Sunday, January 6, 2013

Things I Like A Lot #2: Les Miserables

As mentioned, Les Miserables is one of my all-time favourite books. For a good decade of my life, I would tell people that it was my favourite novel. The journey began with the abridged edition which I picked up on a whim from the public library as a teen. It sounds ridiculous and strange now, but I didn't know anyone else my age during that time who read classic literature for fun.


Because it had been a personal solo project, for a long while I didn't realize that I hadn't read the full novel. When I came across the book again at triple its abridged length, I remember pausing for a moment before picking up. It was a long read, full of Hugo's musings and personal philosophy on religion and politics for chapters at a time, but I felt better informed about why the book was written and felt proud of having read it in its entirety. When I started to work and purchase books instead of borrowing them, one of the first I bought was Les Miserables. I read it once or twice more after that, guiltily skipping over some of the long tangents those times.


While looking for images of the book cover to write this post, I came across the picture below from the original 1862 edition, which has now been immortalized as the emblem for the musical. I think that's just amazing.

Portrait of "Cosette" by Emile Bayard, from the original edition of Les Misérables (1862)
Source: Wikipedia



I missed out on some concert opportunities and was gifted with a video of the 10th Anniversary Concert instead one birthday. I put that video on repeat so often that my family would beg me to stop watching it. Lately I've been playing certain songs from it on YouTube and again my siblings are begging me to stop. The best concert will always be the 10th Anniversary held at Royal Albert Hall with THE DREAM CAST. Years later, I was finally able to see one of the last concerts held in Toronto with Colm Wilkinson making a last run as Jean Valjean.

10th Anniversary Concert - Full Concert



10th Anniversary Concert "Do You Hear The People Sing"



Side note: I am all about Enjolras. :-)

10th Anniversary Concert Finale



I NEED A REVOLUTION, STAT!!!

Despite the mixed reviews, I knew that I had to watch the new Hollywood version of Les Miserables. Foolish me, I thought it was going to be a mix of music and dialogue along the lines of The Sound of Music. It turned out to be a near replica of the musical with a lot of bad singing. Say what you will about Hugh Jackman being a broadway man, but the best singer in the cast turned out to be Eddie Redmayne and -- yes, Anne Hathaway.

I think it's still worth watching the movie because a good story can never be told enough. My personal opinion is that the movie could have taken advantage of its medium and told a much better story, using the book as the source material rather than staging an elaborate copycat version of the musical. It feels to me like a wasted effort on replicating something that could not be bested when they had a fantastic opportunity to create something new and fresh. The musical did something amazing with an old book and created lyrics that delivered the sentiments of a thousand page novel succinctly with just as much, if not more, impact. I read a review somewhere that pointed out that all the close panning of the cameras to the actors' faces was providing an intimacy that the musical could not, but in my unabashed opinion, it's a wasted effort when most of the actors had trouble singing, enunciating and emoting at the same time. And I am in no way blaming the actors for the movie's failures. They are not trained singers. If anyone, I blame the writers, editors and the people at the helm.

Nonetheless... THE DREAM LIVES ON.

2012 Movie Trailer



And now, for my favourite part: following the evolution of a piece of culture to its present effect. It doesn't remain dormant and wither with the pages of old tomes. It doesn't go stale in a movie reel and die with rotten tomatoes. It becomes a part of us as something alive and at large and at work. If I had been in this Graham Norton audience, it would have been embarrassing how loudly I would have sung my heart out. You just can't listen to this and not shout it:

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Hugh Jackman leading the audience into song on The Graham Norton Show (12:46). I recommend watching the entire episode because all three of the male guests are hilarious together.



What does this have to do with beauty and this blog? Not much. All I can offer you on that front is that Fantine's hair looked so shiny and long and pretty in the movie that it inspired me to not chop off my hair, which is about the same length pre-shearing. Dammit, how do I get it to look so shiny and bouncy?

Edited to add: The orchestra conductor of the 10th anniversary concert has KILLER cheekbones! 


Long story short: Going on lengthy rants about being let down is also another thing I Like A Lot.

29 comments:

  1. Hi Liz, It was fun hearing about all aspects and thoughts about Le Mis! I haven't gone to see it yet, but I should! I found an old book copy at my parent's house recently; I started reading it at some point, but couldn't finish. I think it might have helped to see the musical first!

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    1. I have a hard time reading the book if I watch the movie first. Not sure if musicals would have the same effect, but I feel like in this case, you might be right! The book will fill in the gaps that the musical leaves gaping and you can hear the songs as you read. :)

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  2. I really enjoyed this post! I had no idea that the famous illustration came from the novel itself.

