Hugo [2011)

It’s hard to imagine that perfection would be possible in 2011.

In this very uncinematic era ruined by technology.

But it takes a genius to produce art from tech.

And it takes an artist to produce art.

Martin Scorsese was well up to the challenge.

As the weirdo I am, The King of Comedy has always been my favorite of his films.

Rupert Pupkin spoke to me in a way that perhaps only the totality of Dr. Strangelove ever similarly did.

But Mr. Scorsese had the brass to undertake a project which should have been doomed if only by its trappings.

Films have tried and generally failed at relative tasks.

City of Ember, for example.

But Scorsese was not deterred.

Not least because he had the magical trump card:  Méliès.

Which is to say, he had the story to end all stories (as far as cinema is concerned).

The big daddy.  The big papa.

Papa Georges.

But first things first…

We must give credit to Asa Butterfield (who looks like a cross between Barron Trump and Win Butler in this film).

Butterfield is no Mechanical Turk.

Nay, far from it.

But automata (or at least one particular automaton) play a large role in Hugo.

And why “Hugo”?

Kid living “underground”?  Victor?  Les Misérables?

Yes, I think so.

And it’s a nice touch by the auteur (in the strictest sense) Brian Selznick.

[Yes, grandson of David O.]

We’re at the Gare Montparnasse.

Torn down in 1969.

Site of this famous 1895 derailment.

train_wreck_at_montparnasse_1895

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m up to 1,261.

But we press on…

Because Méliès was about dreams.

And Hugo is about dreams.

les rêves

And Scorsese has been “tapped in” to this magic at least since he portrayed Vincent van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Kurosawa-san’s best film).

I must admit…I was a bit confused for awhile.

Something told me Scorsese had transformed himself into Méliès.

It was only later that it all made sense.

Ben Kingsley.

I mean, Scorsese is a great actor (Van Gogh, etc.), but he’s not THAT great!

But I’m jumping ahead…

Sacha Baron Cohen is very good in a somewhat-serious, villain role here.

I fully expected the immensely-talented Cohen to “ham it up” at some point, but he instead gives a very fine, restrained performance which fits like clockwork (sorry) into the viscera of this exquisite film.

But let’s revisit Sir Kingsley.

What a performance!

The loss of a career (Méliès).

The loss of a previous life.

The fragility of celluloid.

All to end up running a pathetic souvenir shop.

Toys.

Very clever, but still…

Such a fall from grace.

Into such obscurity.

I can only compare it to the trajectory of Emmett Miller (which was so artfully documented by my favorite author of all time [Nick Tosches] in my favorite BOOK of all time [Where Dead Voices Gather]).

The speed at which technology moves has the potential to reduce the most eminent personage to mere footnote at breakneck speed.

It was so even a hundred years ago.

And the process has now exponentially accelerated.

But we are coming to understand the trivialization of the recent past.

We are holding tighter to our precious films and recordings.

Because we know that some are lost forever.

Will this vigilance continue uninterrupted?

I doubt it.

But for now we know.

Some of us.

That today’s masterpieces might slip through the cracks into complete nonexistence.

Consider Kurt Schwitters.

The Merzbau.

Bombed by the Allies in 1943.

Es ist nicht mehr.

Into thin air.

But such also is the nature of magic.

Poof!

Skeletons later evoked by Jean Renoir in La Règle du jeu.

Scorsese is a film historian making movies.

And it is a wonderful thing to see.

And hear.

Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre more than once.

As on a player piano.

With ghost hands.

And the gears of the automaton.

Like the mystery of Conlon Nancarrow’s impossible fugues.

I’m betting Morten Tyldum lifted more than the spirit of gears meshing in Hugo to evoke the majesty of Alan Turing’s bombe in The Imitation Game.

But every film needs a secret weapon (much like Hitchcock relied on the MacGuffin).

And Scorsese’s ace in the hole for Hugo is the Satie-rik, placid visage of Chloë Grace Moretz.

Statuesque as water.

A grin.

A dollar word.

The beret.

And the ubiquitous waltzes as seen through keyholes and the Figure 5 in Gold.

Hugo is the outsider.

Scruffy ruffian.

Meek.  Stealing only enough to survive.  And invent.

But always on the outside looking in.

Below the window (like in Cinema Paradiso).

