Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s first excursion into the ‘family
film’ genre is a triumph. It has already been nominated for
the Golden Globes and the Oscars, just to mention two prestigious
Awards and in numerous other categories, including for Howard
Shore’s original score. The first awards, the 2012 Golden Globes,
generally regarded as good indicators to Oscar-success, came
in early January with the winners to be formally announced on
15 January 2012.
The story of Hugo, set in Paris, in 1931, centres around
a young boy, Hugo, who has assumed the responsibility, in the
absence of his drunkard uncle, for the maintenance of all the
clocks at the Montparnasse Station. He has to steal food and
mechanical parts to rebuild an automaton left to him by Hugo’s
father who had died in a museum fire. Hugo tries to steal a
part from a toy shop on the station. The ill-tempered shop owner
turns out to be down-on-his-luck George Méliès, the great French
pioneer film-maker. Hugo eventually plays a major part in rekindling
Méliès confidence and interest in film.
It will be recalled that Howard Shore has composed for many
films including The Silence of the Lambs and The
Lord of the Rings trilogy. This new entry is quite magical:
witty, original and brilliantly evocative of time and locale,
and of child-like innocence and wonder. The soloists feature,
solo and in ensemble, strongly and to the fore. This is very
evident from the very first track, ‘The Thief’ with the ondes
martenot suggesting the steam and smoke of arriving trains (and
plaintive moments), the musette (accordion) evoking the unmistakable
Parisian locale; and piano voicing the romantic and sentimental
elements of the screenplay.
There is so much to admire. Just a few examples: the staccato
chords, dotted-rhythms and the comic pomposity suggest silent
film action in the all-encompassing opening track. ‘The Chase’
and the guitar’s and musette’s attractive tango-cum-Parisian-cafe-like
dance rhythms mixed with wooden block chords have the gait of
the Station Inspector always chasing Hugo but also his lovelorn
eyes for the little flower-seller on the station concourse.
These sentiments and musical styles spill over into and are
amplified in the continuing track ‘Clocks’ with its persistent
tick-tock ostinato. The warmth of the relationship between Hugo
and his museum-curator father is quietly explored in the gently
intimate ‘Hugo’s Father’. Piano and guitar are to the fore over
gently arcing woodwind and violin figures before the texture
darkens when Hugo’s father is overwhelmed by the fire, tragically
recalled in the next track, ‘Ashes’. The absurd, comic figure
of ‘The Station Inspector’ is parodied by bassoon yet there
is sympathy for him too as demonstrated in his tentative approaches
to the little flower-girl. The magic of the movies is evoked
in ‘Papa Georges Made Movies’. The score here is star-dusted
with the glitter, the glamour of exotic multi-coloured fairytale
dreams. Music of varying styles and periods tumbles over each
other kaleidoscopically – the piano echoing the accompaniments
of those old silent films – through the next track ‘The invention
Exiting the cinema - we saw the film in 3D - very intelligently
used by Scorsese - we heard the vocalist singing “Coeur Volant”,
a quasi waltz song attractively delivered and rhythmically stressed.
It’s very much in the style of the café singers of the period.
A dream of a score for a film of enchantments.
Appendix: It is interesting to note that the background
to the film Hugo is largely true. Méliès became interested
in film after seeing a demonstration of the Lumière brothers’
camera. He made numerous early silent films but lost most of
his film stock - melted down for cellulose - when he became
bankrupt. He became a toy salesman at Montparnasse Station.
And there was a train derailment there.
The Station Inspector
Papa Georges Made Movies
The Invention of Dreams
A Ghost at the Station
A Train Arrives in the Station
Coeur Volant (performed by Zaz) - music and lyrics by Elizabeth
Cotnoir, Isabelle Geffroy and Howard Shore.
Winding it Up