Scorsese on Hugo and 3-D

After a screening of Hugo earlier this month at the Regal Stadium 14 in LA, Martin Scorsese proclaimed in a panel discussion moderated by director Paul Thomas Anderson that the experience was an “enjoyable headache…a discovery with each shot.” But in the excitement of “going back to square one,” he came away convinced that 3-D is now part of the toolset. He said “every facet of it was a redesigning of how to make pictures.” It was also a “recreation of a boy’s memory of where he was in the past.”

Thus, Hugo is a bridge. It’s like watching Antoine Doinel trapped in a clock with a rear window view of Scrooge, who, in this case, is forgotten French film pioneer Georges Méliès. And to soak up the period of Paris from 1929-1931, Scorsese studied such surrealist films as René Clair’s Le Million and Under the Rooftops of Paris as well as Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite and L’Atalante.

But recreating the legendary films of Méliès (including the recently restored A Trip to the Moon) as well as his glass studio gave Scorsese “a great deal of enjoyment.” It took nearly a year to pick and choose what to use with the final decisions coming about four weeks before shooting.

Scorsese, who was joined by production designer Dante Ferretti, cinematographer Bob Richardson, composer Howard Shore, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and VFX supervisor Rob Legato, underscored the vital influence of the whole transitional period from silent to sound, right down to the autochromatic look of the cinematography.

“He couldn’t trust using colors so he painted the sets — the sets were done in black-and-white,” Scorsese explained. “And most of the costumes were in black-and-white. The rest he borrowed from the theater and those were in color. A lot of the makeup was heavily done a certain way: in some cases, people painted gray with black lips. Because until panchromatic film came into existence, it was very difficult to get the true grays and blacks and whites, so this became interesting on set.”

Ultimately, Hugo is a valentine to the history of cinema and its crucial preservation, and should be required viewing in every introductory movie course.

But it’s the future that Scorsese addressed in his final comments on 3-D, which he has managed to use creatively like no other filmmaker yet in this stereoscopic renaissance. Riffing on the theatricality of House of Wax and Dial M for Murder, Scorsese uses depth to frame his sublime story and to make every object a character. But it’s “a heightened expression of reality” that goes beyond theater and 2-D.

“For me, it’s just another element to tell a story,” he explained. “Most people have stereo vision so why belittle that very important level of our existence? There’s gotta be a way to find, for all our technical expertise, a comfortable way of dealing with [it]. The cameras are getting smaller, the issue of glasses is being worked on. If everything moves along and there are no major major catastrophes, we’re headed towards holograms. Why can’t you have 3-D where Hamlet comes out to the middle of the audience and says, ‘To be or not to be?’ I mean, they do it theater. Why can’t you have it in a movie theater or at home? You have to think that way. Don’t let fashion inhibit you if you’re being creative.”

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Below the Line, Books, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production

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