Thursday, January 31, 2013
Do you hear the people sing?
Let me start by saying Victor Hugo's story captures more than the misery of a time long ago. It's the misery of all time. And over the years, the songs by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil have become so much a part of that universal story that I think of them as one. But the intensity of the movie version is even greater than I imagined. I mean these are songs that can snatch your soul in the third balcony when the people look like fireflies flitting across the stage. But when Anne Hathaway's shamed face is spread across the wide screen like a map of the world, you can't escape the horror that blankets the room.
Unfortunately Hugh Jackman's singing voice isn't as good as I had expected. And Russell Crowe's isn't as bad as I'd feared. But Hathaway deserves every award she's received and more. In "I Dreamed a Dream" she delivers every ounce of hope and disappointment packed into those powerful lyrics. Samantha Barks (Eponine) deserves a healthy helping of praise as well. "On My Own" is unforgettable.
I never missed a realistic setting in the stage version, but my imagination never provided the impact of Director Tom Hooper's cinematography. "Look Down" takes on a whole different meaning in the movie's enormous shipyard, as does the reprise with a sea of begging hands. Oh, the visual stench of of the Paris sewers. And building a barricade with furniture raining down from fifth floor apartment windows adds a whole new chorus to hearing the people sing.
The timing is never quite right to capture the physical fun of the Thenardiers, the conniving innkeepers who are always such a delight in stage productions but are overly made-up clowns in the movie.
Still I cried. I cried for Fantine and all the single mothers everywhere abandoned by their husbands and trampled by social conventions. I cried for Eponine and all the broken-hearted whose love is not returned. I cried for Cosette and all the frightened, lonely abused children in the world. And the"little people" like Gavroche who get swept up and spit out. I cried for Javert and all the narrow-minded people tortured by devils of their own making. But most of all I cried for all the idealistic young men fighting and dying for freedom and justice, year after year, war after war. All those "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables."
But Les Mis wouldn't be the iconic story it is if it were only about misery. It's about triumph and redemption. So I cheered for the Bishop of Digne and all the faithful who let Christ's light shine through them. And I was inspired by everyman Jean Valjean who didn't deserve the trouble life handed him, but he worked hard and overcame. He makes tough choices and accepts responsibility. I feel like they should be playing this movie in welfare offices across the country.
As I walked into the night, the departing movie patrons were singing about freedom and when tomorrow comes. I'm thinking maybe, just maybe, all those people didn't die in vain. Maybe we are a little closer to justice and freedom in the world.
Posted by Sue Merrell at 10:13 AM