NEW YORK (AP) ― Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s longtime editor, warmly greets a reporter outside their Manhattan offices ahead of a screening of Scorsese’s new 3-D fairy tale, “Hugo.”
Around the corner is Schoonmaker’s editing bay, where she and Scorsese keep Turner Classic Movies running silently on a nearby screen while they work. Inside is a screening room where Scorsese often runs old films, familiar classics and newfound gems. At one time, they gathered with Elia Kazan every Saturday to watch one of his films. Large movie posters dot the halls: “The Third Man,” “Black Narcissus.” Directions to the bathroom are given as “across from Marlon Brando.”
It is, in short, a cinephile’s dream ― a description that also could apply to the magical “Hugo.” The film, adapted from Brian Selznick’s award-winning illustrated book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” is about a 12-year-old orphan, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who lives in a 1930 Paris train station. It also is ― as are so many of Scorsese’s films ― a movie about movies.
It captures young Hugo’s ecstatic discovery of cinema, echoing Scorsese’s own experience as an asthmatic child in New York’s Little Italy. Hugo’s adventures ultimately lead him to the turn-of-the-century French filmmaker George Melies (Ben Kingsley), a special effects pioneer and early believer in the wonder of movies.
Just as Scorsese is looking back through film history, however, he also is looking ahead: “Hugo” is his first 3-D film. For a medium that has undergone a lot of criticism and doubt since James Cameron’s groundbreaking “Avatar,” Scorsese’s enthusiastic embrace of 3-D does a lot for its credibility.
“It was a big issue when Fellini did his first color film, when Bergman did his first color film, when Antonioni did ‘Red Desert,’” recalled Scorsese in a recent interview and trip through the technological history of movies. “Everybody wanted to see how they did color.”
2011 is shaping up to be the year many notable directors took up 3-D: Werner Herzog (“Cave of Forgotten Dreams”), Francis Ford Coppola (“Twixt”), Wim Wenders (“Pena”) and Steven Spielberg (“The Adventures of Tintin”). But no one’s entry to 3-D has quite the same import as that of Scorsese, long held as America’s best.
An inevitable side-effect of even a slight brush with Scorsese is that your Netflix queue doubles in length. His encyclopedic knowledge of film constantly spawns detailed analysis: He would much rather discuss a few thousand other films than his own. There are old favorites that frequently come up ― Michael Powell, Max Ophuls, Jean Renoir ― and various dips into the rabbit hole.
Asked what films he shows his 12-year-old daughter (who helped inspire him to make “Hugo”), Scorsese lists more than 20 films, a virtual film school for adolescence.
Scorsese grew up in another age of 3-D films, and he consulted many of those from the 1950s: “House of Wax,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Dial M for Murder.” To him, seeing in depth is natural, “because we live with depth.”
“There’s great potential for it,” the director says of 3-D. “It’s a natural progression, especially with the fact that cinema is all around us. It’s not only in a theater. Obviously, the next thing you go to is holograms. You could have ‘West Side Story’ with the dancers dancing up the aisles, or a wonderful actor doing ‘Hamlet.’”
To Scorsese, ultimately it is part of film evolution. He recalls the arrival of sound, the early distrust for color and the ushering in of wider screens with CinemaScope.
“The French critics ― Truffaut, Godard, all of them ― embraced every new technological advance from Hollywood as part of cinema: color, sound, ultimately, and wide-screen,” says Scorsese. “They embraced wide-screen and I’m sure they would have done 3-D.”
In “Hugo,” the depth of the images comes through fullest in the expansive interior of the full-size train station, built on a soundstage in England’s Shepperton Studios.
“Marty was pushing the boundaries all the time, saying, ‘Let’s go further, let’s go further,’” says Schoonmaker, who has edited most of Scorsese’s films since “Aging Bull.” “It takes a lot of care and time to set up a 3-D shot properly and he was really committed to that. ... I don’t mean the sensational aspects of 3-D, but the way the camera embraces the actors is what he wanted.”