Special Feature: Martin Scorsese and cast discuss ‘Hugo’

Earlier today at a press conference in Central London, acclaimed director Martin Scorsese discussed his latest feature Hugo (2011), a magical 3D journey about a young boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives in Paris’ Gare du Nord train station, mending clocks and stealing parts in order to repair a complex automaton that he believes is holding a secret message from his deceased father (Jude Law). Also present at the press conference were stars of the film Ben Kingsley and Chloë Grace Moretz.

This is a film about the power of cinema, and the power of movies to move and inspire people. Can you remember the first time you sat in a cinema and were really inspired? What was that film?

Ben Kingsley: I can indeed, it is wonderful to be sitting next to the man how gave me the DVD years later. It was a film we both saw when we were very young, made by Havlock Allan, called Never Take No for an Answer (1951), and it was indeed an orphan again, who survived Allied bombing, his parents didn’t. His soul pal, mode of employment, job, everything was his Donkey called Violetta. He was basically the eight year old major of his village and everyone love him and his donkey, the donkey would be the taxi to take the drunk home, to bring the fire wood in, he was basically the haulage contractor.

I was so, so, taken by this film, and I looked very much like the little boy, when I was a little boy I looked very much like him, and I decided that me and I’m him and I completely bonded on the screen. After the screening, in Salford, the cinema owner spotted me and thought I was the star of the film. Because of course the stars always come to Salford, put on a good show. And he said to the assembled Salfordians, “this is little Pepino,” and lifted me up above the audience and he started it all. I thought I could really get used to this. Years later I told our beloved Marty and within 24 hours he sent me the DVD so I am able to watch the film again and again. But that was the first movie that made a massive impression, and determined me to be in movies ever since.

Mr. Scorsese – do you have a similar movie?

Martin Scorsese: Movies for me, for a long time anyway, were a refuge. Because of having asthma in 1945 I wasn’t allowed to do any sports or anything like that, so I was pretty much taken to the movie theatre very often. I saw many films in the forties, I became enamoured of the Western genre because what I could be near or go near was up there on the screen. I started making my own little drawings, almost like comic strips. The film that I think created the biggest impression on me about film, or film making, was John Boulting’s The Magic Box, in ’52, I must have been about nine or ten years old. The element there was not just the moving image, but the obsession and the passion of people at that time creating that. Robert Donate played William Freezegreen , a character who showed a sweetness, and yet was a man who was so obsessed that his entire personal life was destroyed by it.

Chloe – do you have a similar experience?

Chloë Grace Moretz: Yeah, my mom has always been obsessed with Audrey Hepburn, and so have I. One of the first films that really inspired me to be an actor would have to be Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). I saw Audrey Hepburn and how she lit up the screen and how she could make you smile when you saw her. When I saw that I just realised that was something I would like to do.

And Asa?

Asa Butterfield: It wasn’t so much watching a film that inspired me; it was actually during the filming of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008). A switch flicked in my head, because before that I hadn’t really taken it that seriously, it was sort of a past time, extracurricular if you would. During about half way through the filming I realised this was something I really want to do and it became a passion. I loved being someone who you wouldn’t be able to be in real life, to do things that were impossible.

The film is of course a love letter to silent movies, how important to you is it that today’s generation recognise where movies came from? And film as an entity is preserved?

MS: The problem is really the new generation, as with every new generation, namely the obligation of the ones before to expose the new generation to the great art of the past, the great, the good and the possibly not so good. To a certain extent there were many painters who studied old masters, who would paint and repaint the masters. This is also true of theatre and literature. I mean what would it be like if people didn’t? There maybe a school of thought that says you don’t need anything of the past to express yourself artistically, to write a novel, or a play, or make films. But eventually one becomes aware of what came before, and you can reject it, which is part of the process, to become angry, and say its no good at all. You might come back to it twenty or thirty years later, after all I may have been a little too harsh on people when I was younger, but it’s exciting to do that with children and the younger generation.

You never know what younger people perceive. You don’t know what cinema is going to become. I think it will be something you wont see on the wall; it is going to be moved out to the audience in many different ways. I do think it is important to make younger people aware of what came before, in every aspect of every art form. When you are working with students and younger people you do get a lot out of it, a kind of regeneration to see that excitement. I find it fascinating, its part of being alive.

With this and The Artist (2011) coming out there seems to be a resurgence of interest in the silent cinema.

MS: I had no idea about The Artist – I understand it is a silent film, black and white. But again a lot of this is to do with timing; I didn’t know that was happening. I had no idea these films would be coming out near each other. The thing about silent cinema is usual response of “oh that was the real cinema,” people forgets when cinema started everyone wanted sound immediately.

In fact, in Hugo there is a quick scene of two men recording into a giant recording device that was Edison. Audiences wanted sound and colour, very important. And they wanted depth, the Lumière brothers made several films in 3D, several have been restored and I have seen them. Eisenstein was also doing it, when he died the stuff surrounded him. Imagine that Eisenstein films in 3D, Potemkin in 3D. I’m not saying they should be converted; but just to imagine what a mind like that could do with 3D fascinates me.

Mr. Scorsese – did you adjust your work ethic for working in 3D and are you planning to take it into your future films?

MS: Yes, it is something I would like to take into my future films. I just happen to be a great admirer of it, because when I first saw those stereoscopic images I was taken into another space. I like tapping into that imagination of a child, which is the same thing I depend on when every I make a film. It has to be there everyday that thrill of the imagination, and somehow see those stereoscopic images did that for me. It may be my last connection to that childhood imagination and so I have been fascinated with it all my life. I don’t see any problem with it as long as it is used appropriately for the story, so why not. It’s just like colour or sound, widescreen, or small screen.

For a long time colour was complained about until 1935 when they got it write with technicolour, then in 1978 it was announced that every film would be made in colour and we were appalled. The black and white was indescribable, the films that came out of England in the 1950’s, that was what we were aspiring to. Somehow colour, by the demand of the audience, and a generation who grew up with colour, it became natural, the colour was part of the story, part of real life. We are forgetting one other thing, namely that there is also space. The 3D world we were trying to create was to do with the ephemeral of magic of those old movies. That was the way we struggled shot by shot, I also wanted to play with the 3D like they did in the early days of cinema. But yes I want to work with it in the future. The equipment is getting much better and more flexible. They are working on ideas of losing the glasses, so why not! 

You can read our Hugo review here.

Joe Walsh