Chloe Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield in "Hugo"

I never thought I would be taking a 10-year-old to a Martin Scorsese movie.  Do not get me wrong.  I am a devoted Scorsese fan who usually attends his movies on opening days.  However his films usually deal with adult themes not appropriate for a child: “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “The Departed,” “Casino,” “Goodfellas.”  Plus, Scorsese’s films can be really violent.  So what was I doing taking my 10 year old nephew, Jack, to the Ziegfeld Theatre last Friday to see Scorsese’s latest movie “Hugo?”  Well, for one thing, Jack was already a step ahead of me having actually read the book on which the movie is based, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick.

In this day and age of dumb movies for kids, such as “Happy Feet 2” (in IMAX 3-D no less) and “Jack and Jill,” featuring Adam Sandler in a dress, how great that Scorsese has made a film for children (and adults) that is exciting, smart, does not talk down to them and respects their intelligence.  As if this is not enough, “Hugo” is a visually stunning and magical film that deals with complex themes about the role of the artist.   The story involves a mystery, the investigation of which provides the audience with a brief education on the early days of cinema.  All this and it is in 3-D too. 

In fact “Hugo” is one of the most motivated and beautiful uses of 3-D that I have seen, so far, in the film industry’s current interest in making 3-D movies.  I was so caught up in how visually arresting “Hugo” was that I think I missed a story point or two and will have to return for at least a second viewing.

In my experience I can think of only two other current directors, besides Scorsese, who have used 3-D in a manner that is innovative, smart and original: Werner Herzog’s documentary “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and Wim Wenders’ soon to be released documentary “Pina.” The 3-D in “Hugo” truly enhances this story of a young boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who lives behind the scenes in a Paris train station maintaining its clocks.  Hugo eventually joins forces with a young girl, Isabel (Chloe Grace Moretz) to solve a mystery that takes them to the early days of silent cinema and French cinema pioneer George Melies.  The fine cast also includes Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, Jude Law, Emily Mortimer and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Scorsese’s re-creation of Melies’ glass walled studio (to let in light) and his film making techniques, intercut with clips from actual Melies films is dazzling and transportive.  At points it is hard to know what is fact and what is fiction, and, truth be told, it does not matter.  What is important is the film’s greater statement about artistic vision and the preservation of that vision.

It is probably no coincidence that this posting and “The Silent Roar” posting, below, deal with silent cinema, a topic sometimes easily over looked when writing about contemporary films on a weekly basis.  Someone once told me, “When you pare down the past, you destroy the future.”  To that end Scorsese has, with the contributions of “Hugo” cinematographer Robert Richardson, effects supervisor Robert Legato, designer Dante Ferretti and, of course, Scorsese’s long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker, made “Hugo” a movie that truly moves the art of film forward by taking us back to, and not forgetting, its origins.

Hugo, Director Martin Scorsese, 2011, Paramount Pictures, 127 minutes, PG


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on November 27, 2011, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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