Harry, Hugo, and Cuckoo Clocks
I’ve been meaning to write something about this for some time now, but just haven’t had the time to sit down and research and write. I apologise for whatever ignorance I may display here. It is just something I found very interesting that I wanted to share.
Back in late-October, my mind was heavily preoccupied with other things when I glanced up and, in a bit of a daze, saw the following scenes on my TV screen: a young boy twirling around amongst a shower of pieces of paper falling on him, an old steam train pulling into a train station, a tall tower full of heavy stone staircases filmed from below, the inner workings of a large clock. And for a moment, in my foggy mind, I thought I was watching a TV spot for Harry Potter and the Philosophers/Sorcerers Stone. I could not figure out why this would be on TV. At first I thought, maybe it was going to be played on ABC Family for Halloween (which was only a few days away), but then the title filled the screen and I found that it was for a new film callled Hugo which was coming to theatres soon. That said, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this advert was geared towards the Potter fans. It felt like some one high up was being incredibly clever and appealing to us on a subliminal level. And let’s be honest, it worked. After seeing that ad spot, I wanted to see Hugo. I had no idea what it was, but the fact that it reminded me enough of the franchise which had so recently concluded, felt like a slight resurgence, a slight glimpse back to that feeling of fantasy.
I finally saw Hugo a few weeks ago and have to say, for the first few moments, I really thought I was just seeing things: Was that Mr Dursley and Madame Maxime quickly passing by in the crowd? My brother sat beside me sure I was losing my mind. How could I have spotted those actors in such a fleeting scene, especially when they were in a crowd of other actors? I must be making it up simply because I had a Potter preconception. But lo and behold, it was them. Richard Griffiths and Francis de la Tour were both in the film. And what I found even more interesting, was the roles they were in. I’ve seen them act together before. In fact, I saw the original run of History Boys at the National Theatre in London and met both actors after the show (Francis de la Tour was exceedingly lovely, I might add!) But their parts in Hugo felt like such throwaway roles. If they weren’t there, nothing in the plot would have changed, as far as I am concerned. They added a comic relief, but didn’t further any plot and weren’t on screen all that often either. The casting, to me, felt strange due to those reasons and I almost wondered if this was another subliminal Potter nod—if perhaps, these two actors were chosen, instead of others, to subtly seduce the Potter fans.
Moving forward, we are introduced to another character and in the initial introduction they are turned half away from the camera with their face blocked, but I still reacted with, ‘Is that Narcissa Malfoy?!’ Again, I was correct. Helen McCrory played a much larger role then the others (playing the wife of Georges Méliès), but I still found the casting strange, especially because afterwards, I spoke to people fairly deep within Harry Potter fandom and they were equally unaware that these cast members were in the film.
I did greatly enjoy the film and plan to look into the book (though it seems that it is highly illustrated so it will have to be something I read and not audiobook), but I can’t help but wonder why I feel so drawn to this movie/book in a Harry Potter way. I’ve done some minor research on it and it appears the book came out in early 2007, the same year that Potter ended. I wonder if the author was consciously aware of that while writing. Afterall, while Harry Potter is set in a fairly current time period, a lot of the castle and setting does appear to be derived from a similarly fantastical time period. The thing that I was left with largely from the film though, was the idea of Georges Méliès, a filmmaker and magician whose story becomes very central to the Hugo Cabret tale. This idea of magic, even though it is more ‘magician’ rather than ‘wizard’, appealed to me and drew me in further. Also, having left the theatre, I found out that Méliès was actually a real person and not just a figment of imagination. The thought of learning more about this ‘real’ wizard had a high appeal to me as a Potter fan, but also on a personal level.
Maybe I’m stretching (in fact, I probably am), but I found all these aspects combined, whether arbitrary or planned, definitely added to the appeal of Hugo for me. And now, to take it one step further, I was sent a book as a holiday gift which immedietly appealed to me simply by the title, The Boy With The Cuckoo Clock Heart. But when I started reading it, I was led into a fantastical world that started in Edinburgh and made it’s way to Paris where a new character was finally introduced—Méliès. The very same Méliès. In the past month, I have suddenly come across this real life ‘wizard’ twice and whether or not it is coincidence or some sort of sign that I should learn more about him, I quite like the idea of a new magician featuring in my life at the moment. This man, this film-maker, will never take the place of Harry (of this I am sure), but the fact that I’m still finding new and interesting magic in my everyday life is something I can appreciate, whether strategically planned or not.