Ms. Moretz’ world is lit with gas lamps.

And you can almost smell the warm croissants.

[Funny that a film set in Paris should require subtitles FOR PARISIANS]

Assuming you don’t speak English.

Tables are turned.

But Paris draws the cineastes like bees to a hive.

THE hive.

Historically.

And that is just what this is.

History come alive.

But another word about Ms. Moretz.

As I am so wont to say in such situations, she’s not just a pretty face.

Though they are faint glimmers, I see an acting potential (mostly realized) which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

The key is in small gestures.

But really, the key is having Scorsese behind the camera.

It’s symbiotic.

Martin needed Chloë for this picture.

And vice versa.

We get a movie within a movie.

And (believe it or not) even a dream within a dream.

Poe is ringing his bell!

Or bells.

“Lost dream” says Wikipedia.

Yes.

It is as bitter a music as ever rained into Harry Partch’s boot heels.

To have one’s life work melted down for shoes.

Rendered.

To click the stone of Gare Montparnasse.

In an ever-more-sad procession.

Méliès becomes the vieux saltimbanque of which Baudelaire wrote.

Such is life.

We never expected to end up HERE.

Astounding!

-PD

Les Misérables: Liberté, liberté chérie [1934)

Tonight, a miracle happened to me.

For a lonely film critic, that can mean only one thing:  love.

And so I thank GOd for a moment of happiness.

No, I am not drunk beyond syntactical awareness.

I am merely thinking of Catherine the Great.

1729-1796.

Russia.

Екатерина Алексеевна.

But then I am also thinking of the Panthéon.

Paris.

First came Mirabeau.

1791.

A mere three years.

And then Voltaire.

Ah!  Now we are getting somewhere!!

Émile Genevois, like Jonathan Donahue, thinks of “Little Rhymes” when he’s alone and scared.

This is the character Gavroche.

Sous les pavés, la plage.

Mai ’68.

And then the beautiful Marat in 1794.

And still Catherine lived.

Charlotte Corday died.  Aged 24.

Back on track with Rousseau.

The barricades.

Rue Saint-Denis.  From the June Rebellion of 1832 to the sex shops of 2016.

Prostitution.

Vive la République!

And then the dream of Catherine the Great (второй) came to an end.

Night falls…

Reality.

Yes, maybe it was Katharine Hepburn instead.

Too pure!

But what I’ve lived my life for.

Dedicated.

Misguided.

Recalibrated.

Sad but honest.

Just a simple car ride.

Like Homayoun Ershadi in طعم گيلاس

There is no putting any punctuation on that.

No catafalque of Lamarque.

Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude.

à son ami Franz Liszt

November Uprising.  1830.  1831.

Poland and Lithuania.

And back to that Russian Empire of Catherine (and Пётр before her).

It’s funny.

In Honegger we might hear shades of Tchaikovsky.

The Arabian Dance we know so well from The Nutcracker Suite.

Coffee.

Divertissement.

Act II (второй).

Tableau III.

It wasn’t a diacritical mark.  It was merely a speck of dirt on the screen.

In the half-light.

With cat eyes.

Pray to goD for another chance to hold the coins of long suffering.

Through the sewers of Paris.

I thank you for that blessing of weight lifted momentarily.

 

-PD

 

 

Les Misérables: Une tempête sous un crâne [1934)

Often when I watch films I am totally drained of energy even at the beginning.

Going into it.

And then a cinematic miracle will occasionally make me forget all about my exhaustion.

This is one of those times.

Thanks to director Raymond Bernard.

And thanks to the lead actor Harry Baur.

This is one of those films which can slip under the radar.

Mercifully, its four-hour-and-forty-minute running time is broken up into three parts.

That was, incidentally, also the mode of release in 1934.

The three parts apparently were shown in theaters by way of staggered releases (in the incredibly short time span of three weeks).

It is somewhat of an ingenious device.  I’m not familiar with another film to have received such a treatment.

This first section of Hugo’s novel is titled here Une tempête sous un crâne.

As you might expect, it is a particularly touching story.

It is certainly worth revisiting Les Misérables after seeing this first film.

The story is very heroic.  Harry Baur instills pride.  Proud to be human.

Few characters in life or fiction make such an impression.

The initial meeting with the priest is awe-inspiring.

