Scorsese sees 3-D's potential

In Thelma Schoonmaker's editing bay, she and Martin Scorsese keep Turner Classic Movies running on a screen while they work.

Inside is a screening room where Scorsese runs old films, familiar classics and newfound gems. At one time, they gathered with Elia Kazan every Saturday to watch one of his films.

It is a cinephile's dream - a description that could also apply to Scorsese's magical 3-D "Hugo." The film, adapted from Brian Selznick's illustrated book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," is about a 12-year-old orphan, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who lives in a 1930 Paris train station.

It's also - as so many of Scorsese's films are - a movie about movies.

It captures young Hugo's ecstatic discovery of cinema, echoing Scorsese's own experience as an asthmatic child in New York's Little Italy. Hugo's adventures ultimately lead him to the turn-of-the-century French filmmaker George Melies (Ben Kingsley), a special effects pioneer and early believer in the wonder of movies.

Just as Scorsese is looking back through film history, he's also looking ahead: "Hugo" is his first 3-D film. For a medium that has undergone criticism since James Cameron's groundbreaking "Avatar," Scorsese's embrace of 3-D does a lot for its credibility.

"It was a big issue when Fellini did his first color film, when Bergman did his first color film, when Antonioni did 'Red Desert,' " Scorsese said in a recent interview. "Everybody wanted to see how they did color."

With 3-D, seeing in depth is natural, he said, "because we live with depth."

"There's great potential for it," he said. "It's a natural progression, especially with the fact that cinema is all around us. It's not only in a theater. Obviously, the next thing you go to is holograms. You could have 'West Side Story' with the dancers dancing up the aisles ...The French critics - Truffaut, Godard, all of them - embraced every new technological advance from Hollywood as part of cinema: color, sound, ultimately, and widescreen," Scorsese says. "They embraced widescreen, and I'm sure they would have done 3-D."

In "Hugo," "Marty was pushing the boundaries all the time," said Schoonmaker, who has edited most of Scorsese's films since "Raging Bull." "It takes a lot of care and time to set up a 3-D shot properly, and he was really committed to that. ... The way the camera embraces the actors is what he wanted."

Scorsese, 68, has been moving with urgency. Since last year's "Shutter Island," he has made a documentary about Kazan ("A Letter to Elia"), a documentary on Fran Lebowitz ("Public Speaking") and one on George Harrison ("George Harrison: Living in the Material World").

Scorsese's recent work suggests an always expanding perspective of cinema, whether in subject or technology.

"Not every picture has to be made in 3-D," he said. "Not every picture has to be made in color, either. Not every one has to be made with dialogue. Why can't we keep an open mind?"