People have been understandably speaking about Martin Scorsese's film "Hugo" as a celebration of the life and films of Georges Méliès, but it is also a tribute to those who LOVE to watch films and even to film preservation.
People have understandably been speaking about Martin Scorsese's film Hugo as a celebration of the life and films of Georges Méliès, the French filmmaker who, for all practical purposes, invented movie magic as we know it. Hugo is also a tribute to people who love watching movies, including the character of young Hugo Cabret himself, through whose eyes we watch the story unfold.
Less discussed is that the movie Hugo is also a loving tribute to film preservation. That doesn't sound very romantic, but in the movie, it is. Méliès' shocked discovery that his life's work wasn't entirely lost provides the uplift that propels the final reel into joy and, truly, magic. Even a redemption of sorts, as a new audience for his work promises to raise a broken man out of poverty and heartbreak.
Hugo has a remarkable streak of fantasy, but it hews quite closely to the facts of Méliès' life. Rob Legato speaks in this issue
about the responsibility that everyone making felt to Méliès' legacy, starting with vocal film preservation proponent Scorsese himself. I was going to also use the word "cinephile" to describe him, since it means "film lover." In Scorsese's case, though, the word doesn't do justice. It sounds too reserved. Has there ever been a director who so obviously, passionately loves watching movies as much as making them?
(Lest I lead you astray by throwing around words like "joy" and "uplift," Hugo Cabret's life is filled with tragedy straight out of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel: an orphan falls into the hands of a drunken uncle who later disappears, leaving the boy homeless and hiding in a Paris train station. In the end, our hero's innocence melts the hardest hearts, saving one and all. I'm obviously oversimplifying, but the classic themes are classics for a reason.)
Seen here, one of the "paper prints" from the US Library of Congress, featuring Georges Méliès himself. Click image to enlarge.
Hundreds of Méliès' films were lost, but the fact that hundreds of others survive is due in part to the US Library of Congress. His son submitted many of his father's films for US copyright, which was at the time was handled by the Library. The application required the film negatives to be printed to a roll of paper, complete with sprockets-- and it turns out that paper is quite an enduring archiving medium. The majority of Méliès' films that survive, survive on paper.
We spoke to Ken Weissman, Supervisor of the Library's Film Preservation Laboratory
, in our March/April 2010 issue
about paper prints and more. Among the people who told me that he read that article is Doug Blush, part of the team behind These Amazing Shadows
, an Official Selection at Sundance, documenting the work of film preservation through the Library's National Film Registry. Doug tells the story of that film in these pages, and I'm inordinately delighted that paper prints are mentioned in one of the featurettes on the Shadows DVD. (Under the heading of "It's A Small World," I mentioned to Doug that he would be in the issue with Rob Legato, and he told me that they met nearly 18 years ago, when shooting behind the scenes on Titanic
, where Rob was the Visual Effects Supervisor.)
Speaking of DVDs, you can buy 6 disks
containing nearly 200 of Méliès' surviving films. You may not need them all, but then again, you may. As much as we come to Creative COW for our love of making movies (and more), we find joy in watching them too.