Howard Shore Discusses Hugo with Doug Adams
As Hugo sets out to ‘fix’ Papa Georges – to show him that the world did not forget his contributions and that he is not a failure – Howard Shore’s score reveals its own clocklike sense of rotating gears and cogs. The seven themes introduced in the film’s first reel pull together to reveal the subtle connections between each of them. The musette-based themes for Hugo and Isabelle begin to join together to complete one another’s phrases. The theme for the Station Inspector is shown to open with the same three pitches that tick back-and-forth in the clockwork theme. The automaton theme, which begins as a literal representation of the metal figure in Hugo’s makeshift home, turns away from the ondes Martenot and settles on two other instruments related to Shore’s sextet. Guitar develops the figure into a theme for Hugo’s father, who builds and repairs machines, and is the central hub of young Hugo’s world. After Hugo’s father is killed, the guitar theme rotates again and is, at times, applied to Monsieur Labisse, the one person in the train station who seems to know his place and purpose – the only part of the station’s ‘machine’ that it not broken. On the other hand, solo piano, an instrument originally associated with the mystery theme, applies the developed automaton music to the magic of Méliès’ filmmaking, then more specifically to Mama Jeanne’s appearance in the finished films. Here the theme moves beyond the literal to represent a sort of surrogate humanity – the soul of ‘projected’ imagery.
As the musical world of the first half of the film compresses and focuses, two new themes pivot into the spotlight. The first relates to Georges’ halcyon days as a magician, and his first experiments with film. In the story Hugo brings René Tabard over to Méliès’ home. Professor Tabard is a devotee of Méliès’ work and Hugo hopes to prove to Papa Georges that his work has not been forgotten. But Hugo, Isabelle, and Tabard are intercepted by Mama Jeanne, who asks him to please not bring up the past – it will upset Georges too much.
Shore’s nostalgia theme makes it first appearance here. Like Hugo’s theme before it, the nostalgia theme is a gentle French waltz. However, where Hugo’s theme climbs upward with youthful energy and spirit, the nostalgia theme moves primarily by bittersweet descents. It’s not a sad look back, per se, but it’s a settled theme – a fond reminiscence. Says Shore, “It’s a piece that describes Georges and Jeanne’s relationship. It’s woven through the whole last part of the film, but you don’t really hear it until that hallway scene.”
Tabard agrees to leave, but in departing mentions that he remembers Jeanne from Méliès’ films. She is flattered. Recalls Shore, “The kids say, ‘Oh, Mama Jeanne, you were in the movies?’ and she says something to the effect of ‘That was a long time ago.’ A new theme starts right on that line, and that becomes the magic show theme. You hear that when Georges does the levitation trick – it’s all throughout that flashback to his show.”
The magic show theme comes complete with a collection of attendant side figures, many of which are previewed in the armoire scene. As Georges’ past is fully revealed, these same figures return in a sequence that is one part homage and one part recreation of the dawn of filmmaking.
The sextet, Shore’s ensemble-within-an-ensemble consisting of ondes Martenot, musette, gypsy guitar, piano, bass, and drums, is very much like the ensembles one might have encountered in an early period movie house. The use of the tack piano and selections from Saint-Saëns and Satie is in keeping with the tradition of compiled scores drawn from past classics. But it is in acknowledgement of Papa Georges’ history that Shore nods most deeply to the past. Shore’s theme for Méliès’ magic show is surrounded by a number of short motifs, all of which recall the bright, cheerful vigor of photoplay music. “I was going for that theater sound,” Shore describes. Mixer Simon Rhodes worked with Shore to create a very specific timbre that would sound at once modern and period specific. Says Shore, “Simon Rhodes is so good at what he does. He goes well beyond just recording the music. He understands the color and the sound, and what I’m doing, musically, with these new pieces. He created a sound for the last half of the CD that really captured that theater quality. It was very subtle, but so beautiful.
“It was a pretty big orchestra, but it was done small. We didn’t really want to use just the small group, so we used the full orchestra, but they didn’t play that loud. That was part of the key to it – the dynamics. We kept the dynamics under control and that gives it its intimacy – the small sound. A lot of times the orchestra would be playing piano or mezzo-piano, but there would be so many people playing at that low volume that it would sound full and gorgeous – a big, full sound, but without the weight and the loudness.”
Hugo’s metaphorical clock is reset at the end of the film. The story’s ending is a beginning, with each character now renewed and functioning properly – effectively “fixed” – and ready to look into the future. Shore brings the score’s themes together again in “Coeur Volant.” The song fixes Hugo’s theme in the center of its wheel, but places the score’s secondary themes at its edges, each rotating, intermeshing at its appointed turn. Papa Georges has been restored to his proper place in history; the Station Inspector has found love with Lisette; Hugo has a family and a purpose; and Isabelle sits down to commit his story to paper. The ending is a beginning as the clock is wound anew.