Director Martin Scorsese scores with Hugo, an engaging story and an homage to early French filmmakers George Melies (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) and the Lumiere brothers as well as Gare Montparnesse, a French railway station. Edited by the queen of editors, Thelma Schoomaker, the movie has special appeal to filmmakers, film students, and editors – its 127 minutes flew by for me as I was thoroughly, enchantingly engaged in the story and the muted brown-gray train station world of devices and ordinary people that Scorsese created.
The main drama centers on Melies and Hugo Cabret, a boy with huge watery blue eyes (perfectly acted by Asa Butterfield). Melies, represents the exuberant, free-for-all inventiveness of the birth of filmmaking. He despairs of his achievements, living in obscurity and believing that all of his films have been melted down to make heels for shoes. Hugo – as youth in film often does – brings Melies out of his self-imposed exile and gives us hope for the future of film and humanity: We know that this quiet, mechancially talented boy will achieve breatkthroughs of his own.
Hugo, Editing, and Film Literacy
Hugo gets off to a marvelous start with a shape match cut from the gears of a clock to the hub of Paris centered around the Arc de Triomphe (which it does in reverse order later in the film). In another poem to editing, the movie employs an automaton as a subtle Kuleshov device. (See August 16, 2011 post for defintion and background of Kuleshov.) The automaton seems asleep, sad, and determined, depending on the shots Schoomaker surrounds it with.
The movies recounts how early moviegoers reacted to movies, such as the famous incident where Parisians thought a train was really coming into the station in on of the early Lumiere brothers’ shorts and reacted by trying to leave the theatre. Hugo also shows many scenes from Melies most famous film A Trip to the Moon, a pioneer fantasy film of special effects.
There are other odes to film secreted within this film that I probably missed. Go and see them and report back to Joy. One word of advice: Don’t see the 3D version. Ordinarily I make sure to see the 3D version of a film if there is one, but for the first time, I regretted this choice. Though I laud Scorsese for employing it, from the first frame on, the 3D made me feel distanced from the story and its characters; they loomed out of the screen bringing farther from its heart and message.