Prompted by Kelli Marshal, I decided to write a quick post in response to my viewing of Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Les Miserables. Kelli wrote her own review of the film here. She didn’t like it much and makes some keen observations about the camera work and the singing in particular. In addition, my twitter pal Noel also wrote about his response to the film. While I didn’t feel quite as bludgeoned by the film’s attempt for me to have ALL THE FEELS as he did, I didn’t much care for it overall. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was a Les Mis newbie. My experience with it comes mostly from this:
I read up on the plot on wikipedia before going in so as not to be confused. Going in blind and not as a fan, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations about the film, except that as a musical it should appeal to me at an emotional level through songs. And boy, did they try to get to me at an emotional level. This film wanted me to cry so hard. And you need to understand this about me, I’m a crier. I cry at the drop of a hat. I brought in tissues special to prepare for all the crying I knew I was going to do. To be fair, there were moments when I was moved and had to dab away a small sniffle, “Castle in a Cloud” and the death of Gavroche mostly.
I was supposed to be all:
but instead, I was all:
The film tried too hard and I could see the contrivance. As both Kelli and Noel discuss, the relentless facial contorting, gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair, and the dirt, and the black heads, and the close-ups (OMG the endless close-ups) ultimately feel forced, and all appear done in an attempt to make it feel SO REAL!!! I think this is where the relentless emphasis on their live singing during production comes from. It’s as though they’re trying to say, “this film isn’t like those inauthentic overdone musicals from days of yore where people lip synced while shooting. NO! These actors are singing AND acting at the same time! Be amazed at this new level of authenticity!” But in a musical, I want to be moved through the music, through song and the voice, not by Anne Hathaway’s well placed tears and bad skin. I want to be swept up and away. It’s gotta be BIG. Noel puts it this way,
When you have something like Les Misérables, which is the double whammy of big melodrama and big musical, sometimes you just need it to wash over you to really “work,” to surrender to the out-sized emotions
The moments that were the most compelling for me were the big choral numbers and when little Gavroche and the charismatic Enjolras were on the screen. The film should have been big. Musicals are about excess. Excess of feeling, of drama, of expression, of sound and movement. To not take advantage of the sheer bigness of the cinema, and not go big or go home, misses the point of what makes musicals appealing (for me). Most of the people I went to the cinema with, did enjoy the film, so maybe I am just being too critical.
Setting aside the issue of the music and whatnot, as a newbie, I also found the core of the story troubling. Basically, it boils down to something like, sure, you can fight for basic human dignity, and maybe sometimes a poor soul whose looking for redemption might be able to save a Cosette and bring her out of the street into the bosom of the bourgeois, but mostly, life sucks and you’re probably going to die before you’re 20 from a gunshot wound or consumption, but hey it’s OK because god loves you and when you die you get to be with him. Um, hellooooo? WHAT?
So I leave you with two clips, both I enjoy tremendously. I know that Baz can be a bit contentious and not everyone likes it, but I adore Moulin Rogue! and the first clip is from that. It has it’s own issues (holy quick cut editing batman!) but it works for me. The second clip is from the Hindi film Lagaan. Even without subtitles it should be pretty easy to make out that the white lady has fallen in love with the Indian lad and the Indian lady is jealous. They dance through the scenario. What I like so much about this clip is the playful interactions between the two leads and how the group dancing is integrated into the story. Plus it just looks amazing – all those swirling saris. Quick note about Hindi films too. The actors are never the singers. Filmi singers have their own fan followings and people will often see a film based on who the singers are and not the actors.