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

#9 Do-It-Yourself Mr. Bean [1994)

When you’re having a crappy night.

One thing after another.

Life is beating you with a one-two combination punch.

And a couple of jabs.

You must go to your contingencies.

When the situation is not good, you must move forward.

No laissez faire nor wu wei at this point.

So you push on.

And everywhere you go you get lame.  Rudeness.  Snobby.  Ageist.

Walking on hot coals for capitalism.

Which is to say that the two Starbucks I visited tonight were worse than lackluster.

Starbucks chokes the American market.

But there is variance from store to store.

There are a lot of problems to be witnessed.

As a daily customer.

With no better options.

But Starbucks isn’t improving.  They are happy where they’re at.

And so they are ripe to be made obsolete.

How would that happen?

Who?

What ideas?

Most importantly would be to hire Mr. Bean.

Not the actor.  But the real guy.  The character.

The inspiration.  The gaggle which became one.

And please test in San Antonio.

Because our fair city is lethargic and uninspiring.

We never have what we need.

How can we remain happy?

Mr. Bean.

I remember a time in my life that was so fair.

Humorous.  Laughful.  Lifefilled.

A time when a girl’s laugh meant ANYTHING IN THE WORLD’S POSSIBLE.

She’s married now for a second time.  Was never my wife.

But something much more.  A love.  A love for which Rembrandt or Van Gogh would have fought.

And so I must tell myself that maybe someone in this world will find me charming.

It’s a sad clown to be used up.

Limelight.

This is, of course, a great episode of Mr. Bean.

They’re all pretty damn good!

Nobody’s like him.

And nobody’s like me.

But I’ve been beaten.

You know the law enforcement dealing with the burkinis?

They are fashion police.  Not completely unprecedented.

But never nearly as absurd.

I’ve been beaten up.  And so I have a little pile of clothes.

The machinery has ripped into my forearms and tendons and screwed up my hands.

I already needed something happy.

And then it got bad.

And bad progressed to worse.

But I fought the good fight.

Reading in the dark.

Prussian blue.  Watteau.  Niantic.

Keyhole.  In-Q-Tel.  NGA.  KH recon.  Corona.

Pokémon Go.  And Google at every stage.

John Hanke.  “Foreign Service”.

School of hard NOCs.

Twigs dipped in Marmite.

 

-PD

座頭市物語 [1962)

[THE TALE OF ZATOICHI (1962)]

How are we supposed to understand Nissan?

If we don’t understand Hokusai?

And Fukushima.

And Zatoichi.

This, here, is The Tale of Zatoichi.

Directed by Kenji Misumi.

Artful camera-pen pans to heightened senses.

But Shintaro Katsu is our humble warrior.

As you like it.

But you must have a keyhole.

You must have a way into this oeuvre.

And so we think Nissan.

But also Roland Kirk.

Forever, Roland Kirk.

Maybe Marcus Roberts at the piano.  Yes.  Computing.

And Art Tatum as a whirlwind.

Professional courtesy.

No one could understand me.

You must get deep to understand the soldier.

Stage 4.

All the world’s a Dutch proverb.

 

-PD