It may only be a small fragment, but it’s there all the same: Martin Scorsese’s latest film Hugo includes thirty seconds of footage from Georges Méliès’ Les quatre cents farces du diable. The copy he used came from the EYE institute’s collection.
Scorsese’s film version of the children’s novel ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ is not only a highly imaginative family film, it is also an ingenious ode to the early cinema and to – French – film history.
In his first 3D film, Scorsese tells the story of Hugo Cabret, a young orphan living in a train station in Paris who tries to unravel the mystery surrounding his deceased father’s inheritance. His search leads him to the famous film pioneer and illusionist Georges Méliès (1861-1938), the ‘father of special effects’.
In Hugo, Scorcese shows some thirty seconds of footage taken from Méliès’ short film Les quatre cent farces du diable (1906), for which he chose the colour conservation made by EYE. A high definition scan was made of the 35mm film copy and edited into the film.
By choosing the copy from EYE’s collection, Scorsese once more underlines the importance of preserving film heritage and performing expert restorations. Not one of the ca. ten copies of Les quatre cent farces du diable found in film archives worldwide is complete, while most of them are in black and white. EYE’s version is the longest copy on record and is also coloured. Méliès’ other films are equally rare: the forgotten film pioneer burnt his negatives in a fit of frustration after having lost his Star Film company to another production firm following his bankruptcy.
The EYE collection holds a total of fourteen films by Méliès, including a unique, tinted (and restored) fragment of the world famous Le voyage dans la lune, which was released in 1902.
Hugo is now showing at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, 25 January-5 February. See www.iffr.nl.
VPRO Tiger Report interviewed EYE film specialist Elif Rongen (beginning min.06.00).