A random link trawl originating with Maillardet’s Automaton wound up at this blog post which amounts to a biography and bibliography of William Bunge, a cartographer and political radical of whom I had never heard.

The automaton interest was prompted by the film Hugo, which was the second film we attended yesterday. We also watched Tintin, which was much better than I had expected. The script adjustments and inventions were quite distracting to me personally but I strongly doubt that they would bother anyone with less intimacy to the books than I have (I just finished reading through all of them again for something like the tenth time).

We may try to see the new Sherlock Holmes today, or we may not. Looking at the time, I doubt we will be able to squeeze it in before dinner.

All in all, though, a remarkable weekend of film. We saw Hugo, The Artist, Tintin, and The Muppets. Of these films, there is really no question: The Artist is the best, with Hugo closely behind. I would say Tintin is next, and then The Muppets. Not that The Muppets is bad, not by any means. It’s basically just smaller in scope and ambition than the other three films.

Tintin is kind of a mess, for many reasons, but it is absolutely entertaining and captures certain aspects of the spirit of the books, notably Tintin’s characteristic determination. Regrettably, the film hammers the audience over the head with a sort of kids-film lesson-by-example bullshit and catchphrase repetition. Other changes include compressing the Sakaharine brothers into one and conflating that character with Red Rackham, and* some absolutely predictable adjustments to Captain Haddock’s alcoholism. The film has grossed over 250 million dollars on an announced budget of 130 million and as of this month both Speilberg and Jackson have confirmed that a sequel will be produced.

One thing I want to explicitly mention: in the initial trailer for the film, I was totally horrified by certain aspects of the CGI, in particular the physics of the sail-setting on The Unicorn. To me, that appeared to telegraph a lack of respect for Hergé’s concern of accuracy in detail. I am pleased to report that the sails thing was addressed. I would say that the jury is out on how successful the film is with respect to the specifically literary characteristics of the books, qualities which are at the core of the work’s deserved status as a landmark and masterwork of graphic fiction.

Hugo, on the other hand, is clearly a masterpiece, one of the most disciplined films that Martin Scorsese has ever made. It is quite different from his adult-oriented work, as one would expect, but where it is nearly always the case that Scorsese’s films start out with a profoundly well-structured script which becomes increasingly less structured as the film proceeds, Hugo’s central metaphor, that of clockwork, appears to have kept the director focused on the task of his adaptation. Clearly, there is no other director in contemporary film who would be better suited to tackling the story, centering as it does on Georges Méliès’ films and automata. The film presents a lovingly detailed reconstruction of Méliès’ studio and productions, a sight which is (of course) presented in 3D. Witnessing these images on the screen was literally enough to cause me to burst into tears of joy.

Scorsese joyfully engages with the history of early cinema, slyly engaging the audience by showing the famous ‘train arriving at a station’ scene of the Lumieres with the audience scrambling out of the way of the train and then showing us the exact same scene in 3D within the context of his narrative, something which quite literally caused a child seated directly in front of me to jump out of his seat in fear and excitement!

Scorsese also references a myriad of other early films throughout the movie, generally early stage-set single camera silents. The film is a stone delight, one that any devoted admirer of early cinema simply MUST SEE, and in 3D.

Despite this, there is no question in my mind that the artistic accomplishment of The Artist is of a higher order. Where Scorsese mixes contemporary technological mastery with didactic lessons on the heritage of the cinema, The Artist fully engages the audience in the act of experiencing that heritage, the specific magic and articulated aesthetic of the silent film, all the while gracefully acknowledging the fact that the film itself is fully a product of the contemporary film industry and benefits mightily from the committed efforts of thousands of film historians, Martin Scorsese among the foremost.

*oops. It’s the Bird brothers that got the hook. Sakharine was never a doubled character. I yam stoopit.