“Mr. Scorsese, can I start by saying thank you. Hugo is a truly beautiful film. It reminds us of the magic of cinema, particularly the technical innovation in film. Which ties in well with its use of 3D. But I was wondering if we can expect to see 3D in your more conventional future films?”
That is was what I would if asked had I had the opportunity at the Hugo Press conference the other day. Sadly time was short and I didn’t. But someone else did ask - so we do get to find out Martin Scorsese’s thoughts on the matter.
Initially I was going to expediently throw up some key points from the Hugo Press Conference. My review of which, you can read over here. But! I attend a lot of film talks hoping to glean some insight or nuggets of knowledge from experienced filmmakers, knowledge that may spark and inspire my own creative endeavours. I usually leave these talks a little wiser, a lot- surprised at how down to earth super talented film-makers turn out to be and almost always inspired as the pieces of my personal Rubrik’s cube (to make a meaningful film that sells) continue to slide into place but sometimes a little frustrated at the lack of tactile information.
And even though discussion was based around the glorious Hugo, and fairly broad I was taken aback by the amount of tangible information that Martin Scorsese, Sir Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield offered up in such a short time span. So I have decided to transcribe the full discussion with minor amendments to keep the flow smooth.
Discussion included; pivotal moments in film that inspired these filmmakers to follow their respective careers, availability and access to old films including Georges Méliès and Harold Lloyd’s classics, a Master class from Martin Scorsese on film appreciation, Sir Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz discuss acting for 3D, Martin Scorsese talks about his fascination with 3D, Martin Scorsese places 3D in it’s proper context within the larger landscape of cinema and finally Martin Scorsese talks about the future of cinema. The last point is the shortest but very few filmmakers are willing to discuss their vision for the future of cinema so openly. I guess it may leave them a little exposed, but Martin Scorsese fearlessly puts his cards on the table.
We rolled into the Dorchester Hotel fairly early to chat with the Hugo team, but as host Chris Hewitt - appropriately summarised the anticipatory ambience - when I enquired about his lack of customary popular yet ironic film T-shirts. His response: “C’mon, it's Martin Scorsese” as he fiddled his top button. Indeed Mr Martin Scorsese. Does any living Director have quite as distinguished career? Or done as much to raise awareness of film's rich heritage?
Fast forward, past copious amounts of a really good coffee. To being introduced to Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Martin Scorsese and finally Sir Ben Kingsley as they took their seats on the stage. And we dive straight in:
Chris Hewitt: Hugo is a movie 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 by a film?
Sir Ben Kingsley: I should mention that upon hearing his booming and regal voice I instantly reminded me that he is a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Never Take No For An Answer is the tale of seven year old war orphan Peppino, who embarks on a gruelling journey to the Vatican to seek permission for his donkey to be allowed to visit the tomb of St. Francis after initially being denied.He was basically the seven year old Mayor of the village and everyone loved him and his donkey. The donkey Violetta would be the taxi to take the drunk home, to bring the fire wood in, the haulage contractor. And I was so taken by this film. And I very much looked like the little boy, so I decided that’s me and I am him and we completely bonded on the screen.
After a screening Never Take No For An Answer in a cinema in Salford, the owner spotted me and thought I was the star of the film. He said to the assembled Salfordians; “It’s little Peppino, it’s little Peppino” and lifted me up above the audience. He started it all as I thought I could really get used to this.
Years later I told our beloved Marty the story and he said of course I know that movie and within 24 hours he had the DVD so I was able to watch it all over again. But that was my first massive impression and introduction to cinema and I was determined to be in the movies ever since.
Mr. Scorsese do you have a similar experience, with Never Take No for an Answer? Or was it something else that inspired you?
Martin Scorsese: I think for me movies for a long period of time were a refuge in a way, because of having asthma and it was 1944/45 so I was not allowed to do any sports, or go anywhere green or near animals. So I was pretty much taken to the movie theatre very often. I saw many films in the 40s and became enamored with the Western genre, because of what I couldn't be near; there it was on the screen. I started making my own little drawings, almost panels from a comic strip.
The Magic Box is the story of William Friese-Greene, a British inventor who (this film would have you think) made the first movie camera.The thing with that film, the element there was not just the moving image but it was the obsession and the passion of the people at that time creating. William Friese-Greene (one of the inventors), played by Robert Donat, the sweetness of the character. And yet he a man that was so possessed that his whole personal life was destroyed by it.
There is something about that film, the love, the passion that he had for the potential of this new machinery. Coming at a time, pre World War 1 - when machines, the Wright Brothers, Automobiles are being invented. The whole world was undergoing a major change. Something happened when I saw that picture.