    I just saw it this weekend. I am in a different position, as I had neither seen the original in any of its forms, nor had I read the book (although it is on my list). Within my family, my partner really hated it and the rest of us fell somewhere on the love it-hate it spectrum. The general consensus was that the "sing-every-line" model does not work well in movie format. I enjoyed it and I am glad I saw it, but felt that the majority of the dialogue could have been spoken and it would have been a better, and shorter movie. It may have also given the standout musical performances a bit more impact. And I agree - Eddie Redmayne was phenomenal.

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    1. A neat little trivia, huh? :)

      Hi, Sarah. Thanks for sharing your take on it! I agree with most of your comment. My sister liked it a lot and she had no exposure to the novel or the musical aside from what I played too loudly in the house when we were younger. It's enjoyable in its own way and isn't without merits. But it seems that the "sing everything" aspect of the movie didn't sit well with a lot of people. It felt experimental and weird, and I thought some of the transitional scenes were really badly done. (Marius fights in the revolution and suddenly goes back to living the rich life with grandpa. What?) They spent longer time than I thought they would in developing Valjean's earlier struggles and sort of hurried through the second portion by comparison. Also, I feel that they wasted Russell Crowe's quite nice speaking voice by making him sing instead. He would have had more gravitas as Jalvert if he could have used a sterner and colder Maximus voice. ;)

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    2. I agree 100% about Russell Crowe. He is actually in a band (I believe it is Celtic music) and has a perfectly respectable voice, but not necessarily one that could carry off Javert.

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    3. I knew he dabbled in what I thought some sort of bluesy folksy music - didn't realize it was Celtic! Yes, his voice isn't bad. He's just not trained to sing in a more classical manner as the movie dictated.

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  3. I adore the book and the musical. Still waiting to go and see it with a friend as hubby has no interest . I was, like you, the only person in my class who was actually fascinated by classic literature. They were reading goosebumps stuff, it was the 90s and I was the saddo reading Zola at break!

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    1. Yay! LOL @ Goosebumps. That was my sister and brother's era. I did guiltily indulge in my fair share of Sweet Valley High and Fear Street books though. It wasn't always all classic, but I grew up feeling like there was no one to bond over the serious stuff with.

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  4. I actually have no interest in either the book or the musical :X These things...these super sad things...I don't have the energy, lol! But I'm with you on reading classical literature as a teenager! Even most adults don't read that stuff, but a lot of it is really educational and the experience is so worth it. Even if I hate the story/characters (all Bronte stories and characters make me roll my eyes), I can usually still appreciate what makes the novel great. And that's enjoyable.

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    1. Thanks for being honest! It's kind of like me with television - I have no interest in serious dramas really. More escapist the better in that arena. The thing is Les Mis isn't even all that sad. It's about hope and love and redemption and mercy more than the anything else. I have trouble reading the REALLY depressing stuff like Crime and Punishment so we all have our threshold somewhere, LOL.

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  5. People are going to hate me, but Les Mis has never been one of my favourite musicals to be honest. I've seen it once, and have never wanted to see it again. It's ok, but just not my cuppa tea. There's just SO MUCH singing in it-too much even for me and I love to sing. I'd have loved to see Colm Wilkinson sing it though as he is one of the best tenors I've ever heard. I'll probably just wait to rent this version.
    I do like the book A LOT better though. When I was in High School I went through a classics phase and even read Dostoevsky. I wish High School English would incorporate a classic book every year into the curriculum. I think that would be awesome!

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    1. I still love you, the way you love me even if I hate the Muppets! ;)

      I had no interest in Cats or Phantom of the Opera, even though Phantom was in Toronto for like f*cking FOREVER. The world would be really boring if we all liked the same things all the time!

      Dostoevsky is hardcore. I read Crime and Punishment years ago, only because the guy I liked gave it to me as a holiday gift. I didn't like it and told him so, and so obviously we never happened, LOL!

      High school English was full of American modern classics when I went through it. I think their current focus seems to be on Canadiana and postmodernism with a dash of mandatory Shakespeare.

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  6. We had to read Les Miserables for school in eighth grade, and I really enjoyed it! My heart tore into pieces by the end of it. Hahaha, growing up, it was actually my parents who played Les Mis the musical for me and my brother every year. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie even though Russell Crowe's singing was just horrifying.

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    1. The full length edition?? If so, WOW. Props to your teacher!

      Russell Crowe has a nice speaking voice and I think it was completely wasted on the lackluster singing. He also clearly didn't read the book, as Jalvert is a cold, methodical bastard and Crowe didn't get any of that across.

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  7. If it wasn't already glaringly obvious before, it is now: you are SO my soulmate!! :D

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    1. :DDD

      I would have been devastated if my wifey didn't enjoy Les Mis! (Okay, I would have gotten over it but you know what I mean.) Kisses!

