Years ago I was fascinated by an interview in which Orson Welles claimed that the death of cinema was imminent. “I believe in the death of cinema. Look at the desperation by which they trying to revive it: yesterday by means of the colour; today, with the three dimensions. I don’t give more than 40 years to it [...].” That interview, made by Alejo Carpentier, was published more than 40 years ago, on August 12, 1953. But, was Welles right?
I strongly believe that films ought to be magical and, just like a book, they should transport you to a different place and time; films should also make you feel as a protagonist or as an accomplice. Every time the lights go out and the projection starts I feel like a child–I’m about to discover something new, something I’ve never seen before. For me a really good film (the five-star kind) must feel like the greatest discovery on Earth; and quite frankly, I haven’t felt that in a long time.
But then I watched Hugo. With its charismatic characters and seemingly clichéd imaginary, Hugo is telling us that, despite the use of 3D, it is all about the story, it is all about the art of cinema. This is not just another boy living in turn-of-the-century Paris, this is not Amelie revisited; this is the story of the boy who discovers cinema for the very first time. There is a particular scene in which Hugo watches Le Vogage dans la Lune, and the awe, the magic encapsulated in that scene and in Hugo’s eyes is what movies are all about. (I wonder if that is what Scorsese feels every time he goes to the movies or discovers a film that had been lost into oblivion and rescued by his wonderful team of curators; for further reference visit The Film Foundation).
Hugo makes you cry because the story is real, human. It also makes you cry because it reminds us that film is a form of art that is loosing its amazing cathartic powers in pro of 3D and celebrity culture–and I ask again, was Welles right? And if you are a cinephile, you’ll cry twice as much because you’ll experience for the first time the arrival of the train and the landing on the Moon.
This year has taught me that cinema might survive Welles omen, as The Artist in another film that reminds us of the beauty and magic that filmmaking and its thespians represent. The Artist is a love letter to cinema and its history. Reminiscent of Chaplin and the birth of the talkies, The Artists reminds us that we don’t need special effects, that we don’t even need sound to plunge into this form of art that for the first time in years is trying to go back to the basics.
I just hope that the almighty members of the Academy and their friends remember that filmmaking is not always a synonym of show business and that these movies deserve–actually have gained–a place in the history of cinema and should be deemed as modern classics. But then, that’s just me…
If you want to read that famous interview (it is in Spanish, though) click here.