John Muto on Dante Ferretti, production designer, “Hugo”
As director Ernst Lubitsch, a European sophisticate, pointed out in the early 1930s, “There’s Paramount’s Paris, Metro’s Paris, and, of course, Paris, France. But Paramount’s Paris is the most Parisian.”
Now, 80 years later, in “Hugo,” we have a fabulous new/old Paris to rival them all, created by Dante Ferretti for director Martin Scorsese — and Paramount.
Production designers, in attempting to explain their work, sometimes dazzle audiences by blithely stating we are “in the business of creating worlds.” Fortunately, Ferretti’s work proves that statement is just as grand as it sounds. He regularly creates worlds out nothing but imagination (and a little money), in such classics as “And the Ship Sails On,” “Titus,” “Kundun,” “The Age of Innocence,” “Gangs of New York.”
In “Hugo” we find ourselves in Ferretti’s Paris of 1930, in the world of an orphaned boy living inside the walls of the Gare Montparnasse — a created railroad station as visually resonant as the Hunchback’s Notre Dame or the Phantom’s Paris Opera.
Delving still deeper, this boy lives within the station’s clockworks, obsessed with the mystery of clockwork automaton. Once this world, fantastical yet totally believable, is established, Ferretti then recreates for us the very beginning of the cinema fantastique — another world both beautiful and true.
It must be pointed out that these impossible images never take us out of the film — rather, they actually pull us deeper into the wonderful illusion. That is the result of a true marriage of art and technology, and it’s truly a function of Ferretti’s and his collaborators’ sense of design.
One last thought that came to mind when I first saw “Hugo”: Is it possible that Ferretti and his fellows may have given us “The Red Shoes” for the new century? Is there a higher accolade?
John Muto’s credits include “Home Alone” and “Species.”
Tightening the definition
Designers on design
Production designers and art directors comment on the ADG-nominated work of their peers
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