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  8. I haven't seen this... and to be honest, I haven't read it either >.< I have enough to deal with in real life, so I like to keep my entertainment, well, entertaining. So, I do my best to avoid "miserable" shows (pun MIGHT be intended) with lots of tissues involved. That said, I enjoyed reading what you thought of it :-)

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    1. I do that with TV and have gotten back to watching soaps of all things, LOL! Also Nikita and Vampire Diaries are thoroughly entertaining and as far from reality as possible. :)

      With books, I do sometimes wish that the monumental achievements like the classics weren't so focused on human misery, but it's a part of the study and there's no avoiding it. I read them voluntarily when young; now it's a mandatory part of the curriculum!

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  9. Oh man, I really loved this when I was in elementary school (I was a weird, precocious child), but haven't checked it out since I hit puberty––you're making me think I should! In my oodles of free time, HAHAHAHAHA. But seriously, your musings were very interesting! My mother wants to see the movie, so I'll probably end up going, but I'm sorry to hear it's not all that and a bag of chips :-/

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    1. I love you, you weird, precocious person! <3

      I'm glad that I saw it and that we got a discussion started! Following the threads from beginning to the end (or to current status) is so satisfying!

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  10. oh my god I know! Anne Hathaway's hair!! I don't understand how it always looks so shiny and good, which I realize is far from the point of this post, but GUH. Ok, also I'm adding this to my list of books to read. Should I start with the abridged version, or dive right in? I feel like I'm one of those people who would skim right through Hugo's musings...although I did read Paradise Lost without skimming (ok maybe a little bit of skimming when Michael was all hey Adam, lemme recite the Bible basically and do it in the most boring way possibly this shall be your sneaky pre-punishment) and actually enjoyed it. But you tell me, I trust your judgment! If you think I can handle the unabridged version, I shall power through that.

    P.S. Love that you read classics as a child, Liz-Buddha.

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    1. AH has awesome hair to begin with, but what they did with it pre-cutting was amazing. Ugh.

      I think you can definitely tackle the full version of Les Mis if you can enjoy Milton so much. But then maybe you have better attention for epic poems than long novels. (I'm all about prose and novels - poetry requires 3x the brain power for me.) If you're counting on entertainment factor, I say go for the abridged. Hugo can be humorous but I have to admit he's pretty boring at times.

      Have you read the Robertson Davies book I sent you? I still need to send you Fifth Business if you haven't gotten your hands on it.

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    2. I had almost finished it before I started school....and then I started school hahahha. So much on my booklist that I haven't had time for pleasure reading, and of course when I got back from break I just had to reread Tolkien. But I will definitely finish it next time I'm home, it's a great read. Did you finish Perfume, by the way? And Fifth Business was the one you sent me :)

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    3. Oops, just kidding! You sent me The Manticore, but I managed to track down Fifth Business.

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    4. Sorry, haven't gotten around to Perfume. I wasn't reading anything leisurely for a while either. But glad you have Fifth Business! I need to send you World of Wonder to complete the trilogy. :)

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  11. Props to you for getting through (and loving!) that brick of a book. I crumpled a few chapters in. ;)

    I assume you saw this cliff notes version? http://www.buzzfeed.com/stacylambe/a-les-miz-character-guide

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    1. The abridged version for you then. No shame in reading them; it's reading all the same!

      LOL @ the omfg and bishop

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  12. I just saw the movie on Sunday and I pretty much agree with everything you've said, Liz. I didn't read the novel but I saw the musical in person when I was quite young, in my mid-teens I think? And LOVED it. But the movie did not recall the same feelings in me as I had when I saw the musical - obviously, but I almost was waiting for it to be finished; I felt frustrated because the story is so wonderful but something was lacking in the movie for me. I agree it wasn't the actors fault, although Russell's singing killed me - like he was trying so hard to sound good he forgot to have any expression at all. I liked Hugh's acting and he's got a good voice, but again, lacked for me. Surprizingly I did love Anne's voice (though irritated that she got so much talk for the movie when she's in it for all of 15 minutes), and I think Eddie did the best out of all of them - just stunning, especially for a dude who looks like a jock (right?!).

    And there's my two cents lol. Yay rants!

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    1. Russell's getting slammed by everyone, but I thought Hugh Jackman's singing was just as weird. So high and nasally. They both have such lovely speaking voices, I was sad to not hear the same reflected in their singing. Hugh > Russell for sure though!

      Eddie looks like a jock? The only other thing I saw him in was the miniseries Pillars of the Earth where he played a moonstruck dingbat, so I just can't see that about him, LOL. The Burberry ads don't add to the jock sensation either, but he sure is pretty!

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