What's this, two trips to the cinema in one month? I only saw four films on the big screen in the whole of last year (and one of those was Prometheus, which doesn't really count). But Sam was at a sleepover on Saturday, so we ventured out through snow, wind and rain to watch Les Misérables (or Lez Mizrubbles, to give it its correct English pronunciation).
I've been hearing people bang on about Les Mis for more or less my whole adult life - I can't recall when the show opened, but I can remember reading in the Observer in about 1986 that there was going to be a movie, starring Mick Jagger and David Bowie (crikey, heck!). That never happened of course, but the show has been cluttering up one West End theatre or another ever since, and has finally made it onto the screen, and I've still never seen it, or heard any of the songs.
Lionel Bart standards, but stomps along quite catchily. And there's a soupy sort of solo called 'I Dreamed a Dream' which sounds as if the composers scraped it off the very bottom of Andrew Lloyd Webber's dustbin. The rest of the three hours, as far as I could tell, was filled up with reprises and a lot of recitative, which sounded a bit absurd (as recitative always does to my heathen ears). Maybe if I listened to the soundtrack a few times I could pick out some other tunes - but I don't think I will.
HOWEVER, while the songs never really rise to the levels of musical achievement you'd hear in the average elevator, the way they were filmed seemed quite ground-breaking to me.* When Anne Hathaway sings the aforementioned I Dreamed a Dream, it's all captured in one long take, with the camera close in on her face, which is covered in tears and snot and ACTING. Despite the naffness of the tune and lyric it's surprisingly powerful, and not quite like anything I've seen before. It made me wonder what a film would be like which took this live-singing approach and applied it to a real opera - amazing, I should think. But I doubt the big name actors you need to make a film on this scale would have the singing voices to handle Wagner or Verdi.
Poor old Russell Crowe can barely handle the songs in Les Mis: he stands around on parapets and sort of hoots. But Hugh Jackman, as the put-upon hero Jean Valjean, is magnificent: he looks so right, and acts so well, that I didn't really notice whether he could sing or not (Sarah, who Knows These Things, tells me that he can.) Anne Hathaway, who seems to be mostly made of eyes, was good too, though I think its fair to say that the female characters are a droopy, doomed, lachrymose lot, like Victorian watercolours done on wet tissue. Helena Bonham Carter, doing her mad-haired panto schtick as the thieving innkeeper's wife, is the only one who's allowed any fun at all.
So: Lez Mizrubbles: it bangs on a bit, but it was worth seeing, and while I can appreciate the justice of this rather patrician article from The New Yorker, I can also understand the enthusiasm of Sarah McIntyre, who reviews the film here (and she and Stuart do their own re-enactment of the Paris Uprising on the film's Greenwich locations: HOORAY).
*Admittedly I haven't seen a movie musical more recent than Cabaret. Maybe they're all like this now?
**...and I'm afraid I never got all the way through Vol II.
Images swiped from IMDB and the official Les Misérables website