Sunday, September 16, 2012

Screen Dreams

Martin Scorsese making silents
As a movie fan, I'm sometimes surprised at how tricky it can be to make a movie about, well - movies.  Maybe it's the fear of too many "in jokes" that the crowd won't get, or maybe it's the fact that Hollywood often seems to have the attention span of a hyperactive gnat, but this is a genre of movies that seems to be pretty thin.  Mind you, often movies in this category are transcendent.  Altman's The Player is worth renting just for the opening shot (listen for the reference to Welles' Touch of Evil then go rent that) and I'll watch Singin' in the Rain just for O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" sequence.

So why'd it take me the better part of a year to see Scorsese's Hugo? I have no answer, aside from the fact that the film was only at my local theater for a week, if that, when it was in big-screen release.  Ah, Hugo.  This was simply a lovely film. It helps if you have an appreciation for what it might have been like for the early pioneers of film, but even if you think silents are dull and boring (I disagree with you there, by the way), Hugo is a film to love.  Parts of the story are based on true events - which in and of itself is a sad thing.  We so often demand simple stories that immerse us in spectacle, but keep actual emotional content safely at arm's length.  Imagine, just for a moment, that you have never, ever seen a movie.  You've never seen images flicker and move on a screen in a darkened theater.  Then this technology comes along and suddenly, people are making stories that move.  For the price of a ticket, you can go to the bottom of the sea or to the moon (remember, it would be another seventy years before we actually knew what the moon looked like from human experience).

I fear we live in a cynical age which is often marked by being too cool to care - we've seen it all and done most of it and really, who cares?  Hugo makes you consider what it's like to care. Imagine going broke to the point of selling your life's work which is then melted down for scrap.  Imagine being an abandoned child trying desperately to stay hidden.  Then imagine finding refuge in a dim movie house.  Imagine being able to show that to your first friend.

The secret is the human ability to connect.  Movies have the power to do many things - and help us form many connections - and Scorsese knows this.  With Hugo, he created a beautifully crafted Valentine to the power of movies and to those who know the secret of this power, whether they are makers of movies or watchers of them.

Terry Pratchett captured this same sense of marvel in his Discworld novel Moving Pictures.  You know those primitive tribes who refuse to be photographed because of their fear that doing so might capture their soul?  Well, what if there's some sort of magic in making movies - and that magic wants to come into our world?  I've been a Pratchett fan since I was urged to read The Truth about seven years ago.  Pratchett writes great, complex fantasy novels that take place in a world that isn't nearly as nasty as Martin's Game of Thrones world (don't yell at me; I've read four of them, but I'm taking a break.  The random violence and misogyny got to me, even though I'm pretty sure it's there to make a point).  The Discworld is for people who enjoy sharp satire and clever writing - if that's you, go check out his work.  He has a new novel that's just come out - Dickens-based, from the title.  Not Discworld, but Pratchett's always worth a read.

Just as Georges Melies' silent films are worth a look.  From 1904 - The Mermaid

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