Have we become cynical (old)?
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
When Les Misérables hit the cinemas Christmas Day, among theatrephiles it had the effect of an atom bomb. Facebook and Twitter were battlegrounds - devastation, blood-letting, howling, tearing of shirts. Then the battle splintered off into more factions yet: Hathahaters v. Hathalovers; Hooperites v. the world; stage v. screen...this last actually splintered again into which recording of which stage production was the best.
It would have been fun if it hadn't gotten a little bitter. In some instances it became like abortion, capital-punishment, the language laws in Québec or any other issue that appears to be black or white to many: if you liked the film, you were a deluded idiot.
I avoided the film like the plague. But I did follow the conversation elsewhere. I followed Misérables hashtags on Twitter and one thing struck me: the young loved the movie. (I'm talking about kids who would actually go to Les Misérables and had not wandered into the wrong cinema at the multiplex.) They loved its colour and size, they wept (well, there IS a lot of dying and crying) and they loved the songs.
I realized many of these kids will never see an actual stage production of Les Mis and that may explain a lot of the mystery of the Battle Of Les Mis.
a mainstream house will do something mainstream...move on
We have become jaded. We have become old, even if we are not chronologically. We no longer go into a play or movie with that sense of excitement that got us involved in theatre in the first place. I have noticed this with Les Mis and, more recently, with a production called THIS at Canadian Stage in Toronto. People at both seemed to have walked in with an agenda or a lack of one. For both there was an army of old geezers who wanted the material to stretch the limits of the form. They, needless to say, were unimpressed. One shared that he was delighted by almost all aspects of THIS but at its heart the show was same old, same old. For Les Mis, many were expecting the same thrill they experienced from one of those elephantine Cameron Macintosh productions and instead got only some pretty terrific acting. Others were predisposed to hating Anne Hathaway. Others wondered where the belting songs had gone.
Now as much as many of these points may or may not be valid, the aggravating thing was how much the criticism seems to have fixated on one thing or another or, worse, boiled down to a shopping list of quibbles. What was not clear was whether viewers of both Les Mis (the movie) and THIS were prepared to cede to what was there in front of them and not wish, from the get-go, it was something else. (In a nutshell it may be my fundamental problem with a lot of reviewing as well: yes, a mainstream house will do something mainstream...move on!)
Les Mis, the movie, could not possibly be Les Mis, the play. If the songs were belted as they were on stage, it would be risible. I have no problem that Anne Hathaway started her career in The Princess Diaries so I did become blurry-eyed when she suffered. I also very much liked Hugh Jackman (ironically because I was expecting the prancing crypto-poof of his stage presentations). I will agree with most on Russell Crowe but only because this intense actor could not rise to the tragedy of his character. I am also astounded that many did not make a lot of noise about Eddie Redmayne turning his cipher of a stage-character into a fully-realized (and well-sung) human.
My biggest problem with the movie is one those familiar with the piece may have missed (but which I did not as I watched with someone who did not know the material): the enunciation in many, many songs was piss-poor. What the fuck were the Thénardiers singing about, for instance?
But here's the thing: because I expected nothing (or actually expected downright shit) I was delighted. From the magnificence of the opening scene of the ship being hauled into dry-dock to the honest-to-goodness close-up acting. (However, on Facebook, the battle continued with one esteemed colleague suggesting I had no taste...)
Of course with material this grand there are errors! What's with Sasha Baron Cohen's accent? What's Mrs. Lovett doing in Les Mis?
But, most of all, what troubles me about the reaction to the film is precisely rule one of discussion on any art form: talk about what is there, talk about where that is, and talk about whom the material is aimed at.
It may not be you.