I’m cowriting a piece on Hugo with Jennifer Clement. She’s the principal investigator, so our collaborative writing goes like this: 1)She writes. 2) She sends me the draft with a lot of annotations on what she feels like is missing or in need of attention. 3) I address those things. 4) I make the case for adding something. 5) I send that to her. Repeat. Consider this chunk of a paragraph:

In fact, this is a movie very concerned with work, both in the sense of “not-broken” and in the sense of labor. Hugo’s obsession to make the automaton his father rescued work is partly due to his sense of sorrow at all things that don’t function as they were designed to do. And this sense of sorrow is linked to his feeling that he himself is broken, damaged perhaps irreparably by his father’s death. But the movie also establishes the value of labor, which helps give a sense of purpose to life and which gives people a place to which they belong. The station is a place of work, as the repeated scenes of shopkeepers, commuters, and Hugo working at the clocks makes clear. The Inspector’s dismissal of the children in the Christina Rossetti scene ends with his words “I love poetry, just not in the station. We’re here to either get on trains or get off them. Work in different shops. Is that clear?” implying that children have no place in the world of work. Yet the movie shows that work is vital to everyone’s sense of self. When Isabella sits down to write, it seems the culmination of her own search for a place into which she fits, a place she can call her own. And it seems to follow naturally from her love of books.

With these ideas in place and in mind I’m pushing for moving from this set of ideas to a set of concerns raised by one of the recurrent images in Hugo: The Station Inspector checks his watch and the labourer responsible is always in the frame with him, but invisible.

Consider that when he catches Hugo and Isabelle in the station, the Inspector asserts that the station is a place of transit and work for adults, not poetry and children. When Isabelle recites a Christina Rossetti poem, the Inspector cuts her off saying, “I knows it’s Rossetti,” sounding a bit like Ali G. He continues: “I love poetry, just not in the station. We’re here to either get on trains or get off them. Work in different shops. Is that clear?” But adults and functional writing (newspapers) do not hold a monopoly in the station. Hugo, lives inside the walls of the train station, and his labour plays a significant part in the smooth functioning of the station. Isabelle is part of the public sphere in the station – an active part of the cafe dance lessons, Papa Georges’ shop, and the bookshop. Children and poetry belong as well. The unseen and unappreciated labour Hugo performs is thus paired with poetry, breaking the distinction between functional/work and aesthetic/joy spaces.

I admit that this doesn’t do a whole lot for the article’s argument, but it’s a lovely example of Judith Halberstam’s contention from The Queer Art of Failure children’s movies put across a distinctly communitarian and/or Marxist worldview.

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