For the first time in a long time, I found myself walking into a cinema to see a film I knew nothing about. I was coerced in to seeing Scorsese’s Hugo, which I assumed to be a cartoon of the Happy Feet ilk that would be please cretins and young children alike. I was quite wrong and taken aback by an epic tribute the history of cinema, a desire to preserve and in particular to the work of Georges Melies and his pioneering special effects in the service of fantasy.
Fittingly and coincidently this was Melies 150th anniversary, and Scorsese using the 3D for the first time tries to recreate something of the making and viewing of these early films that audiences would have experienced in the early 1900s. Through countless cinematic references to the period and films within films, he tells the tale of how Melies, once a magician, applied his practice to celluloid and shaped the things to come, then was swiftly forgotten as the cultural climate changed in post war France.
Though awash with subtle references to James Joyce and Dali, Hugo plays upon the cinematic stereotypes of the era – gendemaries with flat topped caps chasing clowns in Allo’ Allo’ like ways. Melodramas revolving around orphaned little boys made so by the drunked misgivings of guardian, and the slapstick comedy of those who put their feet through musical instruments. An explicit reference to Harold Lloyd’s Safety First!
“Happy endings only happen in the movies” the film proclaims, but builds a narrative that defies this through a set a of punctuating films within films that recall a prolific history, and then a change of the broader shape – governed by fate and cruelty – to reflect Melies late recognition after a period of near poverty in which he was award the Legion d’honneur by Louis Lumieire in 1931.
There is such distinctive visual imagery that comes with Melies and Scorsese bathes this in a colour palette of bronze and soft but radiant blue. I had always wondered what had inspired the art of Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness by the Smashing Pumpkins:
It is like Hugo; a homage to Melies and in particular Le Voyage Dans La Lune:
This is probably a garbled way of saying it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised in cinema and see a great create a fitting and emotional tribute to another a great. Preconceptions can be a destructive thing and I’m certainly going to make more of an effort view without colour of other opinions in future.