Observations on science fiction, writing, life and whatnot

Writing

Scorsese’s lyrical lecture on the importance of old movies

Of all of the three-D movies I’ve seen so far (granted, I haven’t seen many; dull, crummy movies are still dull and crummy no matter how many dimensions they’re presented in), two of the best are Avatar (the movie that really got the latest 3-D craze going) and Hugo (the movie that tells a story about one of the pioneers of movies by using the latest technology).

One of those movies looked terrific but had a weak story cribbed from dozens of previous sources. The other looked terrific and told a wonderful story based on an imaginative and intelligent children’s book.

Guess which is which.

This not a trick question.

Some people express surprise that Martin Scorsese would make a children’s film after making violent, adult fare such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. Why should this be a surprise? Scorsese is a storyteller; the skills are the same whether you’re doing films about mobsters or prize fighters or eccentric businessmen or Michael Jackson videos. Go take a look at Scorsese’s bio and see how many different types of films he’s had a hand in as writer, director, producer or occasional actor. This is a guy who loves movies so much he’s spearheading the effort to save as many old ones as possible.

The central story of Hugo is about the rediscovery of a pioneer of movies and some of the films he had made. Right up Scorsese’s alley.

The book also about redemption, remembering the past and struggling with the loss of family. Quite a plate for a book for children.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is no ordinary kids book, though. For one thing, it’s 534 pages, but saying it that way is quite misleading. There are pages filled with type, yes, but then many are filled with drawings, which often take over the storytelling. The book’s one chase scene, for instance, is told in drawings, and boy, does that save time and words.

The author, Brian Selznick – cousin to David O. Selznick, producer (Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, King Kong) – is both author and illustrator. Hugo Cabret is an orphan who possesses an automaton his father was working on until he was killed in a fire. An uncle takes Hugo in, teaches him how to wind the clocks at a Paris train station, then disappears. Hugo, in order to survive and keep out of the clutches of the station’s Inspector who wants to put him in an orphanage, takes over the caretaker duties. In his off hours, he tries to repair the automaton using parts he steals from a toy vendor. The vendor catches him, takes his notebook and threatens to burn it. Hugo appeals to the toy-maker’s ward, Isabelle, for help, and eventually they discover the truth about the old man. The automaton provides an essential clue, and, in the movie, it’s fascinating to watch the thing at work. This one, of course, is a special effect, but in their day, such mechanical marvels really did do some amazing things.

Scorsese, of course, tweaks the story a bit. In the book, Hugo and Isabelle refuse to tell each other the obvious plot points until it becomes annoying. The movie lessens the need for this, but it also leaves out Isabelle’s slamming a door on Hugo’s hand, thus preventing him from winding the station clocks, which fall behind, which leads the Inspector to figure out Hugo’s secret, who then captures him. In the movie, Hugo’s capture stems from a different set of circumstances, but in this case, the book is better.

The book’s drawings gives us glimpses of 1930s Paris and Hugo’s world in the train station, but Scorsese’s use of 3-D immerses us. There are the usual 3-D gimmicks, of course – a guitar neck sticking out, a wrench falling from a great height and into the viewer’s face, a pendulum slicing into the frame, a locomotive engine careening out of control and into the audience. (The latter recalls an early silent, black-and-white film of a train pulling into a station that caused audience members to duck and scream. The bit is shown in Hugo, causing a few chuckles from the “sophisticated” modern audience, including one who almost shouted “Look out!” to a woman who he thought was about to be beaned by a meatball during a 3-D trailer for Cloudy with Meatballs.)

Scorsese goes beyond these gimmicks. We see ceilings high above us, the massive walls around us. We’re jostling among the travelers hurrying to meet a train, a scene which turns to terror for Isabelle when she’s knocked down and nearly trampled; we feel each jab in her ribs, wince at the sight of a foot aimed at her head. Scorsese knows how to use 3-D as a device to tell an entire story, not just make us dodge the occasional object. The storyteller again, gently lecturing us about the past and why it’s important to save it while entertaining us using all the tools he has available to him. For instance, when the kids climb high into a clock tower and gaze out over 1930s Paris at night – yeah, that’s real movie magic.

(The movie also does a better job with period costumes and architecture. Note to Selznick: If you’re going to use drawings to illustrate stories in historical times, a little research helps with the verisimilitude.)

And who is the filmmaker pioneer the book and movie are about? Well, reviewers already have let that cat escape from the bag, but if you don’t already know, go read the book or see the movie. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll actually learn something.

In an entertaining way, of course.


Welcome to my World

Here I am, another voice in the vast wilderness of the Net

Welcome to the website and blog of Terry D. England.

Who?

Oh, you know, just another guy who thinks he’s clever and smart and has enough intellect to be entertaining, informative and witty and thousands of readers with followers waiting with breathless anticipation as the next Golden Pearls of Wisdom drip from his keyboard.

Right.

I’ll likely to see two people a month, one who likely stumbled onto the site looking for English tea and crumpets. In essence, just one more voice yammering among the millions already out there.

So why do it?

Because I’m egotistical. Sort of. I find the idea a bit frightening, a bit intimidating. Put my words out for others to see, to ponder, to react to, to scorn? Have I taken leave of my senses? You bet. But I also style myself as a writer, so I’m supposed to put words out there. It’s just so unnerving, sending out those precious, vulnerable children out into the great unknown.

Actually, I’m hoping to let you in a little on what I’m thinking. (Just a little; you don’t want to know it all, believe me.) Whether the wider world pays any attention or not is another question. This won’t be a one-issue blog; indeed, it’s likely to wander all over the map. Society, culture, entertainment, people, whatever. No sports – not interested – and very little politics because in this polarized society I don’t want flame wars erupting on my site (though if something really egregious happens – and it will, it always does – I might, I say might, make a tiny comment or two). I can’t guarantee how often the posts will come, but I’m aiming for once a week. Even if it’s just “The weather was terrible here today.”

I will watch the comments and only the ones I approve will be seen. It’s my website, after all. There will be rules and my decisions are final. I am hoping to hear from thoughtful, the curious and the (relatively) sane so we we can discuss Serious Issues. Or argue over which are the better cartoons, Silly Symphonies or Looney Tunes.

Another reason for this is because I have something to sell (well, of course). Not much; my output is rather thin at the moment but I’m working on it (see the About and SF and Me tabs for more on that). I’ve posted a few short stories under the Short Tales tab, one published, three not, all accessible for free. Are they any good? I think so; after all, I did put them out there. Of course, the final say will be from you. (And if that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.)

I bill myself as a science-fiction writer, and one of the joys about the SF world is the people you meet, the writers, illustrators and fans. It’s a mutual support society, so I’ve added links to some I consider friends or colleagues on the page. You won’t find them boring; plus, they have a lot more works available. Check ’em out, check out the wide variety of written SF for challenging ideas, great stories and just plain good reading.

Like all new things, this is an experiment and a nerve-wracking time for a guy who generally sits quietly in the background. I like this system, though; I can post something then hide under the bed until I screw up enough courage to see what the responses are. Assuming anyone does respond.

Still, I look forward to this. Sort of. As Calvin once said to Hobbes, “Because it is man’s indomitable nature to scare himself silly for no good reason!”