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A movie directed by Martin Scorsese

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Martin Scorsese on the Power of Film - Hugo

  • Apr 29, 2012
Those who are familiar with the work of Martin Scorsese may find it odd that he decided to direct a movie like Hugo. Scorsese's movies tend to be much more on the gritty, violent side. I've read that guilt is a constant theme of Scorsese's, though I'm not sure I can interpret that from his previous work, although there's a certain contrast between good and bad that seems to appear in a lot of his work. Therefore, Hugo would seem like an unusual move for Scorsese, but those who know about the director's personality as a man also know that Scorsese taught film school for two years, and one of his students was a young Oliver Stone. Scorsese is a passionate advocate for the preservation of films and film history who looks at movies as transportive narratives, and tends to take on the whimsical tone of a wide-eyed boy when he really gets going on the subject. Therefore, longtime Scorsese fans will probably see Hugo and think to themselves, what the hell took him so long?

Scorsese, whose usual style centers around dregs trying to make the spiritual best of the little they have of real humanity, throws that all out the window in Hugo. Hugo is all optimism, childlike fascination, and the wonder of amazing new technologies. Scorsese is telling us his own personal viewpoints of the movies through the lens of Hugo, a young kid who takes up residency in a Paris train station after the death of his father, keeps its clocks running with no one's knowledge, and shows a great talent for using mechanical technology. The look of Hugo says "steampunk," but it isn't. It's simply a period piece set post-World War I, and the sight through the eyes of a small child gives it the fantastical look we so often see and associate with the sci-fi sub-genre. I do wish it was a steampunk movie, because steampunk isn't something we see terribly often on the silver screen.

Hugo lives in a train station. He was orphaned and taken in by an uncle who lived there, and spent his days in and out tending to the clocks. But he's been gone for some time too, and now Hugo lives there alone, without anyone's knowledge, winding every clock in the place, no matter how big. Well, the station inspector knows he lives there, and so they are playing a constant game of cat and mouse against each other because Hugo has to steal in order to get the basic food he needs, as well as a few spare parts he needs to fix an android sitting in his secret cabin, the only thing he still has that belonged to his father. One day, he's caught by the owner of the train station's toy shop, and his notebook is confiscated.

The owner and the station inspector are the closest things Hugo has to villains. At first appearance, they seem to carry on with the black and white cut/paste mentalities as the Dickens villains they seem to have been modeled after. But in a stark contradiction to other Scorsese movies, which seek to villianize the very characters Scorsese tries to get you to like and sympathize with, Hugo creates the villains right off the bat and then humanizes them. Both villains are among the important characters in the movie, but by the end, both are seen to be good, compassionate people.

Hugo at first seems to be somewhat lacking direction. It starts out being the adventures of a boy and his life-sized train station. We know we get presented with this little kid, and soon into the movie he makes friends with a girl named Isabel who is about his age and also an orphan. The plot is more driven by the characters than anything, so at first the two of them proceed to seemingly run around at random, getting into all kinds of youthful curiosities and hijinks. The movie finally makes headway toward a point when Hugo learn's that Isabel's necklace is a key shaped like a heart. The final piece of Hugo's android is a heart-shaped key which no one can seem to find, and now Isabel has it, and to Isabel, learning the secret of the android sounds like an adventure! And so they begin a journey into the imagination, trying to find out what the android does, why, and what connection it has to a prominent someone in their lives.

Hanging spectrally over the movie is the presence of the movies. This movie takes place in the 20's, or at least what I assume to be the 20's. So the films which float over Hugo incorporeally are the silent giants of that first golden era, and to drive the point home, Scorsese uses a lot of real clips from those old-timey flicks. The first movie ever publicly shown was a simple shot of a train coming into stop at a train station. The Lumiere brothers, who filmed it and displayed it, showed it to an audience which, since the train at the station was coming toward them, believed at first that it was in real danger. The Lumieres also thought film would be nothing more than a passing fad, but the whole train coming in clip is shown in Hugo, in its entirety. Several other clips from old movies are also shown.

The dominating genius filmmaking ghost in Hugo, however, is that of Georges Melies, whose movies are said by Hugo to be the first he ever saw. It's with Melies that Scorsese gets to be his most childlike and whimsical, and one of his ultimate masterpieces, A Trip to the Moon, emerges as one of the dominating plot drivers of the movie. It turns out that Hugo is based around some very real aspects of Melies's life, and Scorsese appears to have a great respect for him and his work not just as a filmmaker, but as a fellow conservator - Melies eventually became the first conservator of what is now Cinematheque Francaise, one of the world's largest film archives.

Although I've referred to Hugo as sci-fi, it is only so in the official definition of sci-fi, and only barely at that. Sci-fi as a genre is based in the idea that something could potentially happen, and steampunk is basically sci-fi as it would have been written and set if steam had become the dominating source of power today. The android is literally the only sci-fi element of Hugo, and what looks like a steampunk fantasy is in fact set right here, in the real world, albeit decades ago.

Hugo is Martin Scorsese directing not as he came to interpret the world as an adult, but through the lens of how he interpreted the movies as a kid who went nuts for Citizen Kane. Everyone will enjoy it, but it may have its greatest impact on people who were so totally blown away by movies that they took it upon themselves to make them, write about them, or even taken the janitor's job on a random set just to be close to them.

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May 08, 2012
I agree with Peter. well done. I did like this but not as much as several folks.
April 30, 2012
Terrific analysis of a rich and rewarding movie. Well done, and thanks.
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review by . November 25, 2011
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Star Rating:         The genius of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is not just that it employs the latest in filmmaking technology, but that it employs them in a story about how filmmaking itself came to be. This is a subject near and dear to Scorsese, who, apart from directing and producing, is renowned for his work as a film historian (he’s the co-founder of The Film Foundation and the World Cinema Foundation, both nonprofit organizations dedicated to the preservation …
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Quick Tip by . February 28, 2012
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review by . November 27, 2011
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Dazzling but dizzying
HUGO Written by John Logan Directed by Martin Scorsese Starring Ben Kingsley, Sasha Baron Cohen, Chloe Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield   Isabelle: We could get into trouble. Hugo: That’s how you know it’s an adventure.   Before any image even appears on screen, master filmmaker, Martin Scorsese, sets his scene with the sounds of his central character, Hugo Cabret’s life. Clocks are ticking, gears are clicking and trains are passing. These are the sounds one …
Quick Tip by . February 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I just saw Hugo last night. I have now seen 3 best picture nominees including Moneyball and The Help, each an excellent movie, but Hugo made me happiest to be alive. This is a must see movie.      I know the recommendation "made me happiest to be alive" may seem like an odd recommendation for a movie, but that was really the way I felt walking out of the movie.   Has anyone else felt a similar reaction to this movie?  I would be curious to hear your response.   …
About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #17
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this movie



Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy, Mystery
Release Date: 23 November 2011 (USA)
Screen Writer: John Logan, Brian Selznick
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