It has that wonderful scene in it too, with the train coming through the station, The Lumière Brothers scene. And Richard Attenborough plays a character, as it is a film filled with cameos from all the great British stars of stage and stars of the time. He takes a few friends to the Carnival, to show them this new thing called cinema. He knows that people are going to duck when they see the train.
There's a wonderful image of him looking up, flickering on their faces and as the train comes closer to them everybody around him screams and moves away and he’s just smiling. So that was the first time. I went home and starting drawing more pictures, pictures that moved, but something about the beauty of his obsession with the potential of the mechanism itself and the creation of the celluloid, which is all different now of course in digital, but it's still telling stories, still stories with a moving image.
Breakfast at Tiffany's. A young New York socialite becomes interested in a young man who has moved into her apartment building.Because I saw Audrey Hepburn and I saw how, she just lit up the screen and she makes you smile when you see her and her little face, she just lights up the screen and when I saw that I just realised that, that's what I would like to do. That’s something I really want to do; make people smile. I like to make people dream, I like to make people imagine that they're in that time and that feeling and I guess that's one of the things that really inspired me to be an actress.
Asa Butterfield: Well, it wasn't so much watching a film that inspired me; it was during the filming of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a switch sort of flicked in my head. Before that I didn't really take it that seriously, it was sort of a pass time, extracurricular if you would, but about half-way through filming I sort of realised that this is something that I really want to do. It's a passion of mine and ever since I've just tried really hard to be the best I can be and just enjoy it. I just love to be someone who you wouldn't be able to be in real life and to do things which are impossible and it's magical.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Set during World War II, a story seen through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp, whose forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.Asa and Chloë, what did you think of the films of Georges Méliès that you saw?
Martin Scorsese: That's right, we screened that just to get a sense of the time and the respect and the love for the medium, the respect as the art form.
Chloë Grace Moretz: Yeah, same thing. You showed me The Magic Box, we went to the screening at…
Martin Scorsese:... The BFI, British Film Institute
Chloë Grace Moretz: It was just one of the most magical experiences; you are sitting in the cinema and Marty's there and everyone else. It was a surreal moment. You know, when you're not only doing a movie with Marty in your whole life but as a young actor you know, as a thirteen, fourteen year-old. It was really just special.
Asa Butterfield: I think the first Méliès film I saw, was when Marty flew us out to New York and my mum and I were jet-lagged. Woke up about 3 o'clock in the morning and we were bored. There was nothing to do, it was still dark outside, so we got on the laptop, got on the internet and we watched some of Georges Méliès’ films on YouTube! We also watched Safety Last as well.
Safety Last! When a store clerk organizes a contest to climb the outside of a tall building, circumstances force him to make the perilous climb himself.
Mr. Scorsese, Hugo comes across as a love letter to silent movies and to that embryonic period, how important is it to you that today’s generation recognises where movies come from, and how important is it that film as an entity is preserved?
Martin Scorsese: Well, I think the problem of the new generation is that of every generation - that is the obligation of the ones before to inform and to expose the new generation the great art of the past. The great, the good, possibly good and maybe not very good.
But to a certain extent that goes with everything; I think there are many painters who would study the old masters in museums, pain and re-paint the paintings before they did their own. Same as theatre, language, certainly of course literature.
There is a school of thought that you don’t have to see anything of the past to express yourself creatively, to write a novel, to write a play or make films. But I think if you make it available. I think one studies or becomes aware of the older work that came before. Easy if you want to reject it, which is part of the process – to be angry and then come back to realising maybe you were too harsh 20 or 30 years later.
It’s exciting to do that with children and young generation, very exciting and you never know how what young people perceive what they see on the screen. I don’t know what the cinema screen is going to become. Actually I do know, once things have run it's course it’s going to be something that’s not going to stay on the wall, its going to be moved out to the audience in many different ways. And that could be a very low budget independent film or it could be a film that cost a great deal of money.
But I do think it is important to make younger people aware of what came before in every aspect of every art form. And it’s exciting too, and as you do that - very often working with young people or students mentoring I get a lot out of it. I get a kind of regeneration from that.
To see that excitement some times to show Chloë The Magic Box or show Asa Yojimo or what was the other one? Paths of Glory, which we haven’t seen yet.
Yojimbo - Yôjinbô. A crafty ronin comes to a town divided by two criminal gangs and decides to play them against each other to free the town.
Paths of Glory. When soldiers in WW1 refuse to continue with an impossible attack, their superiors decide to make an example of them.To get a sense of it, or to argue about whether Maxwell Clouse's American films were as important as his later French films? With a young filmmaker and that I found fascination you see, and that is part of being alive. (Henri-Georges Clouzot ? Max Clausen? - if anyone knows who Mr. Scorsese is referring to please do let me know)
Just picking up on that Mr. Scorsese, with Hugo and The Artist coming out there seems to be a resurgence of interest in silent cinema why do you think that is… ?