As Jean Valjean says (in amazement), “I haven’t slept in a bed in 19 years.”

A real bed.  With sheets.  Like normal people.

Having been in jail.

His statement is a stunner.

I know that feeling.

As an artist.

I slept on a couch for years.

I slept on the floor.

We must remember that Valjean’s crime was stealing a loaf of bread.

Five years.

His four attempts to break out of jail extended his sentence by 14 years.

19 in total.

Hard labor.

All from stealing a loaf of bread.

And wanting to be free.

And then there is dear Fantine (played by Florelle).

A mother reduced to prostitution.

Sells her hair.  Sells her teeth.

All for her daughter Cosette.

It is reification in overdrive.

Finally, Fantine has nothing to sell but her body.

She has sold parts.

She stayed pure as long as she could.

She was tricked.

And an orphan to begin with.

So she ends up in a factory…playing the glass bead game…stringing cheap necklaces to keep her daughter alive.

And another pair of vultures (the Thénardiers) trick her more.

They rip her off.

Always more and more.

Just like modern life.

Modern times.

Les Temps modernes.

So we must remember Victor Hugo as an artist of conscience.

And Sartre…conscience.

Perhaps less artful.

And Barack Obama.

Completely artless, but still perhaps some conscience.

Let’s not underestimate the humanism of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.

Sure, “the Guidance” was issued by Jeh Johnson (of Homeland Security).

Yes, the program is unlawful.

It is a new law.

That’s not the purview of the executive branch.

Yes, the plaintiffs are right in their invocation of the Take Care clause of the U.S. constitution.

But we must make sure to not misquote former Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark by omitting the final words of his famous quote:

“Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws…”  Which is to say, yes:  Judge Hanen…you are right.  Greg Abbott…you are right.  Republican states…you are right.  [I am speaking, of course, about the forthcoming Supreme Court decision on immigration…United States v. Texas.]

BUT…there’s more to Tom Clark’s quote…and it is often left out.  As Paul Harvey would have said, THAT’S the rest of the story.

Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws, OR WORSE, ITS DISREGARD OF THE CHARACTER OF ITS OWN EXISTENCE.

Which is to say:  the Democrats have the high moral ground here.

Let me clarify.

I hate Obama.  He’s a fake and a phony.

He had the opportunity to bring to real perpetrators of 9/11 to justice.

He didn’t.

That should have been job #1 after having wrested the White House from the maniacal neocon Bush junta.

Unfortunately, at the very deepest levels it seems that cabal never left.

Obama merely carried on the War on Terror charade (even going so far as to kill a dead man…the bogus bogeyman…Osama bin Laden).

But Obama and Jeh Johnson are right about DAPA.  MORALLY right.  Which doesn’t make their actions legal.  But I applaud the current administration for OSTENSIBLY caring about the people affected…the human beings…our illegal alien brothers and sisters.  They are, first of all, humans.  If they entered this country illegally, that is a secondary consideration.  They must always remain, first and foremost, HUMANS.

Yeah, Obama and friends most likely pulled off the Sandy Hook false flag.  That’s because the administration is, in general, a bunch of scumbags.

Speaking of presidents, Donald Trump is the only real candidate left.

Sure, he needs to slap himself in the face a few times and realize that Mexicans (among other immigrants from the south) and Muslims are people.  That’s a big hurdle for the Donald.

That’s the stumbling block.

Trump is winning because he’s the only one willing to admit that he’s a jerk.

His actions say it.

Hillary?  Secret jerk.

Cruz?  Thinly-veiled jerk.

Sanders?  Well-meaning jerk.

And then there’s the other jerk.  We’ll call him nice jerk.

Trump has won the rhetoric battle.

Now he needs to dial it back a little bit and find a soul.

I know he has one…deep down in there…somewhere.

Sanders is right about Snowden.  Trump has fumbled that one a bit.

But Trump is still the only one to address 9/11 with any sort of credibility.

That is priceless.

Can Donald “Jean Valjean” Trump turn it around and really make a positive difference?

I think he can, but he has to learn the lesson of the candlesticks…the silver…and the 40 sous.

It will be a tightrope.  The master bigot will have to convince a country of bigots that our humanity impels us to a higher moral standard.

That is Victor Hugo here…applied to the here and now.

 

-PD