by Sam Juliano
One of the running jokes the last few weeks is how many times I have watched Les Miserables on the big screen. I have kept this big secret from circulating, as I would surely be seen as someone with more than a few screws loose if I divulged the truth. I have always regarded a musical film as more imminently condusive to re-viewings if for no other reason than to revel in the songs in much the same way someone would listen to a CD album at home. The theatre’s booming speakers and the big screen visualization of course make it much too tempting if the theatre is just minutes from your home. Alas, in the spirit of full divulgence I hereby provide the evidence for the loss of my sanity, if indeed I ever had any when it comes to movies on the outside.
After what seemed like an eternity for the Christmas Day opening, I escorted my family to attend a sneak preview on Christmas Eve at 10:00 P.M. a day ahead of the planned viewing. The problem with this strategy is that we uniformly refused to forfeit our original itinerary, and went ahead with the holiday viewing, seeing Les Miz a second time, albeit two hours earlier at 8. What does one do after watching the same film on two successive days, much less days few would ever venture out to a multiplex? The answer is bonafide lunacy. See it again on the day after Christmas, and then a fourth time the following night after that. So there you have it. Four nights consecutively. The first two were with the full family contingent, the third with my wife and two daughters, and the fourth with two cousins. After that four-peat I stayed clear of screens showing the cinematic transcription of one of the most successful musical theater phenomenons in history, content to that point to listen to the CD score in my computer room.
That is until earlier this evening, when I indulged in a fifth showing with my son Danny and my very good friend and site colleague Dennis Polifroni, who had not seen the film until now. So after two weeks and change I again submitted to the ravishing score, relentless close-ups and live singing that invariably define this most interesting musical hybrid. I expected either deju vu or a modest falling out. What I got was quite the opposite. Seemingly invigorated with the mantra of absence makes the heart grow fonder I found director Hooper’s controversial decisions more satisfying than ever, and the film’s emotional core as resonant as every single past viewing. It’s like I am saying to myself yeah he got it right. He knew precisely how to maximize the emotional potential of this material. In the car on the way home, Dennis glowingly praised Hooper’s strategy and thought the director’s branch blew it for not awarding him with a nomination. I assured Dennis that the film did quite well with eight other nominations, a solid review concensus, and of course the big showing at the Globes the other night, where it won more awards that any other film.
The film would have done even better with the critics if there wasn’t a backlash after the standing ovations the film had originally received in New York during previews for Broadway personnel. Many believed there was some resentment for a theatre crowd making confident calls on a different medium, and there was certain disdain for Tom Hooper, who just had his day in the sun two years ago. The result was that some unfavorable reviews were especially vicious toward Hooper’s bold choices and even a few of the singers. Mind you this was a distinct minority, but it stung just at the vital time when everyone was watching.
Film musicals usually bear the negative brunt of the youthful blogger critic, most of whom have no taste or background in musical theater, opera or recitatives. The musical has always alienated some who never got beyond the implausibility, even in the case of something like Les Miserables that is far closer to straight opera than conventional song and dance. Of course, Schonberg and Boublil knew back in the mid 80′s when they wrote their ravishing score that Hugo’s philosophical and emotional novel required an operatic slant right down to the singing of nearly every last phrase. There can never be appreciation for this kind of art form by those predisposed against it or from others who simply don’t appreciate this kind of music in the first place.
In any case, this evening’s repeat viewing confirmed the soaring lyricism, the extraordinary performances from Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks and the most acceptable work from Russell Crowe, the latter of whom is a favorite target from those who deem to make summary judgement on his singing ability. The story arc and various scene segues being more familiar now seemed to work better than ever, and the technical contributions from the cinematography to the costumes and sound mixing were all on a high level of accomplishment.
Those who claim they dislike the film point to bombast, but this of course is precisely what Les Miserables aims to project in it’s epic scope, while it’s intimate aspects are wholly sublime. Many who have criticized Hooper’s artistic choices of course are people who have never directed a scene in their lives. The criticisms are really a justification of a negative or indifferent view of the source material.
Les Miserables on the fifth go-around is just as great as it was during the fourth visit and surely on par to how it will be assessed when the half-dozen number is achieved. If I were to do my Ten Best list over again today, I’d be hard-pressed to have this lower than poll position. Like last year’s The Artist, it’s really my favorite film of 2012, regardless of how I numbered it, and I was thrilled to hear such effusive praise from Dennis. This is why lists are only good for the day they are composed. I will rectify the situation next week when I cast my first vote ever for the Muriel Awards, after being invited a few days ago.