The movie Hugo shows that current 3-D can be a work of art.
Having written about Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Tales Of Hoffmann (their “other” dance film – the Red Shoes being their more famous), and having the support on the article of both Scorsese and Powell’s wife and Marty’s edior, Thelma Schoonmaker, and knowing how much Hoffmann has influenced Scorsese’s films, I see shades of Tales Of Hoffmann all over Hugo. The most moving is the theme of something broken fixed, allowed to work again, made whole. But in Hoffmann the dancer when she is revealed to be an automaton is decapitated and broken into pieces in one of the most magical and distrurbing scenes, which uses sleigh-of-hand cinematic practises which go back to, and consiously recall George Melies (in Hugo played by Ben Kingsley). Reversing the theme in Hugo makes it ultimately poignant, not disturbing, and both Melies’ automaton and Melies himself are reinstated, which he actually was historically (though for those who live it, like Melies did, a great artist losing his (or her) purpose- broken – is beyond disturbing.
But both human and automaton in Hugo, through the heroic orphan Hugo find new life, as did Melies’ films, and now they do again, with Scorsese using them – newly Academy of Motion Pictures restored Melies’ films – bringing them alive as if new again, as if the origins of cinema are new again, in 3-D for hopefully millions of people who would never know of their existence otherwise and for whom the awareness of the origins of cinema is new
When I saw the film I thought it wasn’t shot in 3-D but made into 3-D afterward.because the 3-D camera rigs are far too cumbersome to do the kind of steadicam virtuosity we see in Hugo. But it was shot it in 3-D. It’s clear that Scorsese wanted the kind of sweeping camera movement, ie on on he veriginous spiralling staircase, as Powell used in Tales Of Hoffmann and which so struck Scorsese even as a child. So they had a steadicam rig made by James Cameron’s company which hadn’t existed before- lighter and better balanced – especially for Hugo. So now the camera can move in all dimensions in 3-D.
But does the ordinary movie-going public care about all this? Yesterday my husband,Robert Haller, was at the Staten Island ferry terminal and overheard three Department Of Transportation workers arguing heatedly about Hugo. Robert piped up that it’s a masterpiece. The second guy then piped in “Yes.That’s just what I think. It’s a masterpiece!”. Robert volunteered more and one guy asked if he’d made the film! (Robert does know Scorsese who’s the honorary chairman for the Anthology Film Archives Film Preservation Awards Dinner that Robert originated and has run for many years.) The ferry came in. As Robert left them, the three men were still arguing about Hugo!The men clearly do care.