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Time to talk Les Mis 
16th-Jan-2013 06:58 pm
Not SPN icon
I know SPN is just around the corner but I wanted to chat briefly about Les Miserables.

I watched Les Mis a few weeks ago. Since then I've read a some reviews and have spoken to a few people about it. I've needed to do this because after I watched it I was left with a mess of reactions to it and I haven't been able to express what I actually thought about it. I was at once in awe and bored. I was in tears and then looking at my watch. I loved it and hated it. I was entranced but also incredibly frustrated by much of it.

I am posting now because I've come across a review that nails it for me. I want to share this because it's not only a comprehensive and entertaining review of Les Mis it's also a FABULOUS lesson in cinematography (and Film