sleepymaggie: (Default)
[personal profile] sleepymaggie
Last week I went and saw Tom Hooper's Les Miserables. It's not a story that I was previously familiar with -- I've never seen the play and I didn't read any summaries before I went.

I did not particularly like the movie. I left the theater feeling confused and off-balance.

Spoilers below. I wrote a lot.



At first I thought it was just the story itself. I know that lots of people find it very lovely and romantic and passionate and sad. Mostly I couldn't figure out why the main Police Type Guy (Russel Crowe in the movie) was somehow always in charge of whatever place Sad Do-Gooder Man (Hugh Jackman) was living -- be it as prison warden, or random city police man chief, or as some big-shot in Paris. They just always happened to bump into each other, across the whole wide world of France. Plus I'm not sure I entirely buy-into Police Type Guy's obsession -- I guess there are no murderers in France during this time period and that parole jumpers are a serious problem.

Really, I could go on on and on about the story -- so many weird choices -- but really, when I think about it, none of it is that big a deal. It' theater ogic -- it's the logic of a grand musical with actors singing and shouting right in front of you, live. It doesn't really have to make logical sense, it just has to convey a grand vision and story.

So th real roblem of Tom Hooper's Les Mis is that it' Tom Hooper's es Mis.

The movie is shot in a weird way. It's not something that jumps out at you at first -- this isn't found footage, they didn't strap the camera to a ceiling fan. But when you go back and think about it, you realize there are far too many close-ups, and not just any close-ups, but ones where the actors are staring right into the camera for minutes at a time.

This became much clearer to me when I checked out the new review of the movie by Film Crit Hulk. There are always a few problems to Film Crit Hulk's reviews (he over apologizes for his opinions, sometimes to the tune of several paragraphs), but in the end he makes a really good point about the film. I'm going to pull out a chunk for you now, so you can get the gist of my (his) point:

"THE EXPERIENCE OF WATCHIN LES MISÉRABLES S ONE OF THE WEIRDEST THAT YOU CAN HAVE IN A MOVIE THEATER.


ON THE SURFACE, YOU HAVE THESE DELICATE, SOULFUL PERFORMANCES THAT YOU DO TRULY GET TO SEE. THERE'S NO DENYING THAT. THE PERFORMANCES ARE ON FULL DISPLAY. AND YOU ALSO GET TO HAVE THIS BEAUTIFUL MUSIC THAT SO MANY PEOPLE ARE GETTING TO DISCOVER FOR THE FIRST TIME OR MAYBE EVEN RE-DISCOVER AGAIN. AFTER ALL, THE SHOW O LES MIS S GREAT AND HULK HAS SEEN IT MANY TIMES. THE STORY. THE TRAGEDY. THE THEMES. THE WORDS. THE SOUNDS. ALL OF THESE THINGS HAVE BECOME CLASSIC FOR A REASON.

AND YET THE FILM SOMEHOW DOES NOT DO IT JUSTICE. IT DOES NOT STRIKE THE CHORD IT NEEDS TO. HULK MEAN, IT BARELY WORKS IN A PURELY FUNCTIONAL WAY BECAUSE ALL THE THINGS HULK CITES ABOVE REGISTER FOR YOU, BU JUST BARELY. AND HULK IS POSITIVE THAT SO MANY PEOPLE WALKED OUT OF THE FILM FEELING LIKE SOMETHING WAS WRONG. MAYBE THEY JUST SAID IT FELT TOO LONG, OR DELVED INTO THE STANDARD LIST OF COMPLAINTS YOU HEAR FROM MOVIE-GOERS ABOUT WHATEVER IS THE MOST TANGIBLE DETAIL...

AND WHAT YOU PERHAPS DID NOT REALIZE WAS THAT YOUR EYE WAS CONSTANTLY AT WAR WITH YOUR EXPERIENCE.

TOM HOOPER WANTED TO MAKE AN INTIMATE FILM. HE WANTED TO MAKE AN ORGANIC FILM. HE WANTED TO MAKE AN EPIC FILM. HE WANTED TO MAKE AN INTERESTING FILM.

AND INSTEAD OF PICKING THE MOMENTS TO DO THOSE THINGS HE JUST SHOTTHE ENTIRE FUCKING MOVIE N HAND-HELD, DUTCH-ANGLED, WIDE-ANGLED, HEY-KEY-LIT, CLOSE-UPS WITH ACTORS STARING DIRECTLY INTO THE CAMERA.

... OKAY.

LET'S GO BACK UP TO THE BASICS SECTION AND LOOK AT THE AFFECTATION OF EACH OF THOSE DECISIONS.

