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Monday, December 31, 2012

Yes I Hear the People Sing But What About the Rest of the Music?



 I know you need another "Les Miserables" movie review like you need another Facebook status mentioning someone's gym habits or other menial events but I am compelled to write this.  I am not going to summarize the plot of the movie like other reviews partially because you can google it and mostly because very few people are going to even read this.

  Here it is - down to brass tacks (whatever the hell that means).  I hesitate to review actual performances for a few reasons - the most important of which is that my problem with this film has nothing to do with the many performers who clearly had passion for the project and the desire and some of the talent to pull it off.  The least important being that it is obvious that the casting of this and every musical theatre film (and often Broadway productions) these days has about 1% to do with appropriateness of age/type or vocal ability and 110% with star names. I know the deal.  As a musical theatre lover I am giddy when they make a movie musical but not because I fool myself into thinking it will ever do the actual show full justice.  I expect to be less than thrilled.  But that does not mean I go to the theatre jaded and ready to despise it.  I am giddy they are making them since that means MANY more people may have the opportunity to fall in love with them like I did.  I was raised on movie musicals.  I don't even mean the original ones of Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.  I mean the ones like "Annie", "Oliver", & "Little Shop of Horrors", "West Side Story" and all of the Rodgers & Hammerstein too....but also some of the most terribly acted and just barely sung "A Chorus Line" and more doozies! "A Chorus Line" is like that phrase - "A face only a mother could love."  Only a girl who would eventually find her life's dream in those movies of one day performing on Broadway could love that film.  But they knew what was important.  The music.  When I watched "Les Miserables" last night I was appalled at how embarrassed this director was of the music --- the accompaniment was often barely audible and rarely matched what the performers were doing with their tempos in their lyrics.  Sometimes it was as if the actors themselves were embarrassed of their singing - not actually belting (as some here are able) or singing in a full legit sound (as a few here were able) as this music was meant to be sung for fear that audiences there for Wolverine and The Gladiator might not like it.  I do not blame the performers for this at all.  It is clear that someone's idea for this film was not to make it so musical-like which is especially off the mark with a show which is ENTIRELY MUSIC.  The entire heartbeat of the show was 100% missing.  The performers had passion individually but there was no glue holding them all together.  I am aware that director Tom Hooper attempted to utilize a wonderful idea for the filming of these songs - which is not normally used for movie musicals - and had live singing with the live accompaniment fed into their ears to allow for a more natural and real live performance feel.  I love this idea and am horribly disheartened at the end result.  I think this is the key to why this film is a flop.  The orchestrations do NOT match the live singing in tempo or in the physical volume of the audio tracks - ever.  I do not know if an orchestra was conducted to match the film and I can only imagine how difficult that process would have been.  All I know is that it was a necessary part of the process that seemed to have been rushed through.  Either that and/or those who then synced the vocals with the orchestrations in tempo and audio levels dropped all their balls.  As a result, the entire movie was a really slow and boring disgrace.  I couldn't even hear the singing at the very beginning and then I barely ever heard the accompaniment throughout.  If I knew nothing about this show the only thing I'd know when it ended was how happy I was.

  I'd rather not get to detailed about opinions of the cast though I did enjoy Samantha Barks' "Eponine" and yes, Anne Hathaway had some magical moments as a too young Fantine.  While well cast - Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter appeared to have been inappropriately directed to be in a Tim Burton film rather than into the broad comedic relief of their actual characters in this show.  The awful muppet sounds of Russell Crow's singing are the LEAST of this film's worries.

  While I fully expected to be slightly disappointed with this film -- as I am about several movie musicals - the one thing I can always walk out saying is that I am just glad they are making them.  While I hope they continue making them - I hope no one ever makes the same mistakes they made in this one.  Go back to lip synching if you are too lazy to do the rest of the work.  And stop apologizing for the fact that it's a musical --- let it be one.  SCADS of people LOVE them - and more will begin to if you remember this.  

3 comments :

PaulBlog1 said...

I don't know if you control this or not but at the top of this post is a photo for Honey Bo Bo. But that was never mentioned in the post at all. I'm glad you have the background and sensitivity to recognize what's going on in that movie. I generally stay pretty close to the surface and recognize very few of the people involved, much less am able to gauge whether a particular performance was their best work or not, or what aspects were the cast or who else affected the end result. With you there to see it, reservations and all, at least a few people had someone qualified to recognize that they had done well under rather poor circumstances. When the movie was announced I downloaded it a couple of times in different apps on my tablet. There was NEVER a chance that I was going to see the movie in a theater but maybe I'd manage to read the book one of these days and then watch one of the movies that were better done than this one was. I'd welcome any suggestions you care to give on the matter. Regardless, it's a mid to long term thing for me right now and may never happen at all unless my life takes a turn in a totally unexpected direction. Nonetheless I really enjoyed your analysis, keeping me from making this production possibly the only time I ever see the movie at all, and the depth of your commitment to this art form. ALL of my commitments are in other areas but these days there are far too many people with little or no commitment to anything at all.

PaulBlog1 said...

Sorry for not being more clear originally. By 'that move' I was referring to the one you actually reviewed 'Les Miserable' (hope my spelling was close. Spell check didn't flag it or interfere so maybe it came out ok.) all of the following was regarding your post and this movie. I can't tolerate Honey Bo Bo for more than a few seconds at a time on TV much less a whole movie on that insanity.

JM said...

Thank you so much PaulBlog1! I really appreciate your visiting my blog and blowing off some of the cobwebs! First off -- I can't recall specifically selecting a picture of Honey Boo Boo and right now I honestly can't remember if I did that on purpose or not! Usually I would remember doing something like that!!! I don't really think it's possible for the image to have changed since then but who knows? Honestly - I think I'll leave it because it makes me giggle and not take the post too seriously --- which I hope no one does. I am just honored someone was reading it!!

Now - as far as Les Miserables goes. If you ever feel like indulging in the story and don't wish to read the book (I never have) - find yourself a theatrical production of it -- preferably professional -- on Broadway or a touring production. It really is an incredible show. The music is fantastic and it really is an epic piece of theatre that should not be missed.

The most recently released movie version of this (with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, & Anne Hathaway) is what I was not too happy with. I can't speak for the other movie version I believe exists -- which, to my knowledge, is NOT a musical. It may be wonderful.

For me-- musical theatre has always been my passion and it started by watching movie musicals in my family. That is why they mean so much to me and why I was so disappointed by this one. It truly doesn't do the live piece ANY justice and I highly recommend you do yourself a favor and enjoy that one day if the opportunity presents itself. Thank you again for contributing your thoughts!!