Above, a couple of youngsters of my acquaintance, ages four and seven, a few minutes prior to the November, 20th 2 p.m. SAG screening of Martin Scorsese's Hugo, at New York's Ziegfeld Theater.
Last month I was lucky to be able to see an unfinished version of Scorsese's picture at a work-in-progress screening at the New York Film Festival, and sheep that I am, I decided to take Richard Peña's request to not tweet about or review the film seriously. My screening companion, Farran Smith Nehme a.k.a. The Self Styled Siren, and myself were kind of appalled by the near-instant spate of social media assessments of the film that followed the screening, and Farran was particularly taken aback by the pronouncement of many such wise folks that Hugo was too slow for today's kids to get into and that, regardless of its artistic achievements, it would prove a misfire in the family-film category. She was of the opinion that her own small kids—she has three, including twins who are pushing double digits—would go for it in a big way, not least because it so effectively trades in on that extremely resonant trope of children's literature, that is, the Secret Place at the Repository of Imagination. In Hugo it's the rafters of a great Parisian train station, where the title character works on an automaton that's the last inheritance of his...well, you'll know when you see it. (Reprobate that I am, I myself was reminded by these environs of the cathedral bell-ringer's apartment in Huysmann's La bas.) Warming to Farran's disapprobation, I noted that many of those questioning Hugo's kid-friendliness had no offspring of their own, and a good thing too. I also wondered whether some of them were not in fact legally enjoined from standing within 500 feet of a schoolyard. But.
Anyway. Sunday I was invited to moderate a post-screening Q&A after the Ziegfeld showing, and I was allowed to bring some guests, so my wife and I asked our pals who shall remain nameless if they wanted to come and bring the above-depicted moppets. I admit I was a little nervous. I loved Hugo; would they? Would I be forced to utter the words that were, and remain, death to me, those being "David Poland was right?" Well, as it happens, no. Despite their pre-screening potential raucousness as documented in the above shot, once the lights went down, the kids were...absolutely rapt. Silent as church mice. Except for an occasional ooh and/or aaah at a particularly beautiful effect. There were a lot of other kids in the surrounding rows, and they were equally silent. One of the questions from the audience during the panel afterwards was posed by a pretty adorable girl of about six or so.
My friends had to leave before the panel, and the little fella actually bumped into Sir Ben Kingsley on the way out, which was kinda trippy. I asked their mom about what they thought, and she wrote me, "They loved it. [The four-year-old] loved the train station and sequences, but admittedly the plot line was a bit advanced for him....but it held him captive the entire time which is largely owed to the way the story was crafted. [The seven-year-old] was mesmerized and talked about it all night."
I know what some of you, and probably David Poland too, are thinking: "Whatever, Kenny; you're a film-snob homo, and most of your friends likely are too, bet this family force-feeds their kids Satantango for breakfast, and that the children were just relieved to finally see something in COLOR." But this is not only not nice, and shame on you, but it's also not so. The impression possibly created by the more radical/alienated pronouncements and attitudes on this blog and my Twitter feed notwithstanding, I in fact have a fair number of friends who are actually what you might call normal people, and the parents of the above-depicted delightful children happen to be among them. Solid citizens and professionals. Not weirdos or bohemians. They may have never even heard of Bela Tarr. So there.
Meanwhile, Farran herself writes: "The more I think about it, the more abhorrent it becomes to me that I am reading people I actually respect saying that Scorsese's late-movie paean to film history in Hugo is of interest only to film critics and film-history nerds. The entire [...] movie is an explicit rejection of that notion.
"So, to prove my point to myself, this evening I showed A Trip to the Moon to [the twins][...] And they loved it so much they asked for another one 'like that' as soon as it was done.