SO HE WANTED TO TAKE A SOULFUL MOVIE, RIFE WITH DRAMA AND TRAGEDY, TELLING A TRULY EPIC, CLASSIC STORY BOTH IN TERMS OF SCOPE AND POLITICS, A STORY THAT FEATURES AN EMOTIONAL PERSONAL JOURNEY SPANNING DECADES WITH ALL THE CHARACTERS SINGING SONGS ABOUT HOPE AND LONGING...

AND HE FILMED IT IN A WAY THAT CONVEYS CHAOS AND DISCORD, OFF-KILTER WORLDS, SURREALISM, EVERYTHING-IS-GOING-TO-BE-OKAY-ROMANTIC-COMEDY-ISM AND E OVERUSED THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL OF CINEMATIC STORY CONTROL, CLOSE-UPS, BY DOING IT THE ENTIRE TIME, MEANWHILE EMPLOYING AN EQUAL METHOD THAT UNDOES THAT CLOSE-UP EFFECT BY HAVING THE CHARACTERS LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE CAMERA, WHICH HAS THE SOLE EFFECT OF BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL AND MAKING THE AUDIENCE UNCOMFORTABLE!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?

AND HE DOES ALL OF THOSE THINGS THE WHOLE FUCKING MOVIE?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!!??"


Thi is the real reason why I came out of the theater feeling so out-of-sorts. I initially blamed it on the story, which seemed so odd, but really, really there was a deeper underlying tension simmering in the back of my brain.

There are two key scenes in the film that I keep coming back to, as I think about what it is that's so wrong in there.

Early on in the film, Hugh Jackman is penniless and distraught. He's just been caught stealing, but has been forgiven and saved by a man of the church. He's left alone in a chapel, to effectively sing a monologue of his troubles. He sings to God and the representations of God in the chapel. But mostly, he sings directly into the camera, close, close-up. We see right into his red-rimmed eyes. At first it's just unnerving, unsettling. The actor is paying so much attention to us, we're right in his gaze. But then it goes on and on and on. It's not intimate. We don't feel like we're privy to something hidden and secret. We feel trapped by the actor, cornered, and we want desperately for the camera to look away. This stuff goes on fo minutes. When the camera finally pulls back to a wider shot of the room, and we're no longer pinned down by those eyes, it's a relief.

Now, in another movie, telling a very different story, that would be an amazing affect. If the director and actor were telling a story that was meant to unnerve us, trap us, make us desperately seek another view, then this would be a winner top to bottom. If this were a villain or at least an evil man, planning evil deeds, it would be perfect. But it's not -- this is a man destroyed by the world who's ostensibly deciding to change his name and change his path, to fix his life. And so this is a terrible way to convey that information.

(A small digression: I keep thinking, as an example, of the very end of the movie Secretary, when Maggie Gyllenhaal turns from watching her husband leave and stares directly into the camera. She's pinning the audience down with her gaze, daring them to judge her. It's absolutely thrilling in the context of everything that happens before it -- and as far as I know from the director's commentary, a complete accident. It's a perfect example of how to break the fourth wall -- for savage effect, but always briefly.)

The other scene is one that stands out as an amazing performance. Anne Hathaway is singing about the destruction of everything she ever wanted in life. It's a woman giving up. And it's gorgeous. The close-up works so well to let us see all the emotions that threaten to choke her singing away. She never once looks at the camera -- instead she looks down or around, at her hands, at the sky. The audience is hidden away in the room with her, watching without her knowledge. We're seeing something secret and truly intimate.

I can only imagine what this scene would be like if she was singing directly into the camera. Would we feel blamed for her misfortunes? Would she seem shrill? Would I desperately want to look anywhere else, rather than just follow her words?

It cannot be stressed enough: terrible camera choices throughout. Makes me think that emotional wonder with Anne Hathaway was a happy accident. Or maybe just Hathaway overcoming the flaws of the director. Hard to say from here.

I wonder if I wouldn't be more forgiving of the story if the whole thing had been left a play. If I was sitting in a theater seat with only one angle available -- wide and all-encompassing. If the whole thing wasn't strapped down with forced "intimacy." Maybe I'd like it better, and not be so quick to pick apart its internal logic.

From:
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
User
Account name:
Password:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
Subject:
HTML doesn't work in the subject.

Message:

 
Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.

Profile

sleepymaggie: (Default)
sleepymaggie

January 2013

S M T W T F S
  12345
6 789 101112
13141516171819
20 212223242526
2728293031  

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 24th, 2017 12:27 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios