Martin Scorsese Puts in a Cameo

Asked about the elaborate homage to Georges Méliès at the heart of his film Hugo, American director Martin Scorsese explained that “Méliès invented everything, basically.”[1] Set in Paris in the 1930s, Hugo (2011) is based on a 2007 book entitled The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which author Daniel Selzick describes as “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel or a flip book, but a combination of all these things.”[2] Hugo (Asa Butterfield), an orphaned boy living amidst the clockworks of Paris’ Gare Montparnasse train station, is obsessed with the restoration of a mechanical man that his late father rescued from the scrap heap of a museum, convinced that the automaton, who is poised to write once he’s brought back to mechanical life, will reward him with a message from his father. In pursuing his project, he takes to stealing parts from a train-station toy store operated by a dour white-bearded oldman (Ben Kingsley) (see Figure R3.20). Thanks to the toy seller’s precocious goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), Hugo learns that her “Papa Georges” is in reality Georges Méliès, long forgotten and embittered not only by the destruction of the dreams that he once created on celluloid but by the disappointment of his own dreams of creative fulfillment. He is, in short, as broken as the automaton which, as Hugo also learns, “Papa Georges” himself had built once upon a time.[3]

A Boy Looking through a Clock


         Hugo Views the Rooftops of Paris

Among the “reinventions” of Selznick’s book engineered by Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan is the explicit conflation of Selznick’s young hero with Scorsese’s memory of himself as a boy fascinated at an early age by the cinema. Prevented by asthma from engaging in outdoor activities, Scorsese was often taken to the movies, and he also remembers having spent a lot of time looking out the window of his parents’ third-floor New York apartment—an experience that he likens to Hugo’s penchant for viewing the outside world from behind the clockfaces of the Gare Montprnasse. “That’s what got me interested in making the film,” recalls Scorsese, “—the way he’s looking through the clock. . . . I loved the idea of a young person who’s unable to join in.” Scorsese hastens to add, however, that the view outside “that third-floor window was sort of like a panoramic image of life,”[4] and so it is that Hugo looks through clockfaces upon panoramic images of life, both inside and outside the station, in which he does not participate.

The vista that Hugo sees through the giant clockface on the north façade of the station—and which we see through his eyes—is a replica of the studio-built view of Paris glimpsed in the opening shot of French director René Clair’s 1930 classic about romantic connection and separation, Sous les toits de Paris (Under the Roofs of Paris—see Figure R3.21). Thus Hugo’s first-person point of view is that of a child looking with awe upon a world composed of cinematic images, and the image of the boy looking through a clock functions as a trope—the specific use of an image for an artistic purpose. Here the trope serves to conflate the character of the orphan with the alter ego of a house-bound child who grew up to make movies, and Hugo, therefore, is not necessarily a “movie for children.” Making the film, Scorsese explains, was like an effort to capture “what you would see if you went back, at the age of 20 or 25 or 30, to a place where you were living when you were five years old. How you imagined it in your mind. . . . And that’s the idea: to be in the child’s mind—to get the child’s perception of reality.”[5] The goal of making Hugo, in other words, was not the creation of an artifact that would appeal to the childish imagination, but rather to explore the imaginative journey back to a time when the adult filmmaker’s imagination was fired by cinematic images and the aspiration to apply himself to the task of making them.


      Model Railroading (with Greenscreen)

In turn, this challenge inspires a second theme and a second set of tropes—namely, the equation of the adult filmmaker’s imaginative journey back to a recollected state of childish imaginings with the contemporary filmmaker’s professional investigation into the origins of his craft. And that, of course, means taking a closer look at the cinema of Georges Méliès; for as Scorsese reminds us, “Everything we do today Méliès did before us.”[6] “There are hundreds of shots” in Hugo, reports visual effects supervisor Rob Legato, “that are homages to Méliès, where we lifted the techniques from things that he’d done,” including the use of stop motion—the heavy-duty implement in Méliès’ toolbox of cinematic tricks—for such effects as the movement of a mechanical mouse.[7] Likewise, miniature models like those favored by Méliès combine with greenscreening—a digital compositing process—to produce a monumental train wreck.

Real 3D”

The vehicle for both journeys is the technology in which the entire film is wrapped, 3D—“real 3D, not conversion,” as Scorsese is quick to point out.[8] “There are two different ways of doing 3D,” explains Legato. “You can do 3D on the set, or you can shoot in 2D and then do a 2D-to-3D conversion.” The effect of the conversion method is known in the industry as “faked” 3D, and Legato says that “the decision was always that we were going to shoot Hugo in 3D. . . . All the 3D imagery was done in-camera. You could never accomplish this type of look and emotional feel with the postproduction rotoscoping techniques used to turn 2D films into 3D. Stereo was designed into the film from the very beginning. Not 3D gags, but rather a complete immersive style to the sets, lighting, camera moves, and so on.”[9]

The difference in approach, then, begins with stereo acquisition—acquiring stereoscopic data from two offset images during the shooting of the film rather than generating the data for a second image during postproduction. For Hugo, Legato, cinematographer Robert Richardson, and stereographer Demetri Portelli (who checked every frame for proper 3D capture) used equipment from the Cameron Pace Group, which had inherited the work of designing specialized 3D camera equipment and software originally undertaken for the production of cofounder James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar. Hugo was shot with a beam-splitter rig, which divided the light from the two offset areas of the scene while sending it to dual ARRI Alexa cameras (see Figure R3.22).

Equally important were the HDLink boxes from Blackmagic Design, which were used to monitor the results during shooting.[10] “Marty and Bob [Richardson],” explains Legato,

would watch the shots on set in 3D wearing their glasses. Performances, lighting, stereography, and the position of items in the set were all tweaked to get the best results in 3D. The sets were designed for real depth, including elements like steam and particles in the air. You feel what it’s like to be in that space—emotionally. . . .


             Acting in 3D (with Greenscreen)

It was imperative to do all the stereo work on the sets for the simple reason that you would alter the shot based on the stereo that you were watching. . . . When you start to see the shot come to life in 3D on the monitor, then you can see how adding depth to the scene changes the drama—how you stage it, what the actors do.

