Is the disappearance of underarm hair in the above cut from Martin Scorsese's Hugo a continuity error or a decision? If purposeful, does it matter? Is it reasonable to believe that the people in the makeup and costume departments who worked on this scene didn't notice the hair in Méliès original film? Why should they care about continuity at all if they're not going to attempt to match everything? Who decides which details matter and which ones don't? Does it matter if a shadow was used in an attempt to cleverly mask the break in continuity? Is it unreasonable to ask for underarm hair to be applied to an actor lacking underarm hair for the sake of continuity and historical accuracy? Did someone subconsciously think the close up might offend or confuse the film's primary audience if the hair wasn't removed? Was underarm hair deemed unsafe for children? Did the MPAA threaten to give the film an R rating if the underarm hair wasn't removed? What's with all the promotion of hairlessness anyway? Do we detest hair because it reminds us that we're animals? Are we going to keep shaving areas where we have hair until there's no hair left to shave? Is this why people have shaved heads in futuristic films? Is it wrong to talk about underarm hair and expect to be taken seriously? Am I even being serious? Does it matter? Was I inspired to write in this style after reading Crispin Glover's humorous and apt take down of Spielberg? (Why is Spielberg in Blogger's spell check but Tarkovsky isn't?)
I once let a friend borrow Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us. He pointed out a continuity error in the film as an example why the film wasn't a masterpiece. I told him he cared about all the wrong things. I told him Kiarostami (also not in spell check) probably wouldn't have done anything about it even if he had noticed. And why assume he hadn't noticed?
Am I now caring about all the wrong things?
Hollywood is obsessed with continuity. It teaches others to obsess over continuity—not just in films, but also with matching socks and clear skin. At first glance, this cut from Hugo might seem to be an example of the opposite—a disdain for continuity. But looking closer one can see that it's also an example of a much larger kind of continuity.
Through its images, America's conception of beauty has come to dominate much of the world. Is this cut in Hugo a form of cultural sanitation that attempts to render everything American? Is it an example of a kind of retroactive domination that denies the spectator any history of alternatives? In other words, an uninterrupted continuation of American culture through all time?