Posts tagged “old paris

Georges Melies

Posted on October 25, 2012

Last night I finally got around to watching “Hugo”, the Martin Scorsese film based on the Brian Selznick novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” Hugo is a 12-year-old orphan boy who lives in the Montparnasse train station, where he keeps all its clocks running smoothly. In the urchin’s spare time, he repairs a broken wind-up man that his father found. Stealing odds and ends that could mend this mechanical person, Hugo is nabbed by a toy store owner in the train station who asks him to empty his pockets and hand over the contents. Outside of the wheels and gears and springs Hugo has collected, there is a notebook that used to belong to his father. In the notebook are sketches of the wind-up man and ideas on how to fix him. The toy store owner leafs through the pages and becomes disturbed by what he sees, taking the notebook and threatening to burn it.

Why the fuss? Turns out the toy store owner is the real-life filmmaker Georges Melies, who had been forgotten by the French by the time this movie takes place. Melies, the son of a shoemaker, was known as an innovator in his prime, using special effects, hand-colored frames and dream-like sequences in his work. But as his works got more ambitious, the French got preoccupied with other things — like World War I — and so he went bankrupt and faded into obscurity. Hugo’s efforts to fix the wind-up man heal Melies too and the film ends with a moving retrospective of his work.

Filmed in 3D and gorgeous, the movie won 5 Academy Awards. Here’s a scene from the film:

The Alliance Francaise d’Atlanta is honoring Melies with a showing of some of his films. For more information, or to donate, please visit Power To Give for a more detailed description of this very special project.

Eugene Atget

Posted on October 17, 2012

atgeteclipseEugene Atget was a late 19th and early 20th century photographer in Paris. He’s interesting to me because he captured scenes of the old city (winding cobblestone streets, small tradesmen, basic daily living) at a time when it was slowly being demolished and replaced with something new (grand boulevards, colossal department stores and the like). For all the reading I’ve done about that time period, these pictures bring the City of Light to life for me in an entirely different way, giving it a slower, sweeter pace than I’d find in an account of Haussmann’s reconstruction, a tale of the bloody Commune, or a glitzy recap about opening night at the Palais Garnier.

avedegobelins

Atget’s technique was interesting to artists such as Man Ray, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, all of whom championed his work.  He took his pictures with a long exposure, which gave his snapshots an unusual depth. So in the shop window pictured above, you not only get the suits and the mannequins, but the reflection from the trees and buildings outside and a feel for the big new avenues that sliced through the city. organgrinderThe old was still there, if you looked for it. Atget looked for it, and preserved what he could. And as a nostalgia dork, I can appreciate that he tried to capture as much of the city’s vintage charms before they faded away.