Monday, December 31, 2012

More Happy, Les Misérables (or "Musical Movies and Why I Don't Get Them")

1 comment
My hand to God, none of the four different counter people I talked to knew how to pronounce Les Misérables in the proper French. At least they all pronounced it the same way.

Back in '08 and up until '10, I went through a bit of a French phase. My Facebook was in French, I played French language learning games, had IM chats in French with friends whose responses would lag a bit because of their ctrl+tabbing between the open chat window and Google Translate and hoping my swift (and admittedly, broken) French responses would perhaps impress on them the inkling that maybe I did know how to parle français.

Did you know that the French language contributes a lot to the English language through food? Mutton, beef, veal, restaurant, café, sauté, chiffonade, pâté, are all French contributions to the language of the current lingua franca.

The French gave us good bread, cheeses, a cool art style to stain windows with, quirky poignant animated filmselectronic music that don't suck, and most importantly, the first Muslim BatmanThey also have a rich history with the old Hundred Years' War thing and the French Revolution and what. So I'm a bit of a francophile is what I'm trying to say.


Les Misérables is originally a novel (Victor Hugo, 1862) which has since been adapted into a musical (Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil,1980) from which the 2012 film starring Wolverine, Catwoman and Gladiator sprung forth.

Its use of live recorded singing made for some very emotional performances. Except for whatever Russel Crowe was doing. Good God. Didn't anyone have Alan Rickman's number?

All in all, I thought it was good, but a bit too long. The use of close-ups for solos was engaging, but after the fourth one, it began to feel trite. You're a film! In 2012! Move the camera arouuuuund.

As far as the singing goes, explaining the colors of the revolution was unnecessary and some bits are just characters singing about their feelings.

But wait, some of you may say. This is a sung-through musical film, of course they're all singing all the time!

This is true. I thought of this. And so I began to think of the structure of musicals and how they're written and presented and I've come to some interesting points to ponder.

One of my favourite musical films is Sweeney Todd. I enjoyed the songs very much. And that's when I realized the problem I have with musical films.

I'm listening for songs I like instead of paying attention to the story in the film.

So are musical films a collection of songs presented visually with an underlying theme?
Or are they a film genre with their own rules and structure?

Let's try to figure this out.


Any story can be divided into three acts:

Act I : The protagonist is introduced, the setting is presented, a baseline of emotion or a mood is set. The setup.

Act II : Conflict is introduced, the setting changes. The baseline of emotion or mood is disrupted. The problem.

Act III : The conflict is resolved, the setting is back to normal (or peacefully introduced to a new kind of normal). The resolution.

None of the musical films I've ever seen follows this structure. (Perhaps I'm wrong, but to my knowledge, this is true.) 

Conflict is introduced and things come to a conclusion, true. But the way in which things are structured are not tied to the length of the film. Probably why Les Misérables felt too long. New conflicts and characters are introduced rapidly almost just to keep the audiences interested.

Keeping your audience interested is well and good, but doing it at the expense of the focus on the main characters will confuse the audience and make them 'work' to figure out who to pay attention to. 

Not an entirely bad thing, but very unusual and particular to only this form of film.

Suppose you want to make a film, and have it be a musical. Should you come up with good songs and write scenes around them? Or should you write a film, and only then tack on the 'musical bits' on top?

Neither of these methods seem to make sense if your goal is to make an engaging film that carries you through with music and song.

The only logical way that I see is to have your scenes ready (and write a proper film), then write songs around the scenes, after which you may shuffle them into the movie and later on write more songs that weave the scenes into each other by tying them thematically.

Of course, the problem here may be just that I have never seen a well-structured and engaging musical movie. *shrug*

As it is right now, I can't recommend watching Les Misérables  because it's a film you won't miss in cinemas. If someone wants to watch it with you, then by all means go. But do it for them and not the movie. It's just alright.

If you guys know a good (really worth watching, I mean) musical movie let me know. I may have things to learn, still.

People are raving over Hathaway's performance and Hugh Jackman's also. I'm quite surprised that Hathaway sings that well. 

As for Wolverine, we already know he can sing, don't we?

1 comment:

  1. Here are some musical films I recommend you watching: West Side Story (1961) or Oliver (1968) or even My Fair Lady (1964).... Nowadays, people just forgot how to make good musicals like those films. Well, I'm a person who grew up watching them. So, perhaps there's a different perspective of looking at Lay Mize-ghabluh as a musical film.

    And yeah, I did not feel as excited after watching this 2012 film as I was watching those older films. Why ah? I also dunno.