January 22, 2013

Les gens joyeux

English: Javert from original publication of L...

English: Javert from original publication of Les MisÚrables (1862). Additional information found at Les Miserables Gallery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally got out of the house to see a movie, Les Miserables. Turns out I've been on a Les Miz kick recently - Turner Classic Movies recently showed the 1935 Frederic March version with Charles Laughton as Javert and the 1952 Michael Rennie (The Day The Earth Stood Still) version. And I've been listening to Orson Welles' radio version.

I remember hearing the music on my car radio some 25 years ago, not knowing it was a musical, and thinking that the music was melodically repetitive and yet lyrically soaring. The movie has a lot of great parts going for it, but it is hard to capture the grand theatrical experience on film - in a theater, seeing dozens of people giving full voice to the crowd scenes is fantastic, on film, the closeups help to pinpoint the drama, but it's not quite as much fun. In fact, the film does a great job at keeping the storyline clear, and the expanded 'revolution', complete with soldiers, calvary, and the infamous Elephant of the Bastile is quite impressive.

It has been much mentioned that the actors sang their roles live, thus explaining the over-emoting and hammy stuttering during many songs, as if to prove the point. Someone said that pre-recorded singing in a musical is "unreal", forgetting that people singing non-stop about their fate while being shot at isn't exactly true-to-life either. (And one of the points of pre-recording the singing in a nice studio versus a movie set: Hugh Jackman relates his final scene was shot in a frigid church at 1am, almost ruining his voice.) Anyway, for the most part the singing is quite good; for me it is the incessant camera gymnastics, hand-held vibrations, and quick cutting that keep the film from being great. As an opera, having Javert stand stock-still on stage and demand your attention is mesmerizing; here, it's easy to forgive Russell Crowes less-than-Broadway singing and instead to appreciate his acting, but the camera keeps swooping away and up and across. Very distracting when I'm trying to focus on the emotional impact of the character's song. (Though I did like the edge-of-the-railing footwork business they gave Javert, which is of course tragically replayed at the end).

Misc: Great to see Colm Wilson as The Bishop, still with great scene-stealing charisma; Eddie Redmayne's (also good in My Week With Marilyn) made the movie with an outstanding Marius; Jackman's new song "Suddenly" is played out very nicely, describing Valjean's reaction to his quick adoption of Cosette; Amanda Seyfried's singing as Cosette sadly reminds you that while the picture of her as a little girl is on the movie poster, the movie isn't about her - the character is quite the stereotype.

After all that, still hard to beat for those people, like myself, who like musical theater.

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Posted by netrc at January 22, 2013 08:23 PM