Story’s the Thing: Les Miserables the Movie

 Les Miserables was one of those ambiguous things in my life – a literal barricade- that I was never allowed to see growing up because my mom thought it too depressingly sad even for herself. Now, it has been made into a movie made for the masses, a movie that is a world classic, loved by fans and non-musical-loving folk alike, but is performed without the stage magic that only live shows can bring. Can we really hear the people sing?

 

awesome-book-book-vs-movie-harry-potter-judge-Favim.com-145650_largeI have not often found that there are direct parallels between HP fanatics and musical fiends – the two underground societies often love both books and music, but prefer not to tarnish the two by mixing them together. Or, the two tend to see one as favorable over the other. This is an argument at the center of Les Miserables because of its bookish origins but musical world fame. Confession: I have never braced myself and read the entirety of the 900 pages. (Nor have I ever really read more than exerpt… shhh!) For me, Les Miserables is all about the music – what do you think? However, the movie has made me curious about subplots, characters, and themes that I have never known.

 

Courtesy of All Geeked Up

Courtesy of All Geeked Up

That being said, the recent movie with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russel Crowe, Amanda Sigfried, and the rest of the crew is very 50/50 for me. On one hand, it has such a wonderfully flowing storyline that sheds light easily to the problems and issues of the time (though they did take a few liberties… Eponine is the Master of the House’s daughter??) The movie lets the viewer understand Jean ValJean’s quest as a prisoner who spent an absurd amount of time in jail for stealing a loaf of bread  and Javert’s quest to keep the law intact. The theme of freedom is potent – the barricade, the revolution, and dictatorship are almost overshadowed by the lack of freedom when it comes to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in France. Anne Hathaway might not have the best voice of Fantine, but did she ever NAIL the emotion in not being free to control her own body and life after a certain point.

You need to watch it to feel it. Like throwing yourself into a book, you need to get wrapped up in the utter emotion and words of the performance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvzLZIiD5TU

 

So, it is up to you, readers, to help me walk through the wreckage of the barricade – I am quite sure that neither the book lovers nor the musical fans were wholly satisfied with this film and wanted to put up a blockade against it. Was it successful? Did you hear the people sing? I teared up, swooned, and loved the love triangle – but, there is no way a movie could recreate hundreds of people singing the same lines, in unison, with so much emphatic, heartful zeal: “when the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drum, there is a light about to start when tomorrow comes.”

 

Happy New Year all!

 

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4 Comments

  1. Carol Eshleman

    January 2, 2013 at 8:18 pm
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    Yes, Eponine is the Thenardiers daughter, which is original to the book. They actually do refer to this in the stage play, but it’s so fast that some people might not catch it. They’re being true to the book there–not taking liberties. I love both the book and the play because I think the play does a very good job of capturing the emotions of the book. If you have not read the book, you absolutely should because it’s beautiful… and it’s actually 1600 pages… at least in any volume I’ve seen. A 900 page copy would have to have very small writing….. or huge pages. Music is emotion and the book is filled with emotion so I really don’t see why there would have to be an either-or thing going on here.

  2. Dorothy

    January 2, 2013 at 8:25 pm
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    This is interesting to me. Because I grew up in theatre and actually had to stifle myself from singing along during the film. I thought it was a brilliant adaptation of a show I’ve admired almost my entire life.

    And the reasoning there is this: There is no true way to bring a musical to the big screen. That being said, I admired the decision to record everything live rather than lipping it down the road.

    The difference between live theatre and a film is that in theatre, everything has to be big. You have to have the biggest voice, the biggest emotions, the biggest dramas. Many shows on Broadway right this minute are known for some spectacle or another–the chandelier, the flying umbrella, the gravity-defying witch and her friend in a bubble. And no matter what character you’re playing, you’re playing to the back of the house.

    Film is different. You can be much more subtle in your acting choices. There are no “jazz hands” in a movie-musical. The decision to sing-speak part of a song rather than belting it out is easier when you don’t have to worry about your emotion being sung to the rafters. You can choose to take a break from the huge notes and have the nervous breakdown your character is facing. When you’re not in front of an audience of hundreds of people night after night, every note doesn’t have to be “pretty.” Your character can be broken, and that closeup shot will catch it in a way that the person in seat 102 of the mezzanine wouldn’t be able to.

    I thought that Les Mis was a brilliant film. It was, to me, very successful. Much more so than many of the recent musicals that have graced the screen.

  3. Marsha

    January 3, 2013 at 2:34 am
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    I haven’t seen the movie yet (it’s not in theaters here yet), but I loved both the musical and the book. My parents saw the original Dutch performance and brought back lots of goodies. Including a cd with the music. I was eleven; too young to see the show, but I learned every song by heart and then read the book seven times in three years (obsessed much?).
    I finally got to see the musical a few years back. It was amazing, but if you really want to understand all the nuances of the story you ought to read the book. (The 1600 page one. There are abreviated editions, but really, the book is to beautiful not to read as it was written.)

  4. EmilyR

    January 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm
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    Thank you all for commenting!!! You have convinced me – I need to make my way through all 1600 pages of the FULL (not abridged) book. I never knew that Eponine was their Thenardiers’ daughter – that was a brilliant insight from the film AND you, Carol!

    Do you three think that more musicals/operas are going to be made into films? And are you excited about it? (I think Phantom of the Opera was wonderful & now they are doing live HD shows from the Met- just curious about your thoughts!)

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