has refined and sophisticated these same techniques to support a quirky narrative. (The famous rocket landing in the man in the moon’s eye, see photo above, comes at 6:17. By the way, his films were hand tinted, the image above coming from a restored hand-tinted version discovered in Barcelona.)
For a visual and heartwarming treat, Hugo is a must-see. The allure of film is truly magical and only someone with the innocent passion of Scorcese could recreate this enthusiasm so convincingly. His inclusion of the scene of people nearly panicking, turning away from a Lumiere Brothers’ film of an oncoming train was just right. The illusion is so very real and reflects our deepest connection and openness to its ability to transport and transform us.
And, of course the trailer for the film: