This place matters

This place matters

Sunday, January 6, 2013

... and we're back


Last week I had a dream about Hugh Jackman. No, not that kind of dream. Well, unless you were thinking about the kind of dream in which I lecture Hugh Jackman about his destroying the character of Wolverine. In that case, it was exactly that kind of dream. I was very polite and reasonable about it; I just felt he needed to understand that Wolverine does not wear a tuxedo, sing show tunes, or host the Tony Awards. I don't know if it sunk in or not, but he at least seemed receptive.
A couple of days later, Hugh Jackman totally redeemed himself with his performance in Les Misérables. I had no idea a person could be such an incredible badass while singing notes most women can't hit. 
The conventional wisdom is that no movie can capture the energy and passion of a live performance. Having seen the stage play four times, once on Broadway, I have to say that there's at least one huge exception to this rule. 
The film version of Les Misérables was amazing. I wasn't a huge fan of Hugh Jackman (see above) or Anne Hathaway, but I certainly am now. Lots of times, Hollywood musicals suffer because producers know that they have to get famous names to get people into the seats, but the actors attached to those famous names don't often have the vocal chops to do a role justice - case in point, Johnny Depp in Sweeny Todd. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, has chops and then some.
Vocal chops and mutton chops 

Hathaway - every time the woman opened her mouth she blew me away - and blew Patti Lupone out of the water (oh, I said it).
On top of which, she is rocking the hair

This isn't to say that the musical performances were pretty and polished. They decidedly weren't. They were raw, sometimes even ugly. The vocal performances were recorded live - in most movie and TV musicals, the performances are recorded in a studio and then the actors lip sync while they record the action. In this film, when the prisoners are standing in the water doing manual labor, the music is recorded while the performers are standing in the water singing and doing manual labor. When there's singing during a riot, the performers are singing while rioting.
 

Not all the performers were as amazing as others, and I thought there were a couple of questionable casting decisions - Samantha Barks as Éponine, for instance. In the book, Éponine is described as a waif with a sallow face, bad teeth, and a raspy voice, the product of living in poverty with a family of neglectful itinerant hucksters. This Éponine,  Manx musician Samantha Banks, looks and sounds as healthy as my obsession with the black death - this despite the generous application of dirt smudges to her face. You'd think they could at least have made her go on some kind of Tom Hanks diet and had her start smoking 2 packs a day. She just wasn't believable as a tragic street starfish urchin. 
What kind of message is this man's
obvious eating disorder sending
the boys of our nation?

Then again, though it pains my inner teenager to say so, one of the strengths of the film is that it overcomes one of the great weaknesses of the stage play - the way the stage play lets the Thénardier family run away with the show. While Éponine and her villainous parents are audience favorites, stripping away some of their prominence makes room for things more central to the story, like the great life-and-death struggle between the classes for which it is named. 
And that, I think, is what I love most about this film. In so many other retellings, the June Rebellion element serves only as a convenient vehicle for pathos, a backdrop for all of the separate love stories coming together and resolving. To be honest, by the time you get to the Rebellion in the book, you've slogged through so many history lessons, out-dated social commentaries (like the several pages dedicated to complaining about people giving their children stupid names like Éponine), and 800 word-long sentences, it's hard to really appreciate the significance of the skirmish. The June Rebellion at the heart of this novel's climax lasted only a day and was totally unsuccessful, and that's always bugged me. What, then, was the point of all these young people dying, and why would Hugo choose such an ultimately insignificant skirmish to act as the centerpiece of his great epic? Somehow the film, without adding any extra dialogue to do so, brings the significance of the event - then as well as now - into stunning clarity. Somehow, the characters in the film, unlike their stage counterparts, aren't dying for nothing anymore. 
In completely unrelated news, I just woke up from a nap in which I dream I was dying. I milked it for everything it was worth, and I was like "Nobody's going to call me on it; I'm dying." Sleeping Brigid really is just an endless source of entertainment.  

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