During Hollywood’s first 3-D golden age, back in the early 1950s, Martin Scorsese was an asthmatic young boy living in New York City’s Little Italy. He was so sickly that he couldn’t play outside with friends. Instead he sat in a darkened movie theater, wearing a pair of two-tone cardboard glasses and a giddy grin as shockers like Bwana Devil and Dial M for Murder unspooled before his eyes. That initial 3-D fad didn’t last long, but it made an indelible impression on the future Oscar-winning director. So much so that nearly 60 years later, Scorsese has finally finished a 3-D film of his own. Adapted from Brian Selznick’s 2007 illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese’s Hugo (rated PG) is the story of an orphan (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a railway station in 1930s Paris and is seeking the truth behind a mysterious contraption left by his dead father (Jude Law). We sat down with the director as he was putting the final touches on the film, which also stars Chloé Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Ben Kingsley.
EW Hugo is a pretty unexpected movie from you, a 3-D, family-friendly film where no one gets their head squashed in a vise.
Martin Scorsese I know! I have a daughter [Francesca] who’s 12 — I have two older daughters from when I was younger — and the first thing her friends ask whenever I’m making a film is ”Is it going to be something we can see? Is it going to be in 3-D?”
EW: So you wanted to make a movie that your daughter could see?
Scorsese That was definitely a part of it. The big hit in my household was Shark Tale because I was in that. One kid in my daughter’s school tried to tell me I wasn’t. I had to show her my eyebrows to prove I was. She went home and told her parents, ”Guess what, they found a fish that looks like Mr. Scorsese!”
EW Are people starting to get tired of 3-D?
Scorcese: At a certain point you say, ”Why am I wearing the glasses?” The wrong way to do it is to convert a film to 3-D after the fact, where it’s not really part of the story but just a gimmicky effect with things flying out of the screen.
EW Since other serious directors like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron are using 3-D, did you feel that you didn’t want to be left behind?
Scorsese Not left behind. I’ve always been fascinated by it. I still have a videocassette of It Came From Outer Space with the blue-and-red glasses. I have pairs of those hidden all over the house. For me, on this I took a chance. Most people see things with depth. And I feel like the actors come out stronger in 3-D. They’re like moving sculptures.
EW What sorts of movies have you shown Francesca?
Scorsese We started showing her films when she was very young. Every weekend we try to show one or two films for her friends in 35 millimeter — an old film in black and white like Bringing Up Baby. It takes them a while, but eventually they get into it. Then you slip in an old MGM musical or the Hitchcocks, starting with North by Northwest and Rear Window.
EW Wait, you wouldn’t show a 12-year-old Psycho or Vertigo, would you?
Scorsese No, no, no! But they love Frank Capra movies, Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor, West Side Story. She’s fascinated by Alec Guinness in The Ladykillers.
EW She could teach a film-studies class! Has she ever turned you on to a movie?
Scorsese No, not really yet. The other night she showed me Feist’s ”1, 2, 3, 4” and said, ”This was all done without a cut.” Then I thought maybe I should show her the first part of GoodFellas with the Copacabana scene.
EW Did you?
Scorsese No, I couldn’t do that! She’s too young for that!
EW Plus, you don’t want to be the guy who’s like, ”Yeah, the Feist video is good, but look at what your old man did in GoodFellas!”
EW You were supposed to direct Hugo four years ago, but it fell through. Is it harder to get movies made these days?
Scorsese We had a meeting with [Warner Bros.] and I felt there was no enthusiasm on their part. I had just done a couple of pictures — The Aviator and The Departed — where we were on the same page. But if they’re not gung ho about it, what are we doing here? Making a product? I mean, yes, we are making a product, but I want everyone to be enthusiastic.
EW Did it feel like Hugo was going to slip through your fingers forever?
Scorsese Yes. The thing about me is I want to make so many pictures. But as you get older, you can’t do them all. Thirty years ago, you thought you could. Now you have to choose.
EW Without getting morbid, how many do you think you have left in you?
Scorsese I don’t know. I try to make them count, that’s all. That’s part of the reason why this year, between November 2010 and November 2011, we’ll have five pictures come out [in addition to Hugo and the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, he’s finished documentaries about George Harrison, director Elia Kazan, and writer Fran Lebowitz]. I wish I could continually do that. I realize now there’s an urgency to do everything.
EW Do you look back on your earlier career and think, I wish I had done more back then?
Scorsese Well, I wish I had read more. Because now I can’t catch up. But if I had, I wouldn’t have made Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or Raging Bull.
From the script
INTERIOR TRAIN STATION — CLOCK TOWER — EVENING
The enormous clock. The majestic view of Paris. The lights of the city are twinkling on…. Hugo and Isabelle look over the city.
HUGO: Right after my father died, I would come up here a lot … I would imagine that the whole world was one big machine. Machines never have any extra parts, you know. They always have the exact number they need. So I figured if the entire world was a big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part, I had to be here for some reason … And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.
She is touched. Paris sparkles below. Like it is made of stars. The only sound is the steady, rhythmic pulse of the clock’s machinery. She gently takes his hand. A huge full moon is rising. They are silhouetted before the glowing moon. And above them the solar system is spinning away in perfect order. The spheres in harmony. Like a great clockwork mechanism.