Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011) was set in 1930s Paris. It unfolds the story of an orphan who goes by the name of Hugo Cabret. The boy lives in a train station and kept the station clocks running during his uncle’s absence. Believing that the automaton left by his late father contains a message for him, he tried to fix it by all means, including stealing mechanical parts from a toy shop, which leads to his encounter with the owner, Georges Méliès. Together with Méliès’s goddaughter, Isabelle, they have an adventure that centres on Méliès and his mysterious past.
In this film, I would like to discuss about the aspects of mise-en-scene and cinematography. Also, focusing on the settings, props, shot scale and editing and how these reflects the history of film during the 30s.
When touch upon the mise-en-scene of Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011), one has to stress on its attentively constructed set which aimed for an authentic re-creation of the past (Hayward, 2000, p. 7). In this case, a sequence from one of the famous historic films, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (The Lumière Brothers, 1895) had been reproduced into the train crash dream sequence to pay tribute. There was also a pastiche of Why Men Work (Leo McCarey, 1924) recreated as the hero clock shot of Hugo when he was hiding from the Station Inspector.
Besides of all the footages shown in the film, props like automaton can also refers to Méliès’s life, as he used to own one. This revealed that he also possessed the knowledge regarding automaton besides magic tricks. In the film, Méliès was portrayed as a creative and innovative filmmaker who had worked as director, producer, writer, set and costume designer and also inventing lots of magical tricks.
According to Carroll, film techniques such as shot scale and other cinematography aspects can direct our attention on specific objects on screen, thus allowing the film to communicate information which is essential for us to understand the film (Livingstone & Plantinga, 2009, p. 339). From the footages of Méliès’s creations shown throughout the film, we get to know his filming style, which is also known as the tableau shot. During the shot, the camera was kept stationary, particularly in exterior shots, with only occasional reframings to follow the action (Nowell-Smith, 1996, p. 17). To convey the essence and how Méliès did his works, The Mermaid (Georges Méliès, 1904) and others were remake using the same technique and shots.
Méliès was one of the first to begin incorporating special effects through his use of editing based on his stage illusions (Sklar, 2002, p. 31). He may also have been the first filmmaker to use the first dissolve as well as time-lapse photography (Mast and Kawin, 2000, p. 31-33). This can be seen in the film whereby Méliès is shown directing and editing his works, such as cutting and pasting the filmstrips. These techniques greatly enhanced the narrative of films and have passed down to the next generations. Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011) had made full use of all the techniques introduced by Méliès and further improvised it. For instance, the fire shown during the flashback of the death of Hugo’s father was hand-tinted.
In conclusion, Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011) had greatly reflected the history of film as well as the life of Georges Méliès through the usage of mise-en-scene and cinematography. I would recommend the film especially to those who seek to know further about the historic films.
Hayward, S. (2000). KEY CONCEPTS. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. New Fetter Lane, London & New York & Canada: Routledge.
Nowell-Smith, G. (1996). Early Cinema. The Oxford History Of World Cinema. Great Britain: Butler & Tanner Ltd.
Livingstone, P., & Plantinga, C. (2009). 31 NOËL CARROLL. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film. Abingdon, Oxon, United Kingdom & Madison Ave, New York & Canada: Routledge. (Original work published 2008)
Sklar, R. (2002). A World History of Film. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.. (Original work published 2001)
Mast, G., & Kawin, B. F. (1999). A Short History of the Movies. Needham Heights, Massachusetts: Longman Publishing Group.