Also, do you know he and Larry David wrote all the Seinfeld scripts by hand?!
“Les Miserables,” without sounding dramatic, changed my life. One of the best parts of an otherwise tortured high school existence was my chorus. Its images, story and music left an indelible impression: the image of light shining on the beatific faces each time a character died; Valjean running in a whirlwind chase though he just went around the stage. I knew we had entered another world, the theatre, with its own rules.
But most of all, I loved that show because I knew somehow in some way the imagination would be the home of my future profession. Victor Hugo’s classic novel and Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg masterpiece musical set the bar high whether you want to be a writer, actress, or composer.
People like me makes “Les Mis” a great find for studios looking to cash in on a built-in audience and a nightmare for a director looking to put a stamp on a story that has resonated with fans for over 25 years. What could director Tom Hooper bring to the table?
For me: Hooper Brought It. If theatre has its own rules, so does cinema and Hooper knows those rules and knows when to break them. From the opening scene with the crashing waves barraging the bodies and souls of weary prisoners to the majestic funeral procession that no theatre could depict, Hooper made the musical his. He made it into a cinematic experience, and still offered legions of fans the close-up’s of actors that only orchestral seats could provide. Future generations could almost think that the film inspired the musical. Almost.
In musicals, the voices are the characters as much as the acting and here is where the movie faltered. No one breaks into song with dialogue for reprieve. The entire story is sung and that demands strong voices as much as strong actors. To Hooper’s immense credit, he broke tradition and had his actors sing live during filming, with earpieces so they could hear the piano accompaniment. It made the story come alive but not all the voices were up to the task.
Russell Crowe was completely miscast as Javert in voice and characterization. Javert is a daunting figure with a baritone voice. Javert may be cold on the outside, but he is torn on the inside. Given the entire movie was mainly close-up’s of the actors, the inner life must shine through. It didn’t even peep through with Crowe.
Amanda Seyfried had “Mamma Mia” to her credit so perhaps the producers thought, why not? Well, why not was because she can’t hit the notes. The purity of Cosette comes out in the pure Vienna Boys Choir type of soprano that the actress who plays her usually brings to the table.
Eddie Redmayne’s Marius was terrific, but I couldn’t help notice Redmayne shook every time he sang. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t un-notice it. Reading up on him, he admitted that he’d never been in a musical and trained only for the movie. Given that, it was damn good.
I didn’t dig Sacha Baron Cohen’s Italian (or whatever accent he was going for) take on the innkeeper. Cohen could’ve easily played a fat-bellied, Cockney lewd man. Why he didn’t, I don’t know. But I guess people know the comedian and the audience laughed even when he said nothing.
Hugh Jackman was mesmerizing — as was his physique yet again though in a different way than Wolverine’s — but it was obvious that he’s not a natural tenor. After the movie, I looked it up and he admits that for 8 years his vocal training has gotten to stretch the octave range of his natural baritone.
The problem is not Jackman. It’s just once you’ve heard Colm Wilkinson’s Jean Valjean, no one comes close.
There is an inimitable tenderness and beauty to Mr. Wilkinson’s voice. Just the first three words of his rendition of “Bring Him Home” (forever in my memory as “God on High”) will send tremors down your spine. You are hoping God is listening to that man’s prayer for if not his, then no one’s with our crude voices pleading and bargaining with the cold Universe.
I waited breathlessly because Samantha Barks had THE SONG of the musical, that girls still audition to, that even “Glee” opened with: “On My Own.” Barks did well, not mind blowing – and has a tiny waist. But she even said that due to the live singing on set, “vocal vanity had to be put to the side” so perhaps that’s the trade-off to capture honesty cinematically.
Aaron Tveit killed it as Enjolaras. He’s a Broadway musical star (Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can). Like Jackman, his voice and entire being projects that experience. Here’s a great behind-the-scenes look at the song “Red and Black” and interview of Tveit on how the songs were shot on ew.com, ”…filming Red and Black.”
But apart from Jackman who was the movie’s core, Anne Hathaway was astounding. I completely disagree with Anthony Lane’s “New Yorker” review. Then again, many of its reviews or articles dismiss any hint of emotion as emotionalism or sentimentality. Such was the case with the reviewer, Mr. Lane, who wrote that Hathaway ”probably took one look at the material and realized that the only way to survive it was by the naked power of oomph.”
Hathaway was not over-the-top. One only has to go to a third world brothel (yes, I’ve been) to know the broken lives of these women who are “the bottom of the heap” — much less the terror of being in that position over a 150 years ago. So if you wanted a more subtle rendering of a woman broken by life, forced into prostitution, well, it’s not subtle. It’s gross and horrible and should rip your heart out. Hathaway did that.
Although Jezebel’s article, “You Probably Like Les Mis Because You Have the Shitty Tastes of a Tween” may have some accurate points for why some people may like it — it features the ever suffering girl in love with her oblivious best friend — none of those points applied to me.
Way back when I didn’t know my head from my ass, and knew little of love or the world – either a day or fifteen years ago depending on how you view it – it wasn’t Eponine who caught my heart but Fantine, Valjean, and the boys of the barricade. Even Eponine, representative of teen unrequited love everywhere, on closer look is not so much a tween “Sixteen Candles” figure but a girl with a shitty life who falls in love with the one person who’s shown her kindness.
I also don’t think a story based on a novel that has lasted over a century reflects bad taste. The story has traversed language, culture, and ethnicity and the musical is a hit in several countries in every continent for the past quarter century. Despite logistical barriers, a common humanity instinctively speaks to us on many levels — this site highlights many of the themes and questions.
Take “Empty Chairs, Empty Tables.” Somehow it seems that the essence of grief has been captured musically. Lyrically it resonates with all who have experienced loss: “there’s a grief that can’t be spoken, as the pain goes on and on…” to crescendo into that lament, “forgive me that I live and you are gone.” It seems like if that silent agony could be sung, it would sound just like that. That’s the beauty of the musical, that marriage between emotion, lyrics, and music in perfect balance.
To be able to do all that takes keen observation of society and a master hand and powerful imagination to create a compelling story. Hugo did that in the novel, Schoenberg-Boubil did that for the musical, and now Hooper has captured the same magic cinematically.
For a limited time, “Lincoln,” “Ted,” “Amour,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and many more available here http://bit.ly/TIcdnC.
Everyone has an opinion, but this vitriolic critiques makes me think of some of the “New York Times” theatre critics: “Why NBC’s Whitney is the absolute worst TV show in years.” Really? “One of the worst” and “epitomizes everything wrong with the TV industry”? There is a lot of TV that critic has not watched (those borderline child abuse shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” or “Honey Boo Boo”)?. But more relevant is his “why.” One of the key things you learn in any critique course is how to navigate opinion with theses backed by relevant arguments. Humor is subjective, no doubt, but some of the arguments he presents I’ve heard before are disturbing since they have nothing to do with the story, whether the approach is original, joke structures, etc. It’s an attack, usually on Whitney Cummings.
One critique is of “Whitney”s use of laugh tracks. Critics say laugh tracks belongs in the 70′s, the 60′s whatever decade but this one. Yeah, so does arguing about birth control for a woman, homophobia, and creationism but here we are. Multicam shows often use laugh tracks, i.e.”Big Bang Theory” and “How I Met Your Mother.” The above graph from blog “Why How I Met Your Mother Needs Its Laugh Tracks” talks about laugh tracks much better. My thing: I don’t even notice the tracks.
Another critique: the show isn’t groundbreaking. What on network TV is allowed to be? Once in a while “Will and Grace” or “Lost” or “Glee” will slip through the cracks. Those are rare hits. Why should humor not serve the sole purpose of its existence which is to entertain? Comedy about a woman and her inability to have a good relationship or struggling within a good one is older than “Sex and the City,” dating back to…ever since history began I’d venture. So is boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl yet that formula never gets old if written in a fresh light. To me, “Whitney” is actually fresher storyline than legal procedurals, medical procedurals, superheroes, shows about gay men (nope, not groundbreaking anymore).
Plus, groundbreaking is in the eye of the beholder. As a minority woman, I find “Scandal” and “The Mindy Project” groundbreaking. Key and Peele, which is one of the funniest comedy teams out there doing skits — and maybe the funniest outside the UK — is groundbreaking. I find “Community” and “Family Guy” pushing boundaries. Plus, outside of TV, women who are like Whitney — messed up, from broken backgrounds, who sleep around — are dismissed. It is easier to call a woman a slut or c— or bitch than it is to call a gay man or woman a derogatory term today. There were more suicides by girls for being bullied and labelled as sluts than of gay teenagers. So, to me, yes, “Whitney,” like “Girls” is relevant and necessary and entertaining to boot.
The most absurd critique is that the show focuses on her. Um, yes. Just like any star-driven vehicle. The A story is always the star and some episodes are heavily balanced in the star’s favor and some episodes are not. Some actors get development deals because of the very fact that they have an in-built audience and recognizable brand/voice. Just like Seinfeld was about…Seinfeld. He didn’t sexualize himself like Whitney sometimes does — though to me, it’s playing up her assets and brand rather than “sexualizing” (if I had her body, I’d run around half naked ALL the time). No one wants to see Seinfeld half naked and he knows it. That’s not his brand or appeal. Whitney is hot — or, at the least pretty and in great shape. Not everyone’s cup of tea — I personally like curvaceous women like Sofia Vergara more than tall, hipless, and skinny but pretty is pretty. I don’t know why there are haters about this. And thank God, she’s not quirky. I’d love to see her be bolder, more messed up, and play that up. No Quirky!
Same with the male lead, Chris D’Elia. He’s not my type but he’s charming in his way, and I enjoy the chemistry between the two leads. It makes the show. Personally, good for him that he’s not cut from the same cloth as clean-cut men touted to us as the only datable material. I’ve lived in Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs, like D’Elia’s character, look like him. Hell, even Jon Hamm looks more like Whitney’s on-screen boyfriend than like Don Draper (from the pix I’ve seen; no real life proof but only pix courtesy TMZ).
To me the hardest thing to pull off is sincerity without earnestness or pedantry, especially in humor. That’s why Will Farrell is so damn sweet no matter how erratic his behavior. That’s why Apatow’s films work. That’s why “Modern Family” is a hit. To me, “Whitney” hits that balance. And when it doesn’t, because it’s still trying to find itself as a new show and it isn’t as consistently funny as “Parks and Rec” for sure, it sure as hell isn’t because of how she looks or the laugh tracks.
Great post I discovered in my inbox from Script magazine, “Balls of Steel: What Makes Writers Fail.” Plenty of articles on writing good scripts but no one can claim on knowing how to break in. Here, the author doesn’t even try. And, of course, I read it to see if there was anything I was doing!
After reading it, I think it’s a list to keep yourself happy as a writer, no matter what your definition of success. If your definition of “success” changes — as it must in an industry which often overlooks the original, fresh and energetic for the reboot, sequel or remake — so must your definition of “failure.” An alternative title for this article could be “What If…You Believed in Yourself.” Love that! The author’s comments are the true reflections of the kind of generous spirit she reflects in the article.
I’m not at all cynical so I think the energetic youth she refers to — the youth embodying the blissful ignorance and all-encompassing passion we all had — from the lates Go Forth generation (great Levis campaign) will go forth and change all that with digital media. For sure it will as it must. In the meantime, enjoy:
BALLS OF STEEL: What Makes a Writer Fail
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman
Writers connect with films, scripts and their characters, but we often forget to connect with each other. Isolation is one guarantee answer to what makes a writer fail, but there are many more.
We are placed on this earth to experience life in a way only human beings can. Unlike animals, we laugh, cry, hate, love, fill our hearts with envy, jealousy and anxiety. We don’t just project those emotions onto other people; we torture ourselves with self-loathing, insecurities and disappointment.
Let’s play a game of “what if?”
Many writers, myself included, set a character up in a situation and ask, “What if… I made her talk to that person in this scene? What if… I had her plane nosedive? What if… her ex-husband walked in and pointed a gun at her?
We’re all familiar with asking that question in our writing, but what if we asked it in our lives?
What if… you believed in yourself?
Sit with that thought for a moment. Close your eyes and visualize experiencing life fully committed to believing in yourself and your ability to succeed. That is a powerful intention. One I wish I had when I was in college, full of insecurities and pushing away my writing professor who begged me to leave Cornell’s Hotel School and major in Creative Writing.
This week, I got to go back to college and crawl into the mind of my 19-year-old self.
Hendrix College’s Filmmakers Club generously invited me to lecture on Navigating the Industry Outside of Hollywood. As I flew into Little Rock, Arkansas, I prepared myself to answer all of their aspiring filmmaker questions. I told tales of my adventures, gave tips on building relationships by paying it forward, and shared mysocial media addiction prowess, proving how I have crafted a legitimate career from my country home in New York State. As I wrapped up, I asked if they at least got one helpful nugget of advice and what that golden bit was.
One student enthusiastically said, “Hope,” to which many voices echoed with heads nodding in agreement.
After my talk, several students joined us to continue the discussion, their hungry minds picking my brain. Talking shop with these bright students made me envious of them. At their young age, they knew what their passion was and were going after it.
They gave me hope.
But it also made me wonder how many students of Hendrix secretly wanted to be filmmakers but didn’t come to the event or stay after to have a deeper conversation with me?
How many people are sidestepping their dreams because they don’t believe in themselves?