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Martin Scorsese on the "magic" of George Méliès


An iconic director of American cinema and a purveyor of the very craft that he has mastered, Martin Scorsese is known for his sharp eye for punchy Hollywood tales that have come to define the very landscape of modern cinema. Proficient in the genre of gangster crime flicks, Scorsese brought the likes of Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed and Mean Streets into existence with the help of his longtime collaborator, Robert De Niro

Inspiring such filmmakers as Paul Thomas Anderson, the Safdie brothers, Quentin Tarantino and more, the films of Martin Scorsese have a special place in the history of cinema. With a passionate romance for the history of cinema, Scorsese once said: “Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive”.

Highly educated in the history of cinema, Scorsese has often outlined his film influences, contextualising his career within the wider landscape of the industry in conversation with the American Film Institute. Speaking about cinema through the mid-20th century, the director noted: “United Artists were making these strange films too like The Big Knife and Kiss Me Deadly,” Scorsese exclaimed, before stating, “Or like the great one the Sweet Smell of Success, which is one of the best films ever made and it shows this underbelly of the American psyche in a way at that time”.

Though each of Scorsese’s films pays respect to a certain corner of film history, no release does this more so than the director’s unusual children’s film, Hugo, released in 2011. Released in 3-D, Hugo was an extraordinary outing for the director who wasn’t used to such an innocent, emotional tale of unadulterated wonder. Starring Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee and Sacha Baron Cohen, the film takes place in Paris in 1931 where an orphan living in the walls of a train station embarks on an amazing adventure. 

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Though it seems like any old children’s film from the outside looking in, Hugo is surprisingly contextualised in the context of cinema history and the early illusions of George Méliès that would lead the way for A Trip to the Moon, one of the most influential films of all time.

Speaking about the influence of the filmmaker on CBS, Scorsese praised the legacy of the filmmaking icon, exclaiming: “He invented everything, basically, he invented it all”. Making reference to Méliès’ genius invention of the substitution splice, the director added “When you see these coloured images moving, the way he composed these frames and what he did with the action, it’s like looking at illuminated manuscripts moving”. 

Directing over 500 short experimental films from 1896 and 1913, George Méliès was quite literally the grandfather of early special effects, helping filmmakers realise their ambitions long before the advent of digital special effects. As Scorsese finally concludes: “Melies actually was a magician…he understood the possibilities of the motion picture camera”. Without his influence, Scorsese may have never become a filmmaker, and Hugo would have certainly never existed at all.