Martin Scorsese: Oh silent cinema, I had no idea about The Artist; I understand that it is a silent film in black & white. Again a lot of this has to do with timing I think. We didn't all plan this. The thing about silent cinema that everyone has to understand is that there seems to be this sentiment that: Oh that was cinema and you could do anything you wanted. That was one kind of cinema. When cinema started everyone wanted sound immediately. In fact there is a quick clip in Hugo, of two men dancing and there is somebody playing a violin into a giant recording device that was Edison.
Everyone wanted sound, colour, that was very important and depth. They wanted depth. The Lumière Brothers had made several films in 3D they have been restored. I have seen them they were made in the 20s but they were made. Eisenstein was working on 3D, his books were all their when he had his heart attack, all part of the Zoetrope. Imagine Eisenstein films in 3D. Imagine what they would have been? Potemkin in 3D?
Battleship Potemkin. A dramatized account of a great Russian naval mutiny and a resulting street demonstration which brought on a police massacre.
I’m not saying they should be. I’m just saying can you imagine, with the mind of someone like that creating something in 3D? Orson Welles creating something in 3D?
Look more than 90% of Silent films are gone anyway and they continue to go. Nobody cared about them. If you really see a silent film in it’s original form, like the restorations from Kevin Brownlow did of Rex Ingram’s pictures - look at The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse at the proper speed. I mean, it’s another language completely. Or Victor Sjöström’s films they are another language entirely. At times extremely modern in the acting too, in many cases.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Set immediately before World War I, it deals with a rich Argentine family, one branch recently arrived from France, the other from Germany. After the death of the patriarch each branch returns to their respective homelands as Europe slides into war.One has to get into that mindset to see it. I think I saw a few silent films as a kid but they were always scratched up and they were jumping around. I didn’t understand what the attraction was aside from the moving image itself. I don’t think there’s anybody around now who really experienced that time of silent cinema. But I wonder if, as you say the possibility of several films being released at the same time is maybe an appreciation and getting back to the roots of how this all began.
Asa Butterfield: It’s quite different; part of acting is to forget about the cameras. It’s more for the D.O.P, Marty and the special effects team; it’s more for them to look into.
But occasionally there was a 3D Moment, as they call it - when you reach for the camera. They did a lot with Sacha. Sacha would lean right into the matte box and make it come out into the audience. That was great fun. It wasn’t that much of a change, other than the fact that it made everything take a lot longer, as we learnt from experience.
Sir Ben Kingsley: Chloë and Asa are so young that they are pure. Their performance is not filtered through anything and it was a great addition to the 3D discipline on the set.
To be working with Chloë and Asa who work from the heart and not the head, because if you work from the head in 3D it’ll spot it, you have to be utterly genuine; you have to be accurate and you have to be modest in front of the camera. It is far more scrutinizing than any close up lens that I have experienced in my life.
The young chaps were acting, as they always act, which is with total naturalism - in response to the young, in response to the camera and of course to Marty’s direction. For me it pulled out a stillness and modesty that I loved going into. I had the temerity to have a conversation with Marty at the beginning of shooting where I offered that if he would like Take Two, it would be less than Take One, if he would like Take Three he would see less than in Take two. If he liked Take Four, he would see less than in Take Three.
I always try to minimise, minimise, minimise and the joy of the 3D and Marty behind the camera is that however you minimise nothing is lost, nothing is wasted. Everything is seen – you have to combine 3D with Marty’s all seeing, all loving eye as the Director. No single tiny gesture that we offer the camera is lost, wasted or ignored. It is amazing to have everything captured in the offer, it is beautiful.
Chloë Grace Moretz: Totally, yeah. Exactly, just as Sir Ben said acting is reacting and with 3D you can’t over act, you can only react because it picks up everything; the lint in the air, the fiber in your eye, it is a window into your soul as an actor because what you see is the character, you see Isabelle, you see Hugo, you see Papa Georges, Mama Jean you don’t see Sir Ben, Chloë or Asa you see the characters, it’ like a black hole and it sucks you in. You cry with them and it makes you be a part of it., especially with the steam and everything. You can feel the heat and smell the smoke and just the feeling of the 1930s Parisian train station.
Continuing the 3D theme, did you adjust any of your work ethic for 3D and is it something you would like to take in to your future films?
Martin Scorsese: 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 view masters and stereoscopic images, as I said earlier I was taken into another space as a child and tapping into that imagination of a child which is the same thing that I depend on and look for whenever we make a film. But it has to be there every day that thrill of the imagination and somehow seeing those first 3D stereoscopic images has that.
