Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hugo is Only Half Racist

Maybe Scorsese hates the French?
But seriously, it's funny that after re-watching Hunt for Red October with the fam last week (which holds up surprisingly well after 20 years, except for Connery's Scottish-Russian accent) I was thinking that movies these days, even mainstream ones, are less afraid of subtitles as they used to be. The lack of use of Russian in HFRO is fairly distracting and disappointing. It kept taking me out of the film. But it's a great story, and my son said it made an impression on him.
So of course I noticed the plentiful English accents in Paris in Hugo. Amazing that so many people were so fluent in English back then! I know it's because it's a kids' movie, and some of them can't read. And it really wasn't that bad. But it does take the viewer out of the film a bit.
Otherwise, it was a beautiful, brilliant film, nearly perfectly told. Has anyone else read the book? It, too, is fantastic (and a quick read). I wonder if my general knowledge of the plot helped me to be able to pay attention to other elements of the film more closely (something I sadly rarely experience since I'm so reluctant to watch a film more than once). It also made me less wary of the plot, since I knew how it was all going to end (though we'd read it awhile ago and I'd forgotten some key points).
Performances are all solid and thoroughly enjoyable. SBC as the inspector rides the line between kid-and-adult-friendly comedy and overdoing-it-slapstick skillfully, reining in the physical humor just as it's about to become too much. I love that his character is multi-dimensional as well; it's almost shocking when he reveals to us his own struggle to become who he is had similar origins to Hugo's. It's true that there are no true villains in this story; save that of war, which makes more than one appearance as a killjoy (the inspector's leg, Mortimer's character's brother, the death of imagination in a generation). I loved both the child actors' performances and was thoroughly pulled in and enchanted by both of them.
I disagree with those who say that the film is "about" film history and preservation. I think Jeff is more accurate when he says it's a story of connections lost and found. Think about how many orphans there are in the film, and how many of them end up with someone to love them (except the poor street urchin from earlier in the film). And not only orphans in the strictest sense of the word, but emotional orphans, like the fat man and Emily Mortimer. People who have suffered losses and disconnection. Because Scorsese is so skilled at what he does, his vast knowledge of film and film history informs and fleshes out that part of the story in a unique and lovely way. But the focus remains on reconnecting--and that includes us as an audience reconnecting to our film past, and connecting simultaneously with the characters because our past is the same is theirs. And again, because of his artistry, Scorsese is able to turn the film preservation aspect of the film into a subplot that makes several valid points but never distracts from the stories of its primary characters.
I found there to be few connections to Midnight in Paris, apart from location. I honestly didn't even think of it until Jeff and Chris mentioned it. Midnight in Paris feels like a selfish movie compared to Hugo. Midnight is about escaping while Hugo is about facing. The lesson learned at the end of Midnight turns the protagonist inward, while the lessons learned in Hugo turn him outward. John will love to hear me say this, but Hugo actually makes me like Midnight in Paris less. Nostalgia redirects away from but doesn't completely obscure the cynicism in Allen's film, but Hugo is devoid entirely of any kind of cynicism, even the subtle cynicism that appears in more children's films than Hollywood would like to admit--the cynicism of overkill.
I thought more often of The Dreamers in the context of Hugo. Both involved people connecting over a love for film, both inspired me to want to learn more about film history. Both resulted in their protagonists going outside of themselves and getting involved in the larger world. The big (and obvious) difference is that The Dreamers deals with innocence lost where Hugo embraces innocence and reinvigorates it with healing and imagination. Pitt's character's relationship with the brother and sister shows promise but ends up being a false connection that ultimately drives him out into the street, outside of his claustrophobic inner world, but still alone.
I appreciate Brandon's observations about the parallels between the film clips and actual events in the film. I noticed it in a back-of-my-mind kind of way, but thinking about it again it makes the film seems even more brilliant and clever.

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