Halt! Hugo’s There!
Hugo 2011 US
Directed by Martin Scorcese
Screening at UK cinemas.
You know, when I first heard that Martin Scorcese was making a movie called The Invention of Hugo Cabret I was kinda looking forward to it because I love films that are titled with an adjective followed by a noun and then followed again by the name of a character. So, The Something Something Of Somebody Someone is always a good candidate to go on my “to watch” list and I’ve had some good experiences with movies that have had that kind of structure to their titles... Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain, for example or The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec are the movies which are immediately springing to mind in that context.
So when I then learned, subsequent to this, that the movie would be a children’s film and that it had been changed to the one word title of Hugo (I might say “dumbed down” for the woeful UK and US markets but I’ll try to be nice here), I kinda lost interest in seeing the whole thing. I’ve never been a fan of the name Hugo at any rate and if I’d ever been in a position to have had any offspring in my life, Hugo would be one of the last names I would call them.
However... a few weeks ago, when this movie came out, word of mouth was staggeringly good on the movie and, to boot, I discovered that special effects pioneer and fantasy storyteller Georges Méliès was going to be one of the characters in it. I still resisted for a little while but that good word of mouth kept coming in on it and so, last night, I resignedly walked to my local cinema to judge the film for myself, 3D glasses tucked firmly in my pocket so the cinema wouldn’t con me by charging for another pair on top of their bizarre, extra £1.50 “3D movie tax” they seem to have come up with to further make 3D movies an experience I and most of my friends would rather ignore and pretend didn’t exist.
The movie opens strong with a metaphor of Paris as a well maintained machine ticking over in a visual metaphor that I’d seen somewhere before in early silent cinema... although I can’t remember if these shots were an homage to a French or Russian movie (yeah, well, I’m getting old). We then go into a typically long “around-the-houses-Scorcese-special” of a tracking shot (or a series of shots made to look like a single shot to be more precise) and I have to point out here that when Scorcese does those things and you happen to be viewing it in 3D... watch out, you’re stomach is gonna turn over!
As the scene is set we find ourselves in a visually rich world created by some beautiful design and photography and coloured with some spellbinding acting performances which... I have to admit... left me a little bored and looking at my watch for the first half of the movie. By this point I could fully appreciate the beauty of the film and the inventiveness of it... but I wasn’t really pulled in like I’d hoped for after those initial reports had come in. However, all that changed for me by the second half of the movie when the two main child protagonists are researching early cinema (the film is set in the 1930s) and they come across both a book on film history which features the work of the aforementioned Georges Méliès and, also, the writer of the book who is a passionate cineaste... just the right kind to fire up the imagination.
From here on, Scorcese uses the film as beautiful propaganda for the restoration of old film... which is great news and something we all should be supporting. The passion and verve with which he explores both the work of Méliès (wonderfully played by Ben Kingsley) and his relationship to early film history is an absolute joy to watch and the emotional story with which all this information is pulled together is truly moving... there’s a warm, beating heart in this movie amidst all the Judex and Fantômas posters after all, I found.
This second half of the movie really pulled me in and reminded me that sometimes lost treasures can be found. As the cineaste in the movie started off with the one surviving Georges Méliès movie but, after putting out a search, came back with over 80 found movies which were then lovingly restored, I couldn’t help but think of recent discoveries and restorations in film and TV which are a close parallel. The very recent, more or less complete restoration of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis for example (reviewed by me here) or last weeks revelation of the discovery of two old episodes of sixties Doctor Who were what sprang to mind.
This film is less like most other Scorcese films I’ve seen but it’s obvious that, as always, his heart was pumping pure silver nitrate through his veins when he shot this magnificent homage to the pioneers of early cinema (he even gives himself a marvellous little cameo as a photographer recording the day Méliès and his wife opened their own studio) and the way the story of the orphaned Hugo Cabret dovetails into this “grand tale of movie making” is something which, it has to be said, made the 3D effects towards the end of the movie go a little wonky, I’m afraid. Yeah, that’s right! I was tearing up and crying so much by the end that the 3D effect had gone all blurry to me. It’s rare to get a warm film like this in the current climate of cinema and so Hugo is definitely one I’d recommend going to see. Wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to children and certainly it does take a little longer than I’d anticipated to get going... but once it does it’s like an emotional steamroller is slowly thundering over your heart. Absolutely beautiful movie and can’t wait to grab the DVD when it hits the shelves.
One last thing though... before I finish this short review... if you go and see the movie and are moved by what you see, please check out this site here, The Film Foundation, for an opportunity to read about Scorcese’s good work in preserving classic film. If you’re feeling particularly helpful and inclined to the arts, why not take a minute to donate something to this very worthy cause... after all, humanity is nothing without the art it creates and defines itself with and the “art of film” is something which has been popular for such a short space of time, relatively, but which needs assistance more than many other art forms. Take a look at the site if you get a minute... if you’re into movies you’ll find it really interesting and will be glad you took a look, if only to play with their cool restoration slider bar on the front page. And go see Hugo... it’s heart warming!