And maybe that is my last connection to childhood imagination is that feeling and so I have been fascinated with 3D all my whole life. I don’t see any reason not to use it if it is appropriate to the story. Why not? The same as colour or sound, wide screen, small screen.
Elias Kazan always pointed out, that for a long time colour was something very special. At first everyone complained about it until 1935 when they got it right. (Kalmus - Herbert Kalmus - Technicolor) and then by 1970 it was announced that every film would be made in colour.
We were all appalled because Black and White is extraordinary, the films that came out of England in the late 50s, early 60s the black and white was indescribable. That was what we were aspiring to.
But somehow colour became - through the demand of the audience, and through a generation that grew up on non Black and White films, it just became natural. So when I mention a film like; Fishtank or other films. The colour is part of the story; it is part of who we are in life, part of the story that they are telling. But we are forgetting one other thing, there is also - Space.
You can have space the way we fooled around sometimes to have the 3D moment, so top speak.
Fish Tank. Everything changes for 15yr old Mia when her mum brings home a new boyfriend.Because as much as possible, the 3D world I was trying to create was tapping back into something that is so ephemeral, this feeling of magic, when I saw I saw those first images when I was a child I don’t know how to quite describe it but that was the way we struggled shot by shot.
But yes! I also wanted a few of the old fashioned 3D moments of hands reaching out, just enough in time to cut away to see how much we could play with it.
Yes I think I would like to deal with 3D as an element in the future, there is no doubt. The equipment is becoming much more flexible, they are working on ideas to lose the glasses … so why not?
Unfortunately that is all we have time for. So thank: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Martin Scorsese and Sir Ben Kingsley.
I grew up hearing of Martin Scorsese’s genius and American treasure status but I was not always Scorsese fan. Even though he has made some of my favourite films like The Last Temptation of Christ, and I have recently developed a deeper appreciation of Taxi Driver - past my youthful perception that Taxi Driver is actually a super hero story and the misguided Travis Bickle is Batman without the bank account. But I never really cared much for his glamorisation of criminals, which has inherently become entwined with Scorsese mythos and great American tales.
Over time I can now fully appreciate the width and depth of Martin Scorsese’s work that has earned him the title of one of America’s greatest filmmakers. His films are quality productions, drawing the best possible performances from his cherry picked casts that tap into his own life as well as the emotional undercurrent that binds us all. But when you hear the man speak you truly understand that behind his art beats the heart of not just a top tier filmmaker and film aficionado whose work has become do ingrained in modern culture but a man who loves life.
Hugo is in cinemas from Fri 2 December, 2011
Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: John Logan, Brian Selznick
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee
Writers: Maurice Cloche, Diego Fabbri, Paul Gallico
Stars: Roberto Adamina, Nerio Bernardi and Guido Celano
The story of William Friese-Greene, a British inventor who (this film would have you think) made the first movie camera.
Director: John Boulting
Writers: Ray Allister (biography Friese-Greene, Close-Up of an Inventor), Eric Ambler
Stars: Robert Donat, Maria Schell and Margaret Johnston
Director: Blake Edwards
Writers: Truman Capote, George Axelrod
Stars: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard and Patricia Neal
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)
Set during World War II, a story seen through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp, whose forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.
Director: Mark Herman
Writers: John Boyne, Mark Herman
Stars: Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis and Rupert Friend
Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Writers: Hal Roach, Sam Taylor, Tim Whelan, H.M. Walker, Jean C. Havez, Harold Lloyd
Stars: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis and Bill Strother
Yojimbo - Yôjinbô (1961)
A crafty ronin comes to a town divided by two criminal gangs and decides to play them against each other to free the town.
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Ryûzô Kikushima
Stars: Toshirô Mifune, Eijirô Tôno and Tatsuya Nakadai
When soldiers in WW1 refuse to continue with an impossible attack, their superiors decide to make an example of them.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker and Adolphe Menjou
Battleship Potemkin - Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925)
A dramatized account of a great Russian naval mutiny and a resulting street demonstration which brought on a police massacre.
Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein
Writer: Nina Agadzhanova, Nikolai Aseyev, Sergei M. Eisenstein, Sergei Tretyakov
Stars: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky and Grigori Aleksandrov
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
Director: Rex Ingram
Writers: Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, June Mathis
Stars: Rudolph Valentino, Alice Terry and Pomeroy Cannon
Fish Tank (2009)
Everything changes for 15yr old Mia when her mum brings home a new boyfriend.
Director: Andrea Arnold
Writer: Andrea Arnold
Stars: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender and Kierston Wareing