Backstage Spotlight: The Overlapping Themes of Hugo, The Artist, and Midnight in Paris

Having finally seen Hugo this past weekend, I was once again brought into France via the movies–this time, a Parisian world, namely a train station, built by Martin Scorsese. After seeing it, I noticed that Midnight in ParisHugo, and The Artist all share some overlapping themes that made 2011 film feel very full circle for me. These are the similar ideas/themes I gleaned from watching the three films:

French Influence/Setting

I started to think about how France majorly influenced some of the biggest pictures of 2011. The ArtistMidnight in Paris, and Hugo–all were nominated for Best Picture. The Artist took the big prize (and then some other big ones) without breaking a sweat, Woody Allen was once again MIA to pick up his Best Original Screenplay trophy, and Hugo ran away with five technical awards at the Oscars.

Midnight in Paris is perhaps the most self-explanatory in terms of relating to France. It was filmed in Paris! The City of Lights was highlighted most in Midnight in Paris of the three films. Castor over at Anomalous Material wrote this great article that acts as a travel guide for many of the locations where Midnight in Paris was filmed.

While Hugo was actually filmed in London, Scorsese built a Parisian world that was often viewed through the eyes of Hugo, sitting in a clock tower in a train station. Multiple shots of the Eiffel Tower sitting in the distance appeared throughout the film, although the majority of film took place on a train station set. Scorsese celebrates Georges Melies, the early French filmmaker and most notably the film, A Trip to the Moon. You can learn more about how Hugo celebrates Melies in this Star News article.

The Artist has become one of the great film feats of France to take place in America, having won most of the big awards, Best Picture at the Academy Awards sitting at the top. Other French actors and films have received accolade, but The Artist triumphed in showcasing relatively new director Michel Hazanavicius, French actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, and French film composer Ludovic Bource. Jerry Garrett wrote a well-researched article about the different LA locations where The Artist was filmed and how some related to old Hollywood or were specifically chosen by Hazanavicius for inspired reasons.

Love Letters

It’s fitting that Paris is dubbed the “City of Love”–the theme of each of the three films had the idea of “love” well-integrated into them, each acting as a love letter of sorts: Midnight in Paris, a love letter to the past and to the city; Hugo, a love letter and homage to film; The Artist, a love letter to art and expression, and a well-developed underlining theme of love itself.

Not only was Midnight in Paris a masterpiece and a beauty to view as an audience, but the film elicited charm, bringing the early 1900s Paris to life, and showing the origination of some of the most celebrated artists and writers in the city. The “starving writer” Gil, seeks solace in a discovered early 1920s Parisian world filled with the writers and artist who inspire him. French culture abounds, taking center stage throughout the film.

The brilliant Martin Scorsese decided to share one of his loves with the world–a film about film. There’s a scene when Hugo and Isabelle sit in a library and open a book that talks about early film, silent film, and the first film made–about a train. Scorsese really thanks the past films that served as both mentors and inspiration for Hugo and his other films.

While Hugo hits the love of silent film, The Artist puts its complete focus on it, not only being a silent film itself, but telling the story of a forgotten silent film star in the rise of talkies. In the middle of the film emerges a love story that starts off innocently, transitioning to Peppy extending a saving grace to George, and then ultimately finds the two dancing alongside one another in the end.

Lost, But Not Forgotten

Each of the three films also press the issue of forgetting–Midnight in Paris reminds us to not live in the past, but also not to forget it and how it influences us today; Hugo tells the story of a forgotten filmmaker, and in the process delves into early film and how it got its start; The Artist takes the most personal route of the three, showcasing a silent actor’s life unravel as the world not only forgets silent film, but ultimately forgets him and moves on to “make room for the young.”

Woody Allen really plays a trick on us–the lesson Gil learns in Midnight in Paris is that you need to live in the present, that the past belongs in the past, and that you have to make decisions now and learn to live in the now. The trick is that the film also serves as a reminder of what was, and what past art and culture has done for the future. I viewed Midnight in Paris as Woody Allen’s way of saying, “Paris, art, beauty of the past–the world may have forgotten you, but I haven’t. Thank you for paving the way and opening it up for today’s artists. You continue to inspire me.”

Hugo shows the origination of film and brings to live a forgotten filmmaker and master of the art. It celebrates a life that was all built on a risk one day, turned to a dazzling career, and then seemingly forgotten, being shoved to the side with the coming of war, his films and effects destroyed in an impulsive act of sorrow and rage. Hugo journeyed back to the roots of film to share the beginning of one of the greatest mediums of time.

Yes, forgotten filmmakers and stars have “made room for the young,” and have also been left out to dry. George Valentin is a forgotten silent film star–along with the medium, watching as the world shifts its eyes toward younger stars and ears toward talkies. Valentin grasps onto what stardom and life he has left, trying everything in his power to get the world to divert its gaze just long enough to remember that silent film is still powerful, beautiful, and worthwhile. What do you do when the world forgets you? I think Michel Hazanavicuis answered that with bringing us The Artist in the twenty-first century.

What themes did you notice in the Best Picture nominees? Did you pick up any other common themes that I missed in these films?

Backstage Spotlight: Dan in Real Life Bonus Features (2007)

Bonus features, special features, extras–whatever you want to call them–are usually on most movies you end up renting or owning. I find them particularly fun to watch, if I have the time. What’s crazy is that I’ve seen Dan in Real Life a handful of times over the past 4 years, yet I never took the time to check out the bonus features until last night.

Let’s break it down.

Behind the Scenes

Writer-director Peter Hedges’s ultimate goal, it seems, is to make films that are different. That’s one of his big points in the “behind the scenes” featurette on the DVD. Dan in Real Life  supports his idea of being different by really being its own movie. Hedge has written a few films across the board throughout his career, from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) to About a Boy (2002). Hedge acts as director and co-writer for Dan, bringing to life Pierce Gardner’s writing. That cast had only great things to say about Hedges (of course!), but many of them noted that he was much different than the typical director in that he was very down to earth and was always bringing something different to the table.

One really interesting thing I caught from the featurette was that the entire cast, spare Steve Carell, came onto set a week before shooting to rehearse and hang out in the house where the majority of the movie was filmed. As much as I’ve seen the movie, I really felt like the cast was a family. It’s now only evident that the week they spent getting to know one another paid off in the end product.

About the Score: Sondre Lerche

This segment of the Bonus Features was my favorite. Typically, there isn’t anything expressed in detail regarding the score of a film listed within the special features, especially with someone considered less known, like Sondre Lerche. Dan in Real Life introduced me to this impressive, one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter-composer. No doubt there are a million other Sondre Lerche singer-songwriters floating around, but Lerche separates himself from the rest with his added talent of film composition. Before Hedge contacted Lerche, he had never heard of him, much less could pronounce his name. Hedge’s goal was to bring the film and soundtrack together by finding music that represented the title character, Carell’s Dan. In a nutshell, Lerche fulfilled that goal for Hedge, and a fantastic collaboration was born.

The rest of Lerche’s band flew in from Norway to sing and play in the background of the end scene in the film. Sondre Lerche might not be everyone’s cup of tea (such as Roger Ebert, who specifically called the film out on it!), but in my opinion, his music fit Dan in Real Life nicely, and didn’t come across too literal.

Deleted Scenes

Dan in Real Life might hold the record for the largest number of deleted scenes. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but viewing 11 new or extended versions of scenes got exhausting and boring fast. There was only one deleted scene I might have even appreciated in the film, and it wasn’t even memorable. Each of these scenes–and probably a few more from the final cut–deserved to be on the cutting board.

Do you ever watch the Bonus Features on your favorite films? What did you think of Sondre Lerche’s score? Did you notice that Office alum Amy Ryan costarred in the film with Steve Carell?

Change Coming to All Eyes On Screen

Hi all! It’s been almost TWO WEEKS since I last posted! Miss me yet? It’s good to be back.

With a new year, I’m happy to be announcing some new changes to AEOS. But first,

A look back at 2011 . . .

  • First year of AEOS
  • Viewership went way up, specifically in October
  • The 5 posts/week trend started
  • Subscribers increased
  • Most popular post in terms of viewership was Women in the Director’s Chair
  • New movie friends were made!

Ultimately, the purpose of me writing AEOS isn’t to increase viewership or comments, but really to just express my opinions on movies and the many different aspects that accompany early and current film. It is great, however, to see upward movement for the blog. I’ve really enjoyed making some new friends on other far superior movie sites and blogs, and I really look up to many of you for your incredible writing style and educated opinion of various movies. I’ve learned so much about movies in 2011, and I have no doubt that 2012 will open up even more possibilities for this blog as well as teach me more about film as I continue to read many of your sites and discuss movies with you.

What’s in store for 2012?

While I’m still configuring a few new aspects I plan to employ on the site, let me share with you what I have decided on:

  • The 5 posts/week trend will continue year long.
  • “Recast Edition” will be a new type of post popping up on occasion. This new type of post will feature a movie recast with actors I think could have filled roles just as well or possibly better than a current cast.
  • Friday posts will now always be featuring a new trailer for an upcoming movie.
  • There will be at least one “AEOS Movie Review” post every week. This won’t always be a new movie that recently comes out, but as often as possible, I will be aiming to stay with the times and post about current movies.
  • One of the most exciting features for me to share is a new type of post called “Backstage Spotlight,” the name taken from my personal blog, ((backstage_spotlight)). This type of post will headline everything from bios on a film composer, to a film score review, to 10 facts about an actor, to an interview with a director. Any type of movie news that isn’t taking place on screen could possibly be mentioned in one of these type of posts.

To summarize –

Expect . . . 5 posts a week, one for each weekday; a new trailer every Friday; a movie review every week; occasional “Recast Edition” and “Backstage Spotlight” posts.

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let’s bring it in 2012!