Friday Night Screening of “Hugo” Transforms Dreams into Reality

On Friday, Sept. 2, over fifty students settled into Little Hall’s Golden Auditorium for a screening of the award-winning Martin Scorsese film, “Hugo” (2011). Like previous films featured in the Ryan Family Friday Night Film Series, “Hugo” was chosen for its accessibility and appeal to both film buffs and casual viewers alike. However, the viewing was made unique by the fact that it was screened from start to finish using a vintage 35mm projector in order to give audience members the most authentic viewing experience possible. 

Beginning with a dreamlike orchestral track, the film takes viewers on a sweeping, bird’s eye tour of Paris in the winter of 1931. As the camera soars, plummets and twirls, viewers experience what it would be like to be a single snowflake dancing above the glittering cityscape. Slowly and then all at once, the viewer descends upon the city, fluttering through the streets until at last reaching the Gare Montparnasse railway station where we meet our young protagonist, Hugo Cabret. 

Tragically orphaned three months prior, 12-year-old Hugo now lives alone in the depths of the train station. Scurrying through hidden passageways, sleeping amongst the glittering gears of the station clock and stealing from passengers and shopkeepers to survive, Hugo has learned how to live amongst thousands without forging connections to any. That is until he meets an unlikely friend named Isabelle Méliès, the ward of a shopkeeper from whom he has frequently stolen. Together, the two embark on an adventure into the magical world of silent film where they begin to unravel a mystery of Hugo’s past and, in the process, alter both his world and the world of silent film forever.

As viewers followed Hugo and Isabelle on their adventures, many audience members expressed feeling as if they were actually present in the story. As Hugo raced from the station inspector, just one step away from losing his freedom, the hearts and imaginations of the audience raced too. As Hugo dangled from the icy hour hand of the station clock, the streets of Paris looming several stories below, knuckles became clenched on theater seats and vertigo set in. And as Hugo and Isabelle shared a moment together in a silent cinema, the audience’s hearts fluttered. 

For first-year Abby McGuire, escaping everyday monotony and entering a new world is what makes the cinema so magical.

“I feel like today we often move all too fast,” McGuire said. “We are continuously in motion from one thing to another, but in the theater, we exist purely in the moment. We have the unique opportunity to leave all our distractions behind and watch our dreams come to life.”

The extent to which viewers were captivated by the film became clear just as one of the film’s greatest mysteries was about to be revealed. The film reel reached the end of its tape and the screen flickered to black. Murmurs filled the theater as students questioned what could have caused the film to end so abruptly. After a brief but tense intermission, the tape containing the first half of the film was replaced with the second, and images of Gare Montparnasse illuminated the screen once more, continuing the adventure.

“This was the first movie I’ve seen where the film tape had to be switched out halfway through, which was really interesting to me,” first-year Sophie Karbstein remarked. “Both the film itself and the way that it was authentically projected made it feel like a film for people who truly love films.”

Prior to the screening, students had been given the opportunity to interact with real filmographic equipment that was featured in the film in Little Hall’s latest exhibition, “Old as New: Colgate’s Fledgling Media Archaeology Collection.” The exhibit contained a variety of curiosities, including camera equipment dating back to the 1920s as well as toys such as the SpinnerScope from the 1970s, which students could interact with themselves. Many of the items currently displayed are on loan from Lynn Schwarzer, professor of art and art history and film and media studies, who hand-selected them from her own collection.

Across the hall from the exhibit were tables piled high with crab cakes, pastas and french fries. As students and professors alternated between enjoying the exhibits and enjoying the catering tables, they struck up conversations with one another, discussing the displays and the film yet to come. 

Films like “Hugo” will continue to be featured as part of the Ryan Family Friday Night Film Series throughout the year. Future events include a showcase of student film and video on Sept. 8., a screening of “The Janes” on Sept. 16 and a screening of “Happening” on Sept. 23, both of which center around abortion access. Colgate community members can look forward to these events and many more in the months to come.

“After a long week of academics, it feels good to be able to watch films with schoolmates and discuss the plots, characters and visual effects of the film afterward,” first-year Jacqueline Tong said. “I’m looking forward to attending even more film screenings in the future!”