Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hugo (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


The air popped with anticipation when I settled into The Carper to watch "Hugo", the new Oscar-nominated Epic by Martin Scorsese. Not only was I excited to be seeing the film, but I was going to see it on The Tropic's new state of the art 3D system. The 3D glasses were smooth and black, reminiscent of the glasses that the new-wave group DEVO once wore, a personal favorite of mine.

Little did I know that the night would bring back many echoes of the past.

From the very start, we are put at ground level in a 1920s Paris train station as scores of suited passengers rush past. The effect is dizzying. I recalled a dream I had as a student. I was in an office building. I came in through the window. Suddenly, I wasn't human, I was a camera, rushing between feet and briefcases. This is the exact sensation at the beginning of "Hugo".
 It is nothing less than a rush.

The plot of "Hugo" is relatively simple and I won't spill all the sparks. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a young boy who lives in a clock tower, spending his days winding the clock and stealing bits of pastry to eat. As a boy, he is part Phantom of the Opera and part Max from Where the Wild Things Are. No one really notices him. He spends hours climbing about huge mazes of gears and clockwork. There are tunnels upon tunnels and each turn is more elaborate than the last. The 3D is spellbinding. We are placed in a world that is more organic and flexible than a rigid fix in space. The whole city of Paris is dipped in a sort of paranormal chocolate. And more than a plot-driven mystery about a near-forgotten filmmaker Georges Melies, the film is a sumptuous love affair to the mystery of perspective and the numinous art of early film. There are so many passages  for the eye to peer in. We are active passengers  in this film and the 3D effects which dazzle the eyes like visual ribbons of high quality fructose, are never fatiguing. 

This is no mere trick film. Rather Scorsese has pushed and charged the effects, making Hugo more of a seminal art piece, in which virtually every frame is busy with the bestiary of its characters. In scope, it has the breadth of a "Gone with the Wind", transforming  a Grimm's Fairy Tale about childhood orphanage terror into a historical meditation on the mortality of the moving image.

Ben Kingsley plays the legendary Melies who is a bit like Geppetto. He is a magician who has defensively lost his shadow. A Santa man of secrets he is, and Kingsley is a twin of the actual Georges here.

A stand out is Sacha Baron Cohen as a alternately intimidating and silly Inspector who walks with a savage Doberman. Rather than ape his way through the film using his past comic roles of Insult as a template, Cohen makes this role his own.

"Hugo" is just as much a milestone to 3D, as "The Yellow Submarine" is to musical animation. Nothing on the screen is superfluous or wasted. We all become travelers along the astral path of the early cinema. The film itself with its winding narrative and bold color in design, seems the very blueprint of Scorsese's heart, hand tinted with the henna of a Prismacolor New York City or in this case , the colors of a silver ocean.

My one small reservation is that the story takes a bit long to get going . There are repeated scenes of Hugo walking through clocks and gears with many, many shots  of eyes peeking in and out of gingery-brassed windows,  keyholes and cranks. Yet if this becomes tedious, there is always something else to look at:  The Eiffel Tower, a curl of smoke, or Savador Dali sitting at a table. Don't blink or you will miss him.

The film's last half, pertaining to the mystique of Melies sent me backward as a once lonely Ian, left out of a college party. My face and wheelchair were white crayon wedges against the night sky. I looked up at the moon and wrote a poem about that moon, my isolated feelings and the supposed far away rocket-ship of Georges Melies. 

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