Thursday, December 20, 2012
It's hard for me to remember a time when the song "Do You Hear The People Sing" has not been among the top rotation of songs that just constantly live in my head. I'm not very political and I'm far too afraid of being arrested to ever actually participate in a sit in; nonetheless, I have a fantasy about taking a stand for some injustice and just when defeat seems imminent and those that stand with me seem about to cave, I break out loud and clear with: (see video below)
The truth of the matter, I, like so many others have listened to Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's score and libretto based upon the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, countless times. Have seen it staged at least twice. Yet, it's hard to believe it was 1987 that Les Misérables hit Broadway! A Movie Musical adaptation was long since due. And I'm happy to report it met my criteria for what I hoped the film version would be.
Listening to the Les Miz CD so often, desensitized me to the emotional impact of the story and characters. Oftentimes when listening to just the score, I couldn't even remember exactly what was taking place in each scene. Now having seen the movie, it brings the whole tale into a much more vibrant light, allowing me to be more in tune (no pun intended) with the characters than I ever was seeing it on stage or hearing the recording.
And example of this added poignancy can be found in the only new song written expressly for the film. The song “Suddenly” was added because there needed to be a moment of reflection after Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) “adopts” little Cosette (Isabelle Allen/Amanda Seyfried).
Here's a video sound bite (2:52) of creators Schönberg and Boublil discussing the new song:
And here's another good Universal Pictures video sound bite (2:50) – with Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) - "I'm interested in telling stories where there's strong, emotional points of connection between the audience and the story I'm telling". He also states, "If Hugh Jackman didn't exist, I wouldn't have made this film”:
So true, this role was made for Jackman. He's always had the versatile quality of being a hero/anti-hero and a Broadway showman. The role of Jean Valjean allows him to seamlessly blend these two sides of his talent together perfectly. Unfortunately, Russell Crowe as Detective Javert, does not hold up his end as the perfect nemesis to tangle with Jackman's Valjean.
This blog post by actress Toni L. Downey describes his lack luster performance to a T:
...an unexpected disappointment was Russell Crowe. I knew he would not have the best voice, but it was good enough. However, since Hooper said he hired Crowe because he was the best person to go toe to toe with "Wolverine", I did expect his Javert to be powerful in his belief that only he knew what was the law, and his black and white world was the right one to live in. But he played the role, either by his choice or Hooper's, in a very quiet manner, without the intensity necessary to lead up to a tour de force song like "Stars". Jackman had him for lunch in all their scenes together. Because it's hard to believe Javert was really that tied to his belief system, when he commits his final desperate act it's hard to fathom how not living in a world of gray that made a mockery of his whole life was really that big a deal to him. READ MORE
I wanna go back to the music of Les Misérables for a moment. The most significant thing about this production, brought up again, and again, is the fact that the performers did all their singing on set, while shooting in character; not sung in a studio and then lip synched for film. I do recall Barbra Streisand saying this is the way she prefers to do a musical and did so for at least some of the songs for Funny Girl and I believe Yentl. But with the advent of digital imaging which allows the filmmaker to easily remove microphones and boom mikes out of the scene in post production, this may become the standard way of directing a movie musical. Here's a segment from 60 Minutes that goes into more detail.
|Picture from a site called Les Miserable Confessions|
The look of Les Misérables – The opening scenes have a gritty, sad, almost nightmarish quality, then as we move on to the scenes after Jean Valjean has been released from prison, the filming has a more sweeping, epic, BBC realism. But by the time we get to Fantine (Anne Hathaway) selling her, teeth, hair and hope in the streets “Lovely Lady”, the production is filmed on an elaborate sound stage, creating a Fantasy/Broadway look. The rest of the film more or less stays this way. I kinda wish we never saw Valjean walking across the mountains, unless the movie intended to film on actual locations for most of the shoot.
Here's a video sound bite (3:33) with Director Tom Hooper, Production Designer Eve Stewart and Set Decorated Anna Lynch-Robinson:
Also for a bit of fun, here's a "Les Miserables" lyrics quiz: Play Quiz: The Lyrics of "Les Miserables" now! To play, chose the song lyrics which immediately precede the lyrics asked in the question (multiple choice).
I thought I do well, but I only answered 9 correctly out of 25, not too good :(
See how well you do!
Philly Film Blog