During the 18 months I worked on George Lucas’ Blockbusting book as a researcher and ghostwriter, one recurring storyline captivated me over and over: the origins of various moviemaking techniques and genres. With all due respect to Thomas Edison, the Lumiere brothers and Edwin Porter, the moviemaking we know today threads back to a single source: the magical French filmmaker Georges Melies. The eccentric former stage magician brought storytelling, imagination, color, fantasy and magic to the big screen more than 100 years ago, as best known in his seminal one-reeler from 1902, Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1865 classic sci-fi novel, From the Earth to the Moon.
On Friday, while looking for a good movie to attend, Martha and I saw the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s new film, Hugo. It had “great story” written all over it: a boy and girl embark on an adventure within the clock towers and inner walls of Paris’ Montparnasse (central train station) to discover the mystery behind an automaton found by Hugo’s late father (I want to be careful here not to give away too much of the plot). In chasing this mystery, they come across a discovery that changes the lives of everyone concerned — and brings some very important history back to life. For two hours, I marveled at the intersecting storylines, the use of classic page-turner dialogue like “it wouldn’t be an adventure if there wasn’t danger,” the rich characters and settings, and the way Scorsese masterfully wove colorful 1920s Paris into his deeper story.
That’s the essence of the plot line. Here’s the treasure: within Hugo, we became reacquainted with the great Melies (again, I won’t tell you how). For 500+ movies (of which approximately 80 remain), Melies wrote, directed and co-starred in his movies, painted and designed his sets, and splashed color and magic throughout his studio. Beginning in 1896, two years after cinema’s inception, he made movies for the thrill of seeing his imaginations and stories in live action — and for the way they enlivened his adoring patrons. Now, thanks to this incredible gift from Scorsese, Melies comes to life again for a time and generation in dire need of reconnecting with their imagination and their ability to live their dreams. Everyone who wants to reconnect with the pure pleasure of making stories would do well to learn everything you can about Melies and the gift he gave the world through his filmmaking.
If you have ever wondered about the starting point for real movie-making, or about the way great stories are told, see this movie. We experience the tale of how one person can change the world — told over and over again, through the actions of several characters. This movie is a celebration of what makes pure storytelling so much fun, both for the creator and the reader/viewer: coming up with ideas, letting your imagination run with them, and letting the characters play them out, no matter how fantastical, colorful or magical they might be.
Hugo is a modern cinematic masterpiece by a masterful filmmaker who never makes the same movie twice. There are no bombs, profanities, car chases, inane characters or clichés. Rather, there is magic, imagination, adventure, deep character interaction and the sweetest qualities of romance. Somehow or another, with everything else having been done, Scorsese found an original thread in one of his favorite playgrounds — bringing history to life. In the same season he brought us the George Harrison documentary on HBO, he comes up with Hugo. Wow!
Whether you love movies, love stories, write stories or love adventure, mystery and imagination, Hugo will take your heart and inform as well as entertain you. For anyone who writes stories, shoots photos, makes movies, paints or engages in any other creative form, this movie is a must-see.