The actors, for example, now have another dimension to work in. If I were to lean forward in a 2D movie, you’d barely see it. But if I lean forward in a 3D movie, you can really sense my acting choice in wanting to get close to you. . . . So you have to stage for that, and the rest of the cinema arts—writing, direction, cinematography—are also married to the addition of 3D depth.[11]

But why 3D in the first place? “I’ve always been a 3D enthusiast,” admits Scorsese, “. . . and I was up for the game. To test myself.”[12] He explains that the immediate inspiration for trying his hand at 3D was not the work of Georges Méliès, but rather that of the Lumière brothers (see Chapter 2), to whom Hugo also pays homage. “When the cinema started,” Scorsese reminds us,

everybody wanted sound and depth immediately. The Lumière brothers made several films in 3D. And they’ve been restored. I saw those new masters.

I just happen to be a great admirer of 3D because . . . I was taken into another space [when I saw 3D movies] as a child, and tapping into that imagination of a child is the same thing that I depend on whenever I make a film. It has to be there every day [of the process].

Somehow, remembering those first stereoscopic images gives me that feeling, and maybe because that feeling is my last connection to childhood imagination, I’ve been fascinated by 3D all my life.[13]

3D, then, was an apt vehicle for “discovering the world through the eyes of the kid” in Selznick’s story, which “seemed like a natural,” recalls Scorsese, “because the mystery’s resolved through the invention of cinema.”[14] The mystery thus became a rationale for bringing together the young hero of the story with the figure of Georges Méliès, both through the unfolding of the narrative and through the development of a set of tropes at the heart of the narrative: for the “invention of Hugo Cabret”—the restored automaton—is predicated on an original invention of Georges Méliès.

“The Way Méliès Did It”


             Papa Georges Recalls His Days

                      as a Stage Magician

“I wanted to use 3D as another storytelling element,” adds Scorsese. “[The way] we use color, sound, movement. The way Méliès did it.”[15] Méliès, of course, was a magician by trade, and Scorsese finds it natural to refer to Méliès’ pioneering concept of cinematic imagery as his “sleight-of-hand concept.” Méliès, according to Scorsese, was the first to see “the potential in moving images—to see two images go together and move—and those images,” he reports, “absolutely took me to another planet. . . . For children there’s always a sense of magic . . ., a sense of something beyond the natural when you see images move that way.”[16] Another set of tropes, therefore, gives us the child fascinated by the magic of moving images grown up to be the adult filmmaker who wants to be a magician of moving images.

And a corollary set of tropes gives us the adult filmmaker trying to get inside the head of the cinematic pioneer as he himself works to invent fresh “tricks” to play with newly emergent technology. “For me, [Hugo] opened up a whole new way of approaching cinema,” says Scorsese, who also admits that “it was like walking a tightrope, the whole picture. . . . Every facet of it was a redesigning of how to make pictures.”[17] In the manipulation of cinematic imagery, however, the various challenges came down to a single concern: “How do you deal with 3D in narrative? How do you utilize depth of space” for storytelling purposes? In Hugo, Scorsese explains, the primary function of 3D “was to get into the child’s memory.” For Hugo, he reminds us, is all about a bewildered child and must therefore make us “see the world from a child’s point of view, particularly given the child’s vulnerability. Hugo is alone. On his own. He’s trying to make a connection with his father, whom he’s lost. He’s trying to connect to someone.”[18]

What the movie must provide us is imagery that not only makes us see its world from the child’s point of view, but which also gives us that world even as the young point-of-view character experiences his adventure within it. As the adventure of Hugo Cabret unfolds onscreen, we find ourselves watching Hugo pursue the project that gives meaning both to his memories and to his struggle to connect—namely, to restore the automaton that his father has bequeathed to him. On the one hand, of course, that project, as an obsession, threatens a further retreat into the world within. On the other hand, the automaton is an image bodied forth from the head of “Papa Georges” Méliès and serves not only as a prop and plot device but as a vehicle for the eventual connection of two imaginations in a special realm of the real world.

A Clockwork Image

There is a scene in which we see Hugo, in the foreground, getting into bed, with the mechanical man in the background. Scorsese then cuts to the following sequence (see Figure R3.23): a closer view of the automaton / a closer view of Hugo, his head on his pillow / a shot of his father’s watch from Hugo’s point of view. With the next cut, we see Hugo the following morning, standing above a track in the train station—or so it would seem, because we find ourselves in the midst of the scene with no reason to take it in any way other than at face value. Looking down at the track, Hugo sees the key that he needs to activate the automaton and jumps onto the track to retrieve it. He is trapped on the track when a train enters the station at full speed, cuts a path of destruction through the concourse, shatters a glass façade, and drops headlong to the pavement below. Scorsese then resorts to a common cinematic signifier: he cuts to a shot of Hugo bolting up in bed, assuring us that the Hugo who was presumably obliterated by a runaway train was all in the nocturnal imagination of the Hugo who’s in his bed.


     A Boy Dreaming That He’s an Automaton

   or an Automaton Dreaming That He’s a Boy

With another direct cut, Scorsese then presents us with the following sequence: cut from Hugo, in bed, to a shot of the automaton / cut back to Hugo / cut to a shot of the band from which the father’s watch is now missing, dangling alongside the clockworks in the midst of which Hugo spends his solitary hours / cut back to Hugo / cut to a closer view of the automaton / cut back to Hugo, who detects a strange clocklike ticking in his chest / cut to a closeup of the automaton / cut back to Hugo, who opens his nightshirt to discover that his chest has become that of the automaton. In the next sequence, a terrified Hugo undergoes a full transformation into the mechanical man, all the while being assaulted—in a tour de force demonstration of variable-depth illusion—by multiple planes of unhinged wheels and pinions.

