Tag Archives: magic

Hugo: When Two Storytelling Masters Meet on Screen

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.

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Magic Still Counts – In Writing, In Life

A few days ago, I tried on something new (for me) — 3-D movie glasses. We decided to catch the latest adventures and antics of Jack Sparrow, Barbosa and the other roustabouts in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. For a little over two hours, we were propelled through the streets of London and untamed shores of the Atlantic as decadent royal food spreads, mermaids, ships, explosions and stupendous waterfalls filled our world, suspending anything that might be happening outside those 3-D glasses. I walked out saying, “That’s the best experience I’ve had in a theater in years.” I also wondered, how did I wait 52 years to see a movie in 3-D?

Two nights later, we sat in a moonlit outdoor amphitheater backed into the brown hills of the eastern San Luis Rey River valley, our hearts and fancies traveling far and wide on the remarkable flute playing, one-legged crane dancing and singing of Jethro Tull mastermind Ian Anderson. I felt like I was in a time warp, the hills coming alive as they had centuries before, when the native Luiseno Indians played in sunrise, sacred ceremony and initiation with their flutes. The interplay of moonlight and spotlights on the hills added to a feeling that the spirits of the land and sky were with us, enjoying this rare performance of acoustic and electric music with ancient English, Irish, Renaissance and Medieval undertones … and, without a doubt, some genetic tonal carryover from Celtic and Druidic times.

I was gone, transported, riding the music wherever it led, a little kid on a magic carpet watching the fair-skinned kokopelli – Anderson, the flute-playing shaman – whisk away the worries of the world for a few precious minutes. I felt the same space formed by a good meditation or an all-consuming writing session (especially fiction and poetry writing), the place where everything is possible, serenity reigns and goodness is omnipresent: the magical intersection of heaven and earth, known to writers and artists as the creative dream.

As I assimilated both of these experiences, which happened a little more than 48 hours apart, I recalled a keynote speech that Richard Paul Evans, author of The Christmas Box, Timepiece, The Walk and four other bestsellers, gave at the Wrangling With Writing conference in Tucson about five years ago. The theme of the speech was Magic—Innocence—Wonder. His perspective: all stories must have one of these three qualities to succeed with their audience. If you can get two or all three in there, you’ve hit a home run as a writer.

Magic appears before us and visits us every second of every day — through a flower, another’s voice, shapes of clouds, dancing alone in a room, hiking to a mountain summit, listening to Spirit as it utters through our souls, watching new shoots spring from a rain-filled creek, putting on 3-D glasses or catching an old favorite rock band. Some of us think we left it behind as childhood folly; others (me included, sometimes) get so caught up in daily life that we deny it entrance. There’s a little word play – en-trance. In trance. Let magic in, and things happen.

Magic is very real and very present. Writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers and other creatives rely on it to transport and transform their audiences. Those audiences seek it out to suspend the world, to recall a more innocent, wonder-filled time, to become lost in a journey, adventure, chase or dance of a modern-day minstrel’s flute. Why else do you stare at a painting for hours in a museum, listen to a catchy tune over and over again, or pop open a book at the beach or pool, hoping it sweeps you away into its world? All we have to do is open our eyes, minds and hearts, and be willing to see the world as our ancestors did. Then, we can open up every day to receiving magic, in whatever shape and form she takes. That’s the greatest beauty of it all: we never really know how she’ll arrive, but that she will touch us in a way that makes the day happier, richer, more purposeful. We’ll feel more connected to ourselves, our childlike inner selves, each other, the Divine.

Yes, magic counts. It’s the elixir of life. A little more attention paid to its expressions would change the world. Even if it means slapping on 3-D glasses or heading to the hills to get there.

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