Having been frequently disappointed by movie adaptations of children's books, I was skeptical when I first heard that Martin Scorcese was taking on Brian Selznick's award-winning book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Its original mix of text and illustration had me all the more dubious; how on earth would that unique reading experience translate to film? The bits of information leaked out about the production --- legendary director, 3-D, famous actors, the trailers, and so on --- did little to change my stance. I mean, remember The Golden Compass? And so I was wary the other night as I put on my 3-D glasses, but am very happy to report that I wasn't when I took them off. Hugo is absolutely lovely.
First of all, fans of the book can rest easy. Scorcese, along with screenwriter Josh Logan and others involved in the production, have kept Selznick's story is intact. But it is the way they've enhanced it, the way they are celebrating one of the book's theme -- the wonder of early films -- that makes it so delightful. I've been a fan of early movies since childhood and have been showing them to my fourth grade students for years. After adjusting to the lack of audible dialogue, black and white imagery, and such activities of those times as drinking, smoking, and spitting, the kids are always hooked. Last year, to introduce a year-long Charlie Chaplin study, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret aloud to them and they were fascinated afterwards when I showed them some of the very early movies featured in the book, the works of George Méliès in particular. And so I just loved the way this movie so celebrates filmmaking. Not just those of Méliès, but those before and after him. And so you've got Sasha Baron Cohen channeling classic Keystone slapstick and Jacques Tati too, the exquisite little human dramas in the train station a la Rear Window, and Hugo looking occasionally like Truffaut's Antoine Doinel of the 400 Blows to name a few.
Additionally, I appreciated the celebration of people connecting, of fixing (clockworks, toys, automatons, people), as well as the pleasures of a certain time and place. For all the remarkable imagery, there is something quite old-fashioned about the movie. What struck me as from an older time cinematically (say the movie's setting -- early 1930s Paris) were the quieter moments -- especially the charming ones showing loving relationships, new and old. The more I think about it, the more I appreciate those as I think they ask viewers, especially children, so used to speedy story telling, to slow down a bit, here and there.
An absolute delight. A beauty. Go.
An earlier variation of this post is at education alice.
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