Hugo awakens once more, foregrounded in a shot that includes the automaton in the background. This shot, in other words, matches the shot in which we first see Hugo preparing for bed and thus puts brackets around the entire complex dream sequence. The shot that shows Hugo awakening the first time occurs within this sequence, which thus consists not of two successive dreams but of a single compounded dream. Each component of that dream is signaled by conventional point-of-view signification—a direct cut from the shot of a point-of-view character to a shot (or sequence of shots) that reveals what he sees. As we’ve already observed, the broader context of the first shot pair consists of the following sequence: from the medium long shot of Hugo in his bed and the automaton in the background we cut to a medium closeup of the automaton / cut to a closeup of Hugo’s head on his pillow / cut to a shot of his father’s watch from Hugo’s point of view. And here again is the context of the second shot pair: from the medium closeup of Hugo awakening we cut to a medium closeup of the automaton / cut back to Hugo / cut to clockworks and the missing watch / cut back to the medium closeup of Hugo / cut to a closer view of the automaton / cut back to Hugo.


                Signifying the Dream’s End

Certainly we see the automaton from Hugo’s point of view, but in cutting from closeups of the automaton’s face to the figure of Hugo, Scorsese suggests that we may also be seeing Hugo from the automaton’s point of view. For once given a point of view by conventional structural means, each character is signified as a potential dreamer, and the overall configuration may give us a variation on the Borgesian conceit by which, to name but one example, the magician dreams the avatar of magicians who once dreamt him (“The Circular Ruins”). Now, given Hugo’s centrality to the narrative, it could also be that Hugo is dreaming as and for the automaton. In that case, it would appear that when Hugo dreams himself into the mechanical consciousness of the automaton, he realizes that the automaton can remember only by repeating—that his memory is in a purely mechanical mode. In any case, the point of view of the automaton signals the appearance of the image of robotized Hugo in what we shall later characterize as the diegesis of the narrative.

We recall what Hugo tells Isabelle when he shows her the giant clockface which is his window onto the world outside the train station:

Right after my father died, I’d come up here a lot. I’d imagine the world was one big machine. Machines never come with any spare parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.

And yet, if the world is “one big machine,” then the mechanical man could not be the bearer of a message from his father in another world. Hugo’s nightmare undoubtedly reflects his fear of a clockwork world in which his father’s death has cost him his place in life (hence the symbolism of the missing watch dangling next to clockwork gears).


 The Cosmology of a Twelve-Year-Old Orphan

We know from his own dream, however, that Hugo’s juvenile cosmology is faulty. The imagery of the dream—which shows us at once the dreamer dreaming and what the dreamer dreams—reveals that the clockworks which menace the small boy are too big to be real clockworks. Production designer Dante Ferretti recalls being surprised that the mechanisms inside a large clock tower are “very small. Of course, to make the image more powerful,” he reports, “we made a very large version of the interior parts.”[19] It was not simply a matter of making studio-constructed clockworks the appropriate size for an immersive environment slated for projection on a large screen. “The idea,” as Scorsese has already indicated, “was to get inside the child’s memory. . . . If the clock had gears and wheels, we’d make them bigger because that’s how the child would remember them.” The clockworks in Hugo’s dream reflect the way in which objects remembered from childhood seem larger when revisited in adulthood. It makes sense, says Scorsese, because “the child doesn’t perceive itself growing. Imagine the anxiety of that.”[20]

A Film Set in the “Dream House of the Collective”

Granted, Hugo is not an adult, and the images in his dream are not being revisited—the psychological dislocation does not result from a discontinuity in literal time. Because the hero of the story is only twelve years old, his memory must be conflated with his imagination—as in a dream—and we are thus presented with another of the film’s governing tropes—one which is crucial both to the resolution of its narrative and to the logic of its thematic infrastructure.

The clock tower in which Hugo spends most of his isolated hours is, of course, an extension of the train station itself, which is the arena reserved for most of the film’s bravura flights of imagination in three dimensions (see Figure R3.24 [21]). Inspired not only by the original Gare Montparnasse (which was rebuilt in 1969), but by the Gare du Nord (for its façade) and the Gare de Lyon (for its clock tower), the station was replicated at England’s Shepperton Studios. The set, which was 150 feet long, 119 feet wide, and 41 feet high, included tracks and shops and accomodated a train crash engineered in 1:4 scale. Legato says that

Marty wanted to give a sense of what the world was like for Hugo running through the walls of the train station—the vantage point on the station that only Hugo experiences. . . . We basically built one big room for the train station, and then, in all four directions, wherever you point the camera, there’s a green space.[22]


         The Composite Gare Montparnasse

Here’s how we not only enter the station for the first time but find Hugo inside its walls: a high-angle shot zooms in slowly on gigantic churning gears / which dissolve into the spokes of the boulevards radiating from the Arc de Triomphe, the lights of nightime traffic darting outward in time lapse / as the camera pans left past the Eiffel Tower and down-left to locate the north façade of the Gare Montparnasse: / cut to a long shot of the Eiffel Tower from the south end of the station, the camera panning down onto the tracks entering the iron-and-glass depot behind the station and zooming rapidly inside / before easing itself along the walkway between two trains until it’s engulfed in a burst of steam / and then emerges inside the busy concourse to climb toward a clock high on the north wall / drawing close enough to reveal the solemn face of a boy looking down through the clear-glass shape of the number 4.

It’s from such vantage points as this that Hugo views the panorama of life with which Scorsese has managed to fill the vast concourse. Throughout, Hugo’s habit of watching these people makes us spectators of the dramas that they play out as subtexts to his own adventure, and we’re reminded that the German social critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin identified both train stations and panorama pavilions among the “dream houses of the collective” in the 1930s (see Figure R3.25).[23] The station, then, is more than an industrial space and a showcase for industrial technology. As a stage for the vignettes of human drama that Hugo spectates from distanced vantage points, it’s a cinematic space as well, and a showcase for another form of technological ingenuity, for the world inside the station is also imaged as a self-sufficient fantasy world rendered in colorful and kinetic 3D images.[24]

In particular, the characters in these little dramas include the crippled station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who pines for the pretty flower seller Lisette (Emily Mortimer), and the news agent Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths), whose efforts to court the café proprietress Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour) are thwarted by her protective dachshund. “All these characters,” says Scorsese, “were meant to weave in and out of the picture as a kind of special world. . . . Everybody’s trying to connect with each other, the way the boy’s trying to connect with his past. . . .


