Sunday, December 04, 2011

Hugo Scorsese

I went into the picture, Hugo, expecting it to be a lot softer than it was. No, this isn't a Taxi Driver or Goodfellas type toughness, it's the emotional side, particularly the based-on-reality story of how Georges Méliès, the pioneering father of the "cinema of the fantastic" with influence running all the way through Star Wars and Avatar, had been forgotten after WWI, his 531 films almost all lost, living a life of anonymity with a little shop in the Paris train station.

The pathos of this great man's situation, as told through the drama of the titular character, Hugo, is ultimately turned into a very emotional triumph, and a tremendous montage sequence capping a highly spectacular film experience throughout. From the very first shots of historic Paris recreated and thrown in to 3D relief, director Martin Scorsese rewards the viewing with a surfeit of visual riches, in what can only be described as a fairytale steampunk aesthetic.

Scorsese cleverly reminds us that trains, clocks and motion pictures (before digital) were all based on the same complex analog technology of circular gears, but with film it's all about the innate desire for mimesis, as represented by a robotic torso, the mystery of which drives the narrative for the first two thirds of the film.

My kids, ages 12 and 8 1/2, both loved the movie. I was struck that, for the first time, a Scorsese movie got me all choked up. I was also struck that, for the first time since Avatar, it made sense that the movie was made and exhibited in 3D. In fact, it is easily the best 3D movie I've ever seen. It just won the National Board of Review award for Best Picture 2011, and I would not be entirely surprised to see it score top Picture and Director awards at the Oscars. I think it's the type of film that will grow on viewers in memory and in reputation over time. Sure, it's a little long, but as is typical with Scorsese, there's a visual density to the material that makes it something new.

By using the most modern/futuristic of technologies to take us back to the dawn of film, Scorsese has won the conceptual award for use of 3D. With standout performances by Sir Ben Kingsley (perfecto casting) and Sacha Baron Cohen (naturally funny in any role? funny in spite of himself in this one?) and a look that isn't quite like anything you've ever seen before, yet hearkening back to the best fantasy films of the 40's, 30's, 20's and before, it's quite a pleasure to absorb for oneself on the biggest screen you can find.

Per Travis Bickle, yes, I'm talkin' to you.

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