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The Numinosum Blog
It was a happy coincidence that just before my short trip to Paris earlier this week I finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, which is set in The City of Lights of the 1930s. The book won the 2008 Caldecott Medal for Best Illustrated Children's Book although in truth it is more of a hybrid: thicker and more prosaic (in the literal sense) than most picture books yet too many drawings to be a novel or storybook. The story begins with a brief introductory overview by "Professor H. Alcofrisbas", our narrator of sorts and leads directly into a wonderful black and white pencil drawing of the moon, then the moon over Paris, and eventually we find ourselves looking in a bustling train station and a close up of our namesake, a young pre-adolescent boy hustling through said station.
The book proceeds to gradually unfurl the story of Hugo and how a broken mechanical man he found in a fire changes the rest of his life. At first, I was thinking the story was going to go in a fantastical, "Pinocchio" direction, but it evolves into a more realistic reverie on finding our way back into the world (and making connections with others) after a loss. In general the drawings in the book are cinematic in composition and concept with many interesting point of view perspectives, close-ups, and some consecutive drawings which in film would be dolly shots. Now this is apt since film and cinema play a central role in the story. Overall I found the book pleasant with Hugo, the toy shop owner, Georges and his daughter Isabelle forming the compelling central axis of the story. However, some of the most interesting parts of the book for me were the pages of actual photos, stills, and drawings from cinema of the 1920s. These were fun to see and reminded me of a DVD set of preserved films I bought almost 10 years ago, Treasures from American Film Archives. The early films, newsreels, documentaries, and one-reel adventures from that DVD set brought about a similar sense of voyeurism of a time and life long since past that I found in those actual photos from Hugo Cabret. Right now one of the books I'm reading is Spellbound by Beauty, Alfred Hitchcock and his Leading Ladies by Donald Spoto (the other is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz) and so far the stories about the early days of Hitchcock's career are another fascinating window into that world of early cinema which Hugo Cabret peeks into.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 12:01 PM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.