        M. Frick and Mme. Emilie, Connected

“It’s not important what they’re saying,” Scorsese adds. “It’s important to see them interact and try to connect with each other.”[25] The courtship of Monsieur Frick and Madame Emilie, for example, culminates in a sequence whose signification relies on several overt cinematic markers (see Figure R3.26). Hugo has returned to the station after hearing Papa Georges’ account of his filmmaking career, intent upon returning his automaton in order to confute the old man’s lament that “happy endings only happen in the movies.” A medium shot finds Hugo in the concourse, the camera tracking before him as he makes his way through the crowd: cut to a medium long shot of a basket jostling at the side of someone in the crowd moving toward Hugo / cut to a long shot, tracking as if with Hugo’s point of view toward Mme. Emilie, who’s seated at a table with her dachshund / cut to a medium shot, tracking, of M. Frick as he approaches Mme. Emilie / cut back to Mme. Emilie, the camera tracking toward her from M. Frick’s point of view. A static camera then records a sequence of shots in which M. Frick opens his basket to reveal a dachshund and the two dogs, enamored at first sight, confirm a love match, thus removing the impediment to any connection between M. Frick and Mme. Emilie. Then we cut to a shot of the crowd crossing in front of the camera until we see Hugo again—still moving in medium shot toward a backward-tracking camera.

Hugo’s vantage point in this sequence—which enacts a moment of human (and canine) connection—is not distanced: it’s located in the midst of bustling affective life embodied in moving images. Moreover, it takes up a point of view that’s established by Scorsese’s moving camera but then given over to an apt point-of-view character—Hugo—who is himself in movement throughout the sequence. Thus the gaze that begins by watching the dreamer elides into the gaze of the dreamer himself—a structural paradigm which also describes the transferential gaze of the spectator watching a film unfold like a dream on a screen. Note, too, that the sequence might as well be a scene from a silent movie: under music interpolated by the soundtrack, the only meaningful utterances emanating from the fiction of the sequence are made by the dogs; the two people stammer only a couple of inaudible interjections as they gesture toward one another.

What Is Diegetic Immersion?


 Gazing at an Artificial Imitation of the Human

Speaking of Hugo’s silent mechanical man, Joseph Natoli observes that “any artificial imitation of the human draws our gaze as if we were creators and not ourselves creations.”[26] On a broader level, the thought is apropos of the first viewers whose gaze was fixed upon imitations of the human rendered by the new technology of the cinema—creatures whose uncanny photographic presence in a realm of uncanny photographic space required viewers’ consent to and concern for their status. As spectators, it seems, we are inclined to project ourselves into the uncanny adventures unfolding on the screen in much the same way—though not in exactly the same way—that we project imitations of ourselves into our dreams.[27] The phenomenon has been called diegetic immersion (a term frequently used in videogame studies), which refers to the viewer’s readiness to construct and enter into a fictional world predicated on the material presented in an onscreen narrative.

Let’s return for a moment to the scene that we have just described, in which Scorsese takes a “sleight-of-hand” approach to the transference of the spectatorial gaze. As we’ve seen, Hugo’s viewing of the scene enacted by M. Frick and Mme. Emilie is also the scene in which we view Hugo viewing the scene enacted by M. Frick and Mme. Emilie. In addition, the scene is a tour de force in the communication of narrative information within the limits of a cinema denied the accoutrement of sound: within the diegesis of a film whose onscreen resources include the full panoply of cinematic technics, it embeds a diegesis restricted to the onscreen resources available to the silent cinema. Similarly, we may say that within a diegesis featuring the resources available to the “modern cinema,” it embeds a diegesis limited to the resources of the “early cinema.” For Hugo is, after all, an adventure in the history of the cinema.

Cinema’s Founding Myth

“Because this is a film about history,” says Legato,

Marty really wanted to go not just to the future . . . with the very latest technology. He also wanted to honor the past and the way things were done back in the day. And it was a very interesting journey. . . . [We used] every possible technique—every modern technique and every old technique.[28]

The journey takes us all the way back to what’s been called “the founding myth of cinema.” The sage and erudite bookseller M. Labisse (Christopher Lee) sends Hugo and Isabelle to the Film Academy Library to consult a book entitled Inventer le rêve (The Invention of Dreams) by the (fictional) film scholar René Tabard. They open the book to a photo of the Lumière brothers’ Arrivée d’un train en gare à La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat [ca. 1895—see Chapter 2]), and Isabelle reads aloud from the text:

In 1895, one of the very first films ever shown was called A Train Arrives in the Station, which showed nothing more than a train coming into the station. But when the train came speeding toward the screen, the audience screamed because they thought they were in danger of being run over.

The children exchange skeptical looks until Isabelle turns to Tabard’s explanation: “No one had ever seen anything like it before.” The episode—or rather the anecdote—has been identified as “cinema’s founding myth” by the German film historian Martin Loiperdinger, who characterizes it as “a generally agreed-upon rumor” of long standing.[29] Contemporary historians, however, often find the myth useful as myth: regarded as a story explaining a seminal cultural phenomenon, the “founding myth” of cinema can be interpreted as a reflection of early efforts to characterize the unprecedented relationship between a novel mode of presentation and the responsive experience of its audience. “Clearly,” writes Barbara Mennel, for example, “viewers at the time had to learn to negotiate the new medium cognitively, to find a balance between believing and not believing in its realness, which is the precondition for the pleasure of watching film.”[30]

Thomas Elsaesser argues that there is no meaningful evidence that the audience implied by the myth ever existed. In fact, he doubts that there was ever a “moment of ‘infancy’ and simplicity” in the history of cinema in which viewers were susceptible to such overwhelming “confusion with regard to objects and persons.” Granted, so-called “rube films,” such as R.W. Paul’s The Countryman’s First Sight of the Animated Pictures (1901—see Chapter 3) and Edwin S. Porter’s Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902—see Chapter 7), depicted members of cinema audiences who do “not seem to know that film images are representations to be looked at rather than objects to be touched and handled or scenes to be entered and immersed in.” But both of these films, in which audience members get out of their seats and interact with the images on cinema screens until onrushing trains send them scurrying to safety, explicitly cite the first degree of self-referential evidence (pro-filmic rubes excited by film-within-a-film images) as a means of substantiating a second degree (real viewers excited by purely cinematic images) that is in fact congruent with the first (see Figure R3.27). Elsaesser concludes that such anecdotes as the one surrounding Arrivée d’un train “belong to the folklore and urban mythology that early cinema generated about itself.”[31]


                 Cinema’s Founding Myth

What’s more, because we can account for the persistence of such myths only by positing a sophisticated modern audience to analyze them, we must conclude that they are circulated from the “modern” side of what Elsaesser calls the “paradigm shift represented by the transition from early to classical [i.e., modern] cinema.” Scorsese’s rendering of the mythical event in Hugo makes a point of reaching across the same shift. From the still photo in Tabard’s book he cuts to the moving black-and-white 2D image that is Arrivée d’un train and then zooms out to locate that image within a color 3D image which includes panicked first-row members of a theater audience. The space delineated by the second image is congruent with the space delineated by the first, but the enlargement effected by the zoom not only transfers the perspective of the viewers of the diegesis of the first image to the diegesis of the second image, but also identifies a perspective belonging to viewers of that image—namely, those of us who are watching Hugo and Isabelle as they imagine an episode in the history of cinema.

As viewers, then, we are put in the position of dreamers who require imitations of ourselves in our own dreams, if only because we know implicitly that we’re (co)creators of the cinematic world whose adventures we have entered. We shouldn’t be surprised, however, to discover that we’ve been subjected to this sleight of diegetic transference, for Scorsese has announced his classical cinematic truc much as magicians typically preface the tricks that they’re about to perform. Repeating the words of Tabard’s text—“No one had ever seen anything like it before"—as if it were an incantation, Hugo looks up to the ceiling, where a mural depicts the figure of Prometheus generating a burst of stylized fire from his fingertip. The bright flourish of painted light dissolves into the glimmering light of a film projector as the screen at which we’re looking dissolves to a screen on which we can see, flickering from behind the folds of a stage curtain, the moving images of the Lumières’ Sortie d’usine (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory [1895—see Chapter 2]).


       The Two-Shot as Shared Point of View

We are then treated to a montage of clips from silent-cinema classics until Scorsese cuts back to a closeup of Hugo and Isabelle as they pore over the illustrated pages of Tabard’s book. This shot is the third of five closeups and medium closeups of the two characters which punctuate a series of five montage sequences (counting the the clip of Arrivée d’un train). As in the classical structure of the earlier dream sequence, these shots signify point-of-view—in this case, the point of view from which imagined cinematic images enter the diegesis of the film that we are watching. What’s particularly interesting about this two-shot is the fact that point of view is explicitly shared: expressing the awe inspired by images which both of them have imagined, Hugo and Isabelle murmur “Wow!" in one voice.

Leaving aside any considerations of dreams and a collective unconscious, we should remind ourselves that the diegesis of a cinematic narrative, like that of a dream narrative, relies on a set of unpredictable but common images and scenarios and thus provides a unifying ground of responses available to the members of an audience. Otherwise, we would not be able to “negotiate the medium cognitively," to borrow Mennel’s term.

“If You’ve Ever Wondered Where Your Dreams Come From . . .”


              The Projection of Point of View

At the same time, of course, the cinematic narrative is constructed out of a series of discrete structural decisions, such as the use of the closeup to signal point of view and perspective. Hugo is about a lost boy, and Isabelle is among the agents of his recovery—a relationship that we can expect to be reflected in the structural decisions that govern the narrative of the film. Thus within the sequence demarcated by shots of both characters, we can isolate a sequence demarcated by closeups of Hugo alone. The first of these shots occurs when Hugo looks up to see the mural on the ceiling, and it extends Hugo’s point of view by panning along the path of light that begins as a static image and dissolves into the flickering beam of a projector. When we return to a second closeup of Hugo’s enraptured gaze, the shimmering light of the projector is playing over his face. Shots of images from two silent films are bracketed between these two shots of Hugo: a shot of the face of the sleepwalker in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari—Robert Wiene, 1919), an avatar of the dehumanized man who has fallen into the hands of an evil father figure, and a shot of the orphan and the redemptive father figure in Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921).[32] The sequence closes abruptly with a reassertion of the trope set that conflates the unfolding of dream images with the unfolding of cinematic images in the imagination: the page in Tabard’s book turns to the famous image of Méliès’ Man in the Moon with a rocket in his papier-mâché eye, and Isabelle recites the accompanying text: “The filmmaker Georges Méliès was one of the first to realize that films had the power to capture dreams.”

Now, the backward-zooming camera which discovers the flustered viewers of Arrivée d’un train and, at the same time, conjures us as an audience viewing them from the safe side of the paradigm shift between early and modern cinema could continue to zoom out—or reverse itself and zoom in—to discover an infinite series of audience/screen-image configurations. The logic of our modeling procedure therefore produces an infinite regress, but, scholastic dialectics notwithstanding, the infinite-regress model is not vitiated simply because it reveals no definitive conditions of diegetic immersion or because it exposes the impossibility of the conditions that we’ve set for it. Granted, like the “Ideal Map” of the American philosopher Josiah Royce, who hypothesized a series of identical maps introduced to map the map in which each was embedded, our model is a practical impossibility. Granted, too, it’s also a theoretical impossibility because, as logician Nicholas Rescher points out, “a map can no more achieve self-inclusive completeness than a text can manage to state explicitly all that is true about itself, or than a story can provide a full account of itself in its own telling.”[33]

Our model, therefore, describes a set of ideal conditions and can be cognitively negotiated only as such. The concept of infinity implied in our infinite regress, for example, is a strictly mathematical concept, but the infinite multitude of audience/screen-image configurations that it conjures up are also “determinately real,” as Royce would put it. To see how, we need only consult the same mathematician that Royce consulted: in the 1870s, Georg Cantor used a one-to-one mapping procedure to show that every odd number can be mapped onto an integer serially and ad infinitum, thus demonstrating that the set of odd numbers is as large as the set of integers. For an idealist like Royce, the counterintuitive principle that guarantees both the reality of all the items in a well-ordered series and the infinitude of the series itself is an idealist absolute.


                   “If You've Ever Wondered

           Where Your Dreams Come From . . .”

Like all idealist constructs, our model clearly reflects the application of imagination to realities and is perhaps best described according to a few imaginative transactions. René Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg), for example, tells Hugo and Isabelle about a day in his childhood spent watching the making of movies in Georges Méliès’ studio at Montreuil. At one point, Méliès, observing the look of wonder on the boy’s face, calls him over and says, “If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from, you look around. This is where they’re made.” Méliès, who dreamed up the dream that’s being enacted in his studio, is putting the final touches on the costume that he’ll be wearing in his role as a figure in the movie in progress—which is really a colorful fiction that he’s making available, via the magic of projected moving images, to the dreams of an (ideally) infinite multitude of children in theater audiences.

The constituent terms of the infinity and regress that Méliès imagines are minds and their contents—or, as Royce would have it, selves, and if we judge by the evidence of the sentient entities that constitute the infinite whole, we must conclude that the absolute itself has the form of a self. And what the once-upon-a-time Méliès tells the once-upon-a-time René Tabard is how a self who is part of the infinite whole can enjoy a one-to-one connection with the self who dreamt the original dream which viewers of its diegesis are wont to project themselves. When the scene shifts to Tabard’s collection within the Film Academy Library and Tabard then takes us into a living past in which the films of Georges Méliès are in progress (see Figure R3.28 [34]), our perspective on the infinite regress is reversed . From Paris in 1931, Scorsese now conjures up the world of Montreuil in the first decade of the century, and while the framework of narrative time takes us from the present back to the past, an implicit flow of time that originates in the past moves simultaneously toward the future, where Hugo—and those of us who see the world through his eyes—now receive the message originally delivered to Tabard.

For Hugo is the child who needs connection. In effect, Georges Méliès has imagined Hugo Cabret, having projected an ideal configuration of audience and onscreen image through which his cinematic “messages” enter into the structure of reality. In a sense, Hugo imagines a channel of connection whose reality Royce sought to demonstrate: namely, a connection between the eternal realm of the absolute self and the temporal realm of living selves that constitute the infinite whole. The message that Hugo receives, however, is not quite the one that he’s been expecting. For one thing, although it comes from the past, it comes from the world of the living. For another, it reflects a cosmology that differs from the one that Hugo has constructed out of his expectations: after all, it comes from a metaphorical rather than literal father, and rather than affirm Hugo’s role as a “part” in a clockwork universe, it assigns him a role in an imaginative process—a process that engages memory as a creative rather than repetitive function.

Granted, the configuration in which Hugo enters the diegesis of the original creator’s “map”—a map embedding dream scenarios playing infinitely to audiences of dreamers—conceives Hugo as one among a multitude of ideal selves. In reality, of course, there can exist no ideal selves because no self can perfectly rehearse the story of its own existence: such a story would have to embed the existence of the self as the teller of the story, and, as we’ve seen, no story of one’s own existence can provide a complete self-inclusive account of itself in its own telling (for the moment of telling extends the story with an event—the current moment of telling—that must in turn be told). Moreover, each telling of the story differs from the original—and from all other tellings—in that it possesses a unique history (one that is determined by the specific conditions of the act of telling). Interestingly, this is the precise facet of the idealist model that the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges identifies as a way out of the infinite regress implied in a story such as “The Circular Ruins,” to which we alluded above. We must assume that the magician in that story can no more dream a perfect copy of his avatar than the protagonist of another Borges story can write a perfect copy of Don Quixote. Pierre Menard struggles with the problems of doing so because Miguel de Cervantes, the 17th-century Spanish author of Don Quixote, dreamt, conjured, or hypothesized him as the ideal reader of his text, presumably out of his indignation at the imposter author whom he castigates, in the prologue to Volume Two, for having corrupted all of his real readers.

Indeed, does not every author necessarily imagine a reader with an imagination so completely attuned to his text that he rehearses it perfectly in the act of attending to it? It is, perhaps, the founding myth of text generation, but it’s a fantasy of the theoretically impossible because the text, in generating an ideal of infinite copies, eliminates the possibility of isolating any copy for attention. Besides, the text cannot be copied with self-inclusive completeness because it cannot state explicitly all that’s true about itself. Thus Pierre Menard realizes that he must eliminate the “autobiographical prologue to the second part of Don Quixote” in order to avoid introducing a character—Cervantes—who would reaffirm his status as author of the Quixote. Likewise, Menard realizes that he cannot copy Don Quixote as long as he rejects the idea of approaching the task through the experience of being Cervantes in favor of approaching it through “the experiences of Pierre Menard.” Bringing his own history to the project, he would be destined to overlay the irruptions of chance that affected Cervantes’ act of composition with the effects of chance in his own experience.[35] He is, in other words, vulnerable to the same sort of accident which makes it possible (indeed, probable) that certain viewers in a cinema will be frightened by the moving image of an onrushing train even though the image was intended to show nothing more than a train coming into a station.

A Message from Georges Méliès

Let’s return for a moment to the message which, through Tabard, Georges Méliès delivers to Hugo Cabret, whom, according to our hypothetical founding myth of text generation, he has imagined for the same reason that, according to Borges, Cervantes must have imagined a Pierre Menard:

If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from, you look around. This is where they’re made.


                   The Vision of Technology

In a film that’s such an overt celebration of the sleight of hand by which Méliès transformed the plastic stuff of cinema into the stuff that dreams are made of, it’s easy to take this message as the “message” of the movie itself. Probably too easy, for if we factor the expression, we see that it says, “This is where your dreams are made.” This proposition indicates a one-way flow of both time and creative activity, but Hugo is clearly about the dreams of the boy for whom Méliès’ dreams are made. Selznick’s title, after all, is The Invention of Hugo Cabret—that is, the mechanical man which, though as much the original brainchild of Méliès as his films, is re-created by Hugo to fulfill the dream of reconnecting with his father. Natoli suggests that the automaton is not merely an image of charmingly obsolete technology, but also an avatar of

an artificial intelligence, a cyborg amalgam, a biochip synthesis of computer chip and human synapse. . . . Hugo’s Automaton . . . is not a symbol of a predigital world of “raw reality” we are losing contact with but a first attempt at replacing the human life-world with the artificial, replacing an intractable social world with a personally managed hyperreal. . . .

We have not exhausted the Automaton’s eerie presence or diminished our fascination, a fascination that has much to do with our awareness that we are now on the threshold of a world in which humans are “evolving” into bodies and minds technologically enhanced, and offline life has been surpassed. . . .

It is the context of a fast-changing present that gives the Automaton a distinct power.[36]

Thus the presence of the automaton pulls our vision of technology forward and simultaneously provides a point of view for looking back at technological origins. By its very nature, the creation itself communicates in both directions, and this is possible because its ideality ensures that it moves freely in time, just as our model of an ideal regress ensures that every audience/screen-image configuration looks in both directions whenever it crosses a cognitive intersection (such as the paradigm shift from early to modern cinema).

In short, the creation survives—theoretically if not practically—from the moment in which the creator makes it available to a perfectly attuned member of his audience. Practically speaking, of course, not everything survives: history is a matter of potential infinity—of an endless regress in which finite, temporally successive steps tend toward infinitude—and it requires only that conditions be met for realizing each step, including the availability of the creation to a sufficiently attuned member of the creator’s audience. Ironically, although this premise underlies the message that Georges Méliès delivers originally to the young René Tabard and ultimately to Hugo Cabret, it’s also a promise that he rejects when, believing that his films have been lost, he undertakes to destroy the last vestiges of his creative life: “One night in utter despair," he recalls, “I burned all my old sets and costumes. . . . It’s all gone now—everything I ever made.” Indeed, from the perspective of bitter old age, Méliès tends to remember things in the first person—e.g., “I wrote, directed, and acted in hundreds of movies.” Mama Jeanne, however—the devoted wife who shared in “the great adventure”—recalls a more collaborative process: “We tinted the films,” she explains to Hugo. “We painted them by hand, frame by frame.” Even Tabard exercises some historical discretion in writing that Méliès “was one of the first to realize that films had the power to capture dreams.”

The Signature of Georges Méliès

We are undoubtedly asked to excuse Méliès both when he succumbs to self-aggrandizement in the excitement of the creative moment and when he indulges in the bitterness of old age, but the nuance in characterization is essentially a dramatic or psychological corollary of the film’s main thematic thrust. What interests Scorsese is the felicitous irony inherent in Méliès’ assertion of proprietary control over the dreams that he produced at his movie-making facility in Montreuil. Both history and texts tend toward potential infinitude, but the process hardly entails the ideal state of completion that we necessarily cognitize when we construct a model of it. Clearly, not everything that Georges Méliès ever made is gone: Tabard not only has seen Le Voyage dans la lune but possesses a copy, and Hugo’s father remembered the image of a rocket in the eye of the Man in the Moon. And, of course, Hugo is not only in possession of Méliès’ automaton but also—as we know from the trope set that conflates Méliès’ mechanical man with his films—embodies the ideal viewer that Méliès himself dreamed or hypothesized.


            The Signature of Georges Méliès

What survives is the “signature” of Georges Méliès—the historical amalgam of imagination and technology that becomes concrete when the automaton finally fulfills his function, drawing images from the cinema, and assigning the name, of “Georges Méliès.” Further historical evidence for the survival of Méliès’ signature is provided by the assertions of Hugo itself, particularly through the various conflations that constitute its infrastructure. As we’ve seen, these tropes reflect the conflation of technology (the early-cinema techniques that Méliès developed with 3D, the postmodern-cinema technique that’s on display in Scorsese’s film). There’s also the trope set that reflects the conflation of Hugo, the boy who looks privately at the world through a clock, with Scorsese himself, another boy who looked privately at the world, whether through a Manhattan apartment window or through 3D glasses.

And of course there’s the conflation Georges Méliès, the pioneer of cinematic imagemaking, with Martin Scorsese, the boy so delighted by cinematic images that he aspired not only to make his own but also to pay homage to those who practiced his craft before him. “For me,” says Scorsese, “[making movies] is like trying to stay in touch with that initial creative impulse—to say, ‘I want to do that’ or ‘I want to do something like that.’” The opportunity to make Hugo, he adds, “opened up a whole new way of approaching cinema” by allowing him to experience the challenge that Méliès had set for himself a century earlier—namely, the task of synthesizing imagination and a new technology. “Right now,” Scorsese explains, “a great transformation is taking place in communications media, the same way as in the period of Georges Méliès. . . . He was inventing it as he went along, and we put ourselves in a similar situation with 3D.”[37]

[1] “Making Hugo: Martin Scorsese’s First Family Film” [video], CBS Sunday Morning (April 23, 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[2] Brian Selznick, “About Hugo Cabret,” The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[3] On Hugo, see Ian Christie, “The Illusionist,” Sight and Sound 22 (January 2012), pp. 36-39; Joseph Natoli, “The Numinous Automaton at the Center of Scorsese’s Hugo,” Bright Lights Film Journal 76 (May 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014); Mark Macleod, “Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ and the Theft of Subjectivity,” (November 28, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014); Jason Anderson, “The Re-Invention of Dreams: Martin Scorsese’s Hugo,” Cinema Scope Online (July 23, 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014); Kyle Meikle, “Rematerializing Adaptation Theory,” Literature/Film Quarterly 41:3 (2013), pp. 174-83.

[4] “Making Hugo,” CBS Sunday Morning.

[5] Jake Hamilton, “Martin Scorsese Interview for Hugo” [video], Jake’s Takes (November 19, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[6] ParamountPicturesAU, “Hugo—Martin Scorsese Interview” [video] (December 19, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[7] Mike Seymour, “Hugo: A Study of Modern Inventive Visual Effects,” Part 1 [video], fxguide (February 1, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[8]Hugo—Martin Scorsese Interview (Part 1)” [video], The Canberra (Australia) Times (December 20, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[9] eMotion Studios, “Hugo” [video] (2013), at (accessed May 24, 2014); Oliver Peters, “Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’: Perspective, Post, Pipelines . . . and Other Stereoscopic Topics,” Creative Planet Network (March 27, 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[10] On the technology and techniques that went into the making of Hugo, see Legato, “Hugo and the Joy of Filmmaking,” (January 26, 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014); Peters, “Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’”; Barbara Robertson, “Magic Man,” Computer Graphics World 34:9 (December/January 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014); “Secrets Unlocked: Hugo: Robert Richardson ASC,” British Cinematographer December 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014); Christine Bunish, “Getting Lost in ‘Hugo,’” Post Magazine (December 1, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014); and Anne Thompson, “How James Cameron’s Innovative New 3D Tech Created Avatar,” Popular Mechanics (January 1, 2010), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[11] Peters, “Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’”; “Interview / Rob Legato / Part 1 / Hugo” [video], aniSecond (July 9, 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[12]Hugo—Martin Scorsese Interview (Part 1),” The Canberra Times; “Martin Scorsese Interview on Hugo” [video], Celebrity NetWorth (January 29, 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[13] Rob Carnevale, “Hugo—Martin Scorsese Interview,” IndieLondon (December 2, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014). On Louis Lumière’s experiments with 3D cinema, see Biographical Sketch 2.1.

[14] “Making Hugo,” CBS Sunday Morning; “Hugo—Martin Scorsese Interview (Part 1),” The Canberra Times.

[15] “Making Hugo,” CBS Sunday Morning.

[16] NPR, “In ‘Hugo,’ Scorsese Salutes a Movie Magician,” All Things Considered (November 18, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014); ParamountPicturesAU, “Hugo—Martin Scorsese Interview.”

[17] “Making Hugo,” CBS Sunday Morning; Mark Savage, “Can Martin Scorsese’s Hugo Save 3D?” BBC (December 1, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014); Bill Desowitz, “Scorsese on Hugo and 3D,” Immersed in Movies (November 6, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[18] “Scorsese Goes 3D,” ShortList Magazine (n.d.), at (accessed May 24, 2014); “Hugo—Martin Scorsese Interview (Part 1),” The Canberra Times; “Hugo: Martin Scorsese Interview Part 1” [video], MovieWeb (November 21, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[19] Maria Garcia, “Designing and Dressing Imagined Worlds: An Interview with Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo,” Cineaste 39:1 (2013), p. 30.

[20]Hugo—Martin Scorsese Interview (Part 1),” The Canberra Times; “Martin Scorsese Interview for Hugo,” Jake’s Takes.

[21] For Figure R3.24: Garcia, “Designing and Dressing Imagined Worlds,” pp. 32-33; Bunish, “Getting Lost in ‘Hugo.’”

[22] Seymour, “Hugo: A Study of Modern Inventive Visual Effects,” Part 1, fxguide.

[23] Joshua Clover, “Enjoy the Silents,” Film Quarterly 65:4 (2012), p. 6. For Figure R3.25: Ethan Anderton, “Shooting ‘Hugo Cabret’ Has Scorsese ‘Rethinking Cinema,’” (November 22, 2010), at (accessed May 24, 2014). See also: T.J. Clark, “Should Benjamin Have Read Marx?” in Walter Benjamin: Appropriations, ed. Peter Osborne (New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 81-95, at (accessed May 24, 2014); Stefan Jonsson, Crowds and Democracy: The Idea and Image of the Masses from Revolution to Fascism (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2013), esp. pp. 190-216, at (accessed May 24, 2014); Dimitris Eleftheriotis, Cinematic Journeys: Film and Movement (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2010), esp. pp. 13-25, at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[24] Christie, “The Illusionist,” p. 38.

[25]Hugo: Martin Scorsese Interview” [video], Chicago SciFi (January 15, 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[26] “The Numinous Automaton at the Center of Scorsese’s Hugo.”

[27] For the fine distinctions entailed by a theory of immersion and illusion, see Werner Wolf, “Illusion (Aesthetic),” The Living Handbook of Narratology (2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[28] eMotion Studios, “Hugo”; Seymour, “Hugo: A Study of Modern Inventive Visual Effects,” Part 1, fxguide; Christian Blauvelt, “Oscars behind the Scenes: How ‘Hugo’ Art Director Dante Ferretti Brought Georges Méliès’ Silent Films to Life” [video], Entertainment Weekly (February 22, 2012), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[29] “Lumière’s Arrival of the Train: Cinema’s Founding Myth,” The Moving Image 4:1 (2004), pp. 89-118.

[30] “Introduction: The Founding Myth of Cinema, or the ‘Train Effect,’” Cities and the Cinema (Abington, UK: Routledge, 2008), p. 2, at (accessed May 24, 2014.

[31] “Discipline through Diegesis: The Rube Film between ‘Attraction’ and ‘Narrative Integration,’” in The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, ed. Wanda Strauven (Amsterdam: Amsterdam Univ. Press, 2006), esp. pp. 218-20, at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[32] See, for example, S.S. Prawer, Caligari’s Children: The Film as Tale of Terror (Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980), p. 180; J.P. Telotte, Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1995), pp. 3-4; and Frank McConnell, The Spoken Seen: Film and the Romantic Imagination (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1975), esp. pp. 33-34.

[33] Infinite Regress (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2010), pp. 37-38, at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[34] For Figure R3.28: John Bowe, “Martin Scorsese’s Magical ‘Hugo,’” New York Times (November 2, 2011), at (accessed May 24, 2014).

[35] “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” in Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby (New York: New Directions, 1964), pp. 36-44.

[36] “The Numinous Automaton at the Center of Scorsese’s Hugo.”

[37] “Making Hugo,” CBS Sunday Morning.

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