“Hugo” and me – the joy of an artistic coincidence

Coincidences occur in all our lives. On occasion, they are dramatic or mystical and radically change our path. At other times, they are quite prosaic and almost go unnoticed. 

And then there are those delightful surprises when a convergence occurs out of the blue and, though it carries no great import, we nevertheless pause and our smile says “how cool is that!”

Such was the case for me recently when the Oscar-winning movie “Hugo” intersected with a short story of mine.

With a memoir “August Farewell” and a novel “Searching for Gilead” now out in the hands of readers, I’ve started on a new writing project—a collection of inter-related short stories.

The initial one that I have completedthe first draft, that isis something of a character study of a young man who immerses himself in the puissant intellectual environment of one of the great libraries of the world. In the story, entitled “La Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève,” I describe in detail the imposing interior of the building and the impact of the sunlight cascading in through the massive windows.

Eons ago, I spent a year as a young student in Paris and virtually lived in la Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, just a few steps from the Sorbonne.  The picture below, taken by my anxious parents, shows a nerdish me backpacked and ready to head off on my youthful year-in-Europe. The staging of the photo with me consulting the map was intended to evoke adventure. It now embarrasses me, as if the caption might read “how do I get to the airport?”


A few months ago, at a session of the writing group that I attend, I met Demetri Portelli who was the 3D stereographer on the movie “Hugo” working with the director Martin Scorsese and the cinematographer Robert Richardson. Demetri is a friend of Joaquin Kuhn, our writing group’s coordinator, and he happened to be at our meeting the week when the Academy Award nominations were announced. We celebrated with Demetri the many nominations that “Hugo” had received.

I put “Hugo” on my list of movies to see.

At a subsequent writing group session, the focus of the discussion was on my short story with the group members giving me wonderfully helpful feedback. A few days later, Joaquin watched “Hugo” with his grandchildren and promptly emailed Demetri and me, letting me know that la Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève is one of the settings in the movie. He told us that the film came to life for him in a new way because he had been there through my story, and my story came to life in a new way because he was actually seeing what had been presented to him earlier in words.

Demetri responded telling us that it was primarily this library that brought Martin Scorsese to shoot in Paris. Demetri found it a magical place with the space and the natural light making it so special in the film. He called it a jewel in the city of Paris.

He is right. It is that jewel that bewitched me as a young student forty odd years ago and it is that jewel that I had chosen as the setting for my short story.

Needless to say, I promptly made my way to the theatre to see “Hugo.” In addition to the stunning visual effects, I found the story itself deeply moving in many ways, not least of which as a testament to the importance of the arts in our lives.

I now have in my hands and have begun reading the book that inspired the film, a beautifully published version of “The Invention of Hugo Cabret, A Novel in Words and Pictures” by Brian Selznick.

La Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in my short story and in “Hugo” – an artistic coincidence that makes me smile and think “how cool is that!”

P.S. “Hugo” won the 2012 Oscar for Cinematography.

* * *

Some of my earlier posts also use films as the starting point for reflection. Scrolling back through my blog you can find posts based on “The Iron Lady,” “The Descendants,” and “Midnight in Paris.”

* * *

My memoir “August Farewell” tells the story of the two weeks between my partner’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and his death. Interspersed among the scenes are vignettes from our thirty-three years together as a gay couple.

Information on “August Farewell” and on my novel “Searching for Gilead,” including YouTube video book trailers on each, is available on my website at http://DavidGHallman.com

Both the memoir and the novel are available for order from your local bookseller or on-line retailers including http://amazon.com, http://barnesandnoble.com, http://amazon.ca, http://chapters.indigo.ca, http://amazon.co.uk



1 Comment

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One response to ““Hugo” and me – the joy of an artistic coincidence

  1. Hi, David. That’s a remarkable coincidence. Regardless of what you think the caption to that photograph ought to read, it does evoke the sense of adventure you were originally going for. I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future. Best wishes, Casey

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