Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Notes on Hugo by Martin Scorsese, USA: 2011

Beside being a great director, Scorsese got in the last years almost more attention for his efforts and his support in preserving films from different parts of the world and from different periods of the history of cinema. HUGO which is last but not least obviously a homage to Georges Méliès (1861-1938)., is the poetic version of his devotion for cinema. 
Despite my inability of stereoscopic seeing, HUGO is using the 3D-technique for much more than a superficial attraction. There is an analogy in this film with the hint to the famous film by the Lumiére brothers "A train arrives at the Station" and this technique of the early 21th century. Both are part of the phenomenon of illusion, a betrayal based on the limitation of the human eye.
Beside the fact that Scorsese tries to use 3D in a sophisticated way like it was never used before, the characters in this film, the young orphan Hugo, his new friend Isabelle the foster daughter of the George   Méliès and "Pa George" himself, performed by Ben Kingsley are as present than as the digitalized Paris of the late 1920s or early 1930s. During watching this film I thought a lot of the films by Jacques Tati and if I think how he would have used the newest digital technology of our time, I can imagine it would look like something very close to Scorsese´s HUGO.
Among the miracles this film offers is how Scorsese combines the fantasy world of the boy and the link to the tragedy of the real   Méliès.
The boy, called Hugo lives in something like the "dreams", Melies was creating until world war I. which finished his career as one of the first magicians of cinema.
In fact even just as a children film, HUGO is a beautiful piece of cinema. But one can see even the sophisticated side of Scorsese who know like only very few great contemporary directors how fragile cinema is , how soon a master from today will be forgotten tomorrow and last but not least how fragile the matter of cinema really is. The boy who lives in a secret place of a central Parisian station lives not really in a safe fantasy world. He is always in danger to be captured by a really Tati-like station policeman who sends all orphans to the orphanage. Always when Hugo leaves his kind of "Ivory tower" he is chased by this policeman or endangered in several ways. Even the grumpy and embittered old   Méliès is at first a threat to him. Scorsese´s created illusions seem to be as fragile. The more the film develops the more it reveals the tragedy of the nearly forgotten pioneer of cinema, George   Méliès. And the more the film develops, the characters are getting more presence than all the impressing apparatus, the film is made with. How Hugo and his new friend Isabelle get more and more aware that this grumpy old man is a forgotten pioneer of cinema, there is a rupture in the fantasy world of the children. This film is so much and last but not least as well a coming of age story. 
The realm of Hugo, a kind of hidden place every child is dreaming of is close to us all who love cinema since our childhood. The world outside of cinema as a safe place for our dreams is the fact that the history of cinema also destroyed whole careers. As fairy tale-like HUGO appears, it is clear in its polarization of cinema as a place for dreams and creativity but also as an institution which is always influenced for the better or for the worse by the state of the world. I do agree with most of the positive statements about HUGO that it is at first a homage to cinema itself. At the same time it tells about its endangerment by economical, in some cases as well political interests. Scorsese is able to reveal this polarization without betraying this kind of love we cinephiles once felt for cinema.
There are moments in this film when Hugo can slip into his hidden realm of dreams and there are moments where it is not possible anymore. There is a time the children are just happy to be in their own world of fantasy and there is a time when they have to deal with the world outside in a bigger context. "Pa George" is both the great storyteller and magician we adore but as well a fragile old man who needs help.
HUGO is quite an example that enchantment, magic is possible without betrayal. Scorsese this film historian, this cinephile and last but not least this preservation of the heritage of cinema brings two things in this film together: the deep love and respect for the history of cinema including its forgotten pioneers and  at the same time the hope for the future of cinema. Like I said about Terrence Malick´s THE TREE OF LIFE, I will say about HUGO: there is not "one bad bone in this film."
Scorsese is not only one of the few director´s of "New Hollywood" who are still making films because of the compromises he had to made during the last 30 years. No, that he still make films - and in the case of HUGO his finest film since AGE OF INNOCENCE - is that he kept alive his unconditional love for cinema. And cinema needs this lover more than ever before. 

Rüdiger Tomczak

There is a wonderful essay by Adam Cook in his magazine Cinémezzo called "For the Love of Movies."


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