These are some preliminary thoughts from a first viewing of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. I’m in the process of writing a chapter on representations of Georges Méliès for a forthcoming book, so this will be one of my primary texts, and I’ll need to watch it again. I thought I would assemble some notes as I go along. As a result, this might read like a string of disjointed observations at times, but hopefully there will be some points of interest for you along the way. I’m happy to discuss the film, too, and I’m aware that it has divided moviegoers in a way that it didn’t necessarily divide the critics. A quick perusal (which is all anyone should usually have to endure) of the IMDB comments page will give evidence of popular objections to the film. It was looking like a weighty flop on its domestic release, but Hugo will probably just about claw back its $170million budget (the best evidence that this greenlit at a time when it looked like 3D was an infallible cash-cow) when the totals are added up from international markets. So, please leave me a comment if you have an opinion about this film. Continue reading
If you’ve been a regular visitor to Spectacular Attractions (don’t worry – I’m not checking), chances are you’ve heard me mention Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming adaptation of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Over the past few months the title has contracted, so that it is now going under the title of simply Hugo. It’s due for release in the USA on 23rd November, just a couple of weeks shy of the 150th anniversary of the birth of French film pioneer Georges Méliès, who plays an integral, but mysterious role in the story. At the centre of the tale is Hugo himself, an orphaned boy hiding out in a Paris train station and trying to discover the secrets of a humanoid automaton left to him by his father. Continue reading
While you’re waiting impatiently for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret (due for release on 9th December 2011), you might like to note the progress of The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart: at least, that seems to be the current English-language title – the film is adapted from a novella by Mathias Malzieu, though it started out as La mécanique du cœur, a 2007 concept album by Malzieu’s band Dionysos. Malzieu will co-direct the animated film version with Stéphane Berla (who has directed several videos for the band), reuniting the voice-cast who appeared in various roles on the album; this will include Eric Cantona, Rossy de Palma, Alain Bashung and Jean Rochefort, who plays the French film pioneer and Spectacular Attractions stalwart, Georges Méliès. You can see one of Berla’s music videos for Dionysos’s song Le Homme sans Trucage, featuring Rochefort, at the bottom of this post, but the film’s animation is expected to be closer to a CG version of Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride, one of the band’s most often cited inspirations for its spindly gothic aesthetic. Luc Besson is producing, and the film is set for a French release in October 2011. I’ll keep an eye on this one (I’m beginning preliminary search for an essay on filmic representations of Melies), and let you know more as I find out: will it feature all of Dinysos’s songs, for instance? Will it be family friendly, or will it keep all of the books (obvious) phallic symbolism and the tune ‘Cunnilingus mon Amour’?
This week has been heavy on the Méliès at Spectacular Attractions. That’s no bad thing, and there’s always room for more. So, here’s an interesting appendix to my long post on the 1902 of A Trip to the Moon/ Le Voyage dans la Lune. These are stereoscope slides of photographs taken of a performance of Jacques Offenbach’s operetta Le Voyage dans la Lune, inspired, like Melies’s film, by Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. The operetta was first performed in 1875 and revived periodically for the rest of the 19th century. Produced without Verne’s permission, the similarities were obvious enough for the writer to complain about it in writing. Nearing the end of his life, Offenbach was facing financial difficulty, and decided to write three operettas at once, one of which was Voyage dans la Lune. It was astonishingly opulent, as these images will attest – Alfred Grevin, one of the founders of the world-famous wax museum, designed the 673 costumes used in the production. The All Music Guide has this to say: “Because Offenbach seems to have placed particular emphasis on the music that was to have accompanied the special visual effects, the work is best encountered in its original context, rather than shorn of its visual component. The level of musical craftsmanship does, in any event, reflect the hand of a composer backed by decades of experience, a composer who had by that time become a vital force in the life of French musical theater.” If you read French, you can find the complete libretto here. Find more Jules Verne stereoscope slides at Collecting Jules Verne, my source for these images.
I like to keep track of references to Georges Melies’s A Trip to the Moon, which is already the most thoroughly referenced film here at Spectacular Attractions. The latest sighting comes in the BBC’s recent adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon, one of the acknowledged influences on Melies’s film. Gatiss’s version of the story incorporates a framing narrative where a young boy at a fairground wanders into a tent where an old man sits guarding his cinematographe films on the day of the Apollo Moon landings. Persuaded to tell his tale, the old man spins a yarn, accompanied by a film show, of how he and his friend Professor Cavor (Mark Gatiss) became the first men to land on the Moon and to meet its inhabitants, the Selenites. Wells’s book ends inconclusively – we don’t find out what happens to Cavor when he is left behind on the Moon. Gatiss gives a solution to the mystery that explains why Neil Armstrong wasn’t met by spindly, air-breathing aliens when he made his giant leap. It’s all rather fun, but the highpoint, at least for my all-consuming self-interests, came during a hallucinatory sequence where Bedford (Rory Kinnear) imagines returning to the Moon to rescue Cavor, all told in the style of a Melies movie. Bedford has been forced to flee the Moon, leaving Cavor stranded amongst the Selenites, and suffers from feverish visions as the spacecraft tumbles back to Earth.
In H.G. Wells’s book, Bedford imagines himself separated from his body, looking back with disdain upon “Bedford”, who he came to believe was “just a peephole through which I looked at life”:
I can’t profess to explain the things that happened in my mind. No doubt they could all be traced directly or indirectly to the curious physical conditions under which I was living. I set them down here just for what they are worth, and without any comment. The most prominent quality of it was a pervading doubt of my own identity. I became, if I may so express it, dissociate from Bedford; I looked down on Bedford as a trivial,incidental thing with which I chanced to be connected. I saw Bedford in many relations–as an ass or as a poor beast, where I had hitherto been inclined to regard him with a quiet pride as a very spirited or rather forcible person. [...]
For a time I struggled against this really very grotesque delusion. I tried to summon the memory of vivid moments, of tender or intense emotions to my assistance; I felt that if I could recall one genuine twinge of feeling the growing severance would be stopped. But I could not do it. I saw Bedford rushing down Chancery Lane, hat on the back of his head, coattails flying out, en route for his public examination. I saw him dodging and bumping against, and even saluting, other similar little creatures in that swarming gutter of people. [...]
I still reasoned that all this was hallucination due to my solitude, and the fact that I had lost all weight and sense of resistance. I endeavoured to recover that sense by banging myself about the sphere, by pinching my hands and clasping them together. [...]
Enough of this remarkable phase of my experiences! I tell it here simply to show how one’s isolation and departure from this planet touched not only the functions and feeling of every organ of the body, but indeed also the very fabric of the mind, with strange and unanticipated disturbances.All through the major portion of that vast space journey I hung thinking of such immaterial things as these, hung dissociated and apathetic, a cloudy megalomaniac, as it were, amidst the stars and planets in the void of space; and not only the world to which I was returning, but the blue-lit caverns of the Selenites, their helmet faces, their gigantic and wonderful machines, and the fate of Cavor, dragged helpless into that world, seemed infinitely minute and altogether trivial things to me.
In Gatiss’s version, Bedford still suffers from hallucinations, but he doesn’t forget about Cavor, but instead reimagines the perilous situation as a comic trick film. We know that the pair were filming their adventures, and that Bedford’s story would never be believed, so this filmic apparition seems consistent with themes of the film. It’s not a perfect simulation of Melies’s style – there are too many close-ups, not enough extreme long shots, and the sets are less elaborately detailed, but it’s an affectionate homage that tips a hat to the long history of Wells adaptations, and to Melies’s pivotal role in making them cinematic. (You might also notice the cunning casting of Gatiss’s colleagues from The League of Gentlemen, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, as the Moon and the Sun.)
Spectacular Attractions has been following the progress of Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret since it was announced. It’s based on a beautiful book, has a top-notch cast, promises to re-imagine the possible uses of 3D, and best of all, it’s partly about one of my favourite film-makers, Georges Méliès. I’m hoping there’ll be some dazzling reconstructions of famous moments from his films. The casting for the role also looks to be an excellent choice, if these images of Ben Kingsley as both the young and the elderly Méliès are anything to go by.
[First Published 8 October 2008; Updated 12 February 2009; 10 June 2010; 24 February 2012; 27 March 2012]
[I've been adding to this post occasionally since I first published it on 8th October 2008. I tagged it as a work in progress, but now that I've commented a little on every shot, I thought I'd publish the updates (it has more than doubled in length since it first appeared) and declare it (almost) finished. I will continue to update it every once in a while, but I hope you find it interesting and informative in its present form. I still invite comments or further information from anyone who'd like to add to the essay, or who has links or bibliographic references to recommend.]
For the benefit of anyone who is studying this film or just fascinated by it, I’m going to attempt a shot-by-shot commentary on Georges Méliès‘ A Trip to the Moon, released in France on 1st September 1902. It might start out rudimentary and descriptive, but as I add to and re-edit it from time to time it will be embellished with notes garnered from further reading and visitors’ commentaries (feel free to add your observations at the bottom of this post), to see if we can gather together some useful critical annotations for each shot of the film. I’ve included lots of links, some of which expand upon a key point, while others offer a surprising but interesting digression, I hope.
Last week’s episode of The Simpsons (462 – 2121 MABF13 “Moe Letter Blues“) featured a scene that gave Spectacular Attractions a bit of a thrill. The interlude for Itchy and Scratchy, psychotic cat-and-mouse masters of escalating violence, was titled La Mort d’un Chat sur la Lune (“The Death of a Cat on the Moon”), and delivered an affectionate pastiche of Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune, one of this blog’s favourite topics of conversation (see here for my ever-expanding, shot-by-shot analysis of the film). Adding to a long list of tributes to the film, Itchy and Scratchy begin their skit with Scratchy the cat acting as cameraman for Itchy’s film of a trip to the moon. The camera runs out of film, and the furious director slices open the cat’s belly and loads his intestines into the camera like a filmstrip…
Poor Scratchy then has to crank his guts through the camera, but when the prop moon falls down from its cables and smashes, Itchy again improvises a solution by decapitating his cameraman, inflating his head with bellows (perhaps another homage to Méliès’ L’homme à la tête de Caoutchouc, made the year before A Trip to the Moon in 1901) and hanging it up against the backdrop. The team of bearded mouse explorers light the fuse on their rocket…
…. launching it right into Scratchy’s eye. It’s a tribute to the enduring appeal and renown of Méliès’ film that it’s key image of the Man in the Moon with a rocket in his eye is still recognisable after more than a century. And look, they even got the tongue right:
- This is the second time A Trip to the Moon has been referenced in an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon – in Par for the Corpse, from the season 13 episode “Blame it on Lisa”, Itchy uses Scratchy’s head as a golf ball and drives it into the moon. Anyone have pictures of this?
[See also The Hugo Trailer.]
The development of Scorsese’s adaptation of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret continues apace, with the announcement of some pretty solid casting decisions. Spectacular Attractions is unnaturally interested in this film, partly because it comes from a beautiful book, but mainly because it combines two of my favourite things, Georges Melies and automata.
The cast list now includes Hit Girl herself, Chloe Moretz as Isabelle:
Asa Butterfield from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas as Hugo Cabret:
And (Sir!) Ben Kingsley as Georges Melies, a fine selection, and one that hadn’t occurred to me:
Sacha Baron Cohen (just watched his nauseating turn as an Israeli tour guide on The Simpsons – a really misjudged and lazy episode) will most likely be involved as the station inspector. So far so good. But always skeptical…
Another “watch this space” announcement for you today. Spectacular Attractions is still committed to keeping an eye on developments on the two Moby Dicks currently in production, and will update you as soon as there’s something to update (my suspicion is that Timur Bekmambetov’s version will get postponed indefinitely, especially if the forthcoming TV version is a popular success), but maybe it’s time to start getting a little bit excited about the upcoming adaptation of Brian Selznick’s graphic children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Especially now that director Chris Wedge has been replaced by Martin Scorsese, a genuine cinephilic historian who might be able to do something interesting with the Georges Méliès angle. A vision in graphite, Selznick’s book is the tale of a young boy’s meeting with Melies and the automaton that may contain a message from his father. It’s all beautifully drawn, but most enticingly offers a rare opportunity for a blockbuster to tip its hat to Melies’ foundational achievements in film. I blogged about the book a while ago, alongside my own interest in automata and stuff like that.
Now, Variety reports that Martin Scorsese, who has owned the rights to the book since 2007, is signed on to make this his next film, with a script by The Aviator‘s John Logan. This will delay the rest of the stuff on Scorsese’s to-do list, including the Sinatra biopic, the Teddy Roosevelt biopic and the adaptation Shusaku Endo’s Silence, which was sounding pretty interesting with Benicio del Toro in the lead. I’ll be intrigued to find out how they’ll preserve the book’s distinctive aesthetic (without making it look like the Take on Me video), and look forward to the casting sessions for Georges Melies. There can’t be a better choice than Jean Rochefort, surely, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they go with Jean Reno, or maybe Christopher Plummer. And let’s not rule out the possibility that Tom Waits can do a French accent….