Martin Scorsese long ago established himself as one of the pillars of contemporary films, an auteur steeped in the history and culture of cinema who makes movies that are usually brutal, visceral and, quite often, Oscar-nominated too. His 2006 release, The Departed, finally brought him his best director Oscar, after five previous nominations left him just short, and the film also won best picture and two more awards that night. But anyone who thinks they have Scorsese pegged will be in for a shock with his latest, Hugo. It’s a children’s story, based on the best-selling novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” and it’s the filmmaker’s first foray into 3D. Less surprising is that Hugo revolves around the early days of cinema, with pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) playing a prominent role. And it’s figuring regularly in Oscar buzz. So, Hugo isn’t entirely out of character for Scorsese. The director took a few minutes recently to talk to me about the influence of his young daughter on his latest film, his new-found embrace of 3-D technology, and what his Oscar wins in 2007 meant for his family.
AWARDSLINE: What were you looking for that made Hugo fit so well as your first family film?
MARTIN SCORSESE: The book by Brian Selznick is so compelling and beautifully done, particularly the illustrations. But the story, the mystery of it, really became interesting and I felt an affinity with the 12-year old boy, his isolation and ultimately his trying to find a reason for his life and its tragedies. Ultimately all of that gets resolved through the invention of cinema.
AWARDSLINE: You’d found a personal frame of reference? There are also themes of film preservation, a passion of yours, and the origins of cinema.
SCORSESE: That seemed to be like a natural. But really, it was mainly the young children that first got me involved with it. And the fact that it resolves itself with Melies and early cinema was something that kept drawing me back. Well, apparently it must have been that but I didn’t quite realize it until I was shooting and friends in my life would say ‘This is very much you.’ [Laughs] While I didn’t think of that, all my close friends felt it was totally natural.
AWARDSLINE: How long had you wanted to work in 3D?
SCORSESE: Since I saw my first 3D film back in 1953, House of Wax.
AWARDSLINE: As you watched 3D develop through the years, it’s gone from something that jumps out at you to an immersive feel. How have you felt about the evolution?
SCORSESE: I have always been fascinated by it. Even before I saw 3D films, I remember getting a packet of 10 postcards that were stereoscopic from the late 19th century and looking at them through a little device. Then there’s the wonderful View-Master which had beautiful stereo images. Not only did it immerse you in the picture, but was like a story. I was fascinated by depth and I placed such moments carefully in Hugo. There are a number of things that do pop out at you, but we tried to have our cake and eat it too. Ideally you don’t realize the effect occurred. By the time it’s over, you’re onto something else. It was about placing you inside this boy’s world; the memory of a child. If you think back at your childhood, you think about where you grew up and if you ever go back there, it’s different. It has a different feel to it from what a child sees and perceives. I thought that would be amazing in 3D plus the fact that he lives in the walls of a train station with the mechanisms of the clocks – which always fascinated me. I remember a little glass ball of a clock that my grandfather had. He gave it to me. I was always fascinated because on the back of it, you can actually see magnified; the workings of a clock and since I was a child I was fascinated by that.
AWARDSLINE: The technology certainly allowed you to see the inner workings of the clocks that are prevalent in the film.
SCORSESE: I go back to that old clock my grandfather had and I still have in the house now and I was fascinated by that. I’m not mechanically inclined but I’m fascinated by the mechanisms, and what they suggest. The stories that come out of them. The measurement of time itself. Movies being the illusion of motion, and then it is seen and it is an experience that disappears–into time. And in many cases, it has strong, profound, powerful reactions that can change your life. It certainly did mine.
AWARDSLINE: There’s a wonderful moment where an audience watching a moving picture for the first time scatters as a train rushes through the camera. In your life and career, what film innovation compares to that?
SCORSESE: Well, two things really. It was the use of 3D back in ’53. Obviously, there are two or three films better than all the others – House of Wax, Phantom of the Rue Morgue and Hitchcock’s use of it in Dial M for Murder.
AWARDSLINE: What was the other?
SCORSESE: I’m going back to theatrical experiences for this one. It was the first use of wide screen