The different elements of a film create its unique style and convey the story in a way that engages viewers. Film Hugo by Martin Scorsese is one example of a professional combination of such elements, which one can understand even by viewing the first scenes of its opening. This paper will analyze such elements as editing and sound in Hugo film’s opening sequence to demonstrate how they affect the viewer’s perception and reveal the plot from the first minutes of the movie.
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One of the main features of the sequence is that it places considerable emphasis on sounds that convey the atmosphere of the place and scene. First, instrumental music sounds throughout the sequence and differs in the first and last minute. This move is a common way to use non-diegetic sounds to enhance visuals (Bordwell & Thompson, 2019). In the beginning, the melody is tense as it accompanies the picture of snowy and gloomy Paris. However, the music becomes more lively to demonstrate the crowded and rushed train station in the frame (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). In the end, the melody successively changes to a stereotypical motive that is usually used to present France. This melody is designed to show the main character, or one of the main characters, who appears in the last seconds of the sequence (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). Consequently, non-diegetic sound, in this case, enhances visual images, since its stereotypical motives accompany the views of Paris, and the pace emphasizes the features of the places depicted. At the same time, although these sounds could autonomously draw a picture of France in the listener’s imagination, they would not be able to convey specific places and objects, such as a city panorama, the station, and the boy behind the clock.
Moreover, the sequence is also filled with diegetic sounds, which enhance the visual elements. The loud clock ticking sounds at the beginning of the scene displaying their image (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). When a station appears on the screen, the viewer is accompanied by various sounds of its operation, from the horn of the train and the release of steam to the conversations of passengers (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). At the same time, although these sounds are muffled compared to non-diegetic music, they are characteristic and easily distinguishable. These sounds enhance the chaos that is usually present in a train station and guide the viewer through the images (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). In addition, due to these sounds’ features, they could exist autonomously and create in the imagination of the audience the picture of the station. However, only the combination of non-diegetic music and diegetic sounds can fully depict the place of the French station and the transition of shots.
Another distinguishing feature of the sequence is continuity editing, which creates the feeling that the scene is one shot. This effect begins with an extremely long shot of the Paris panorama, followed by a long shot of the train station (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). In this case, the transition is smooth, as if the viewer is observing surroundings from the perspective of a bird or other flying creature. Then, the frame smoothly goes into the inside of the station through the entire platform sequentially and without changing the axis (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). The last segment of the “journey” of the viewer passes through the hall and rises to the huge clock, where a boy peeps out through the hole on the clock face. This effect is achieved through a graphic relationship between frames or a graphic match, since they have the same colors, hue, and light (Bordwell & Thompson, 2019). At the same time, although the axis passes through various elements of the station’s interior, it is not interrupted, since all obstacles, for example, passengers and station employees, move out of the camera’s path. The only barrier is steam, which overlaps the image, but in this case, it is used to make a smooth transition from the platform image to the station hallway.
Furthermore, it is essential to note that the described sequence begins after 26 seconds of the video. At first, a viewer sees the clock’s mechanism in the frame, followed by the panorama of Paris (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). Simultaneously, the graphic match in the transition between frames is achieved by repeating the circular shape of the mechanism by the ring road in the city. This effect also creates continuity editing (Bordwell &Thompson, 2012). In addition, the first panorama of the town shows Paris at night and from the side of the passenger entrance to the station. The next shot is also similar in perspective but shows Paris from the other side of the station and during the day (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). This transition is more noticeable, but since it takes only a few seconds, the viewer may overlook this detail and perceive both frames as a complete landscape.
This continuity of editing is designed to present the story to the viewer. An important role, in this case, is played by the spatial relation between shots and their rhythm. The moviemakers give most of their time to the panorama of the city, but then the rhythm accelerates to present the setting to the viewer and move on to the story of the protagonist. Thus, the sequence emphasizes the city to define its role in the story and the boy, who is the main character of the film, while the station’s setting fades into the background. In addition, the fact that the sequence begins with an image of the clock mechanism and ends the clock face also hints at one of the important details of the film (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). This continuity editing and spatial relation between shots also allow a viewer to identify the story’s main focus. The moviemakers move from the big picture of the city and narrow the space as they pass through the train station, putting the boy at the end of the sequence (Rutger H. Cornets de Groot, 2013). This feature makes the viewer understand that this boy is the main character.
In conclusion, the features of editing and using sound in a short sequence demonstrate that these elements significantly impact quality of telling the story presented in the film. Moviemakers direct viewers’ attention and thoughts with subtle details such as sounds, music, and transitions between shots. This non-obviousness is essential for any movie as it helps to engage the audience in the story and put meaning into every second of the film.
Bordwell, D., & Thompson, K. (2019). Film art: An introduction (12th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.
Rutger H. Cornets de Groot. (2013). Hugo – Opening [Video]. YouTube.