The Invention of Hugo Cabret


When I saw the movie Hugo Cabret in 2011, I had no idea it was derived from a Caldecott award winning book until now. In fact, I knew nothing about the movie other than the time worked for me and two co-workers to see a movie. Before holiday break we would sneak out of work early for a hush-hush meeting at the movie theatre. It's fitting that the movie meeting was a type of secret adventure for us. My mind was in the right place for a daring imaginative plot and it did not disappoint. The cinemagraphic setting in a 1931 Paris train station and a mysterious plot gave me the same tingly magical feeling I experienced watching my first Harry Potter movie. Here is the movie trailer and you can hear about the making of the movie from director, Martin Scorsese here.

Brian Selznick has a perfect description of The Invention of Hugo Cabret plot on his website.

ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message all come together...in The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Author, Selznick, uses an ingenious book construction of both written words and hand drawn pencil sketches that together tell the story of Hugo Cabret. Upon opening the book, you are drawn into the novel without a single word other than a brief introduction until page 46. Watch the pages turn here. There are 284 pages of original drawings enfolded in this bookmaker's spellbinding 530 pages of bold genius.

As with all of Selzick's books reviewed on this site, the story behind the book's origination is equally fascinating. He researched by watching movies of Georges Méliès, a famous filmmaker who prouced flms in the 1890s through the 1920s. His 1902 film, A Trip to the Moon, was integral to Hugo's plot. Several films were instrumental outside of Méliès body of work. You can see a full list here. Magic also has a prominent role in Hugo and the actors had to learn tricks from magicians. You can watch behind the scenes here. Another inspiration for Hugo is the talented Remy Charlip, a writer and illustrator of children’s books as well as an influential dancer and choreographer. Brian quoted from Remy Charlip's essay, A Page is a Door in his Caldecott speech.

Finally, most interesting to me is the central character in this book, an automoton, modeled after one called "Draughtsman-Writer" made by Henri Maillardet in the 18th century and on display in The Franklin Institute in Philadephia, Pennsylvania. Brian writes this on his site:

"Automata are mechanical figures which are made out of very complicated clockworks and can do amazing things like sing or dance or swing on a trapeze or write poems or even (supposedly) play chess."

Built at a time when there was no television or internet, the automata entralled their human admirers who certainly found mystery and wonder in their actions. You can watch a CBS special piece about Maillardet's creation here.

Take your time and enjoy one of today's most talented artists.

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