Howard SHORE (b. 1946)
Hugo - film score (2011)
Simon Chamberlain (piano); John Parricelli (guitar); Eddie Hession (musette); Cynthia Millar (ondes martenot); Chris Laurence (bass); Paul Clarvis (percussion); Zaz (vocalist on “Coeur Volant”)
Specially assembled orchestra/Howard Shore
rec. Abbey Road Studios London, 2011
HOWE HWR-1007 [67:44]

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 of Dreams’.

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.

Ian Lace

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.

Track Listing:-

The Thief
The Chase
The Clocks
Hugo’s Father
The Station Inspector
The Movies
The Message
The Armoire
The Plan
Papa Georges Made Movies
The Invention of Dreams
A Ghost at the Station
A Train Arrives in the Station
The Magician
Coeur Volant (performed by Zaz) - music and lyrics by Elizabeth Cotnoir, Isabelle Geffroy and Howard Shore.
Winding it Up

A dream of a score for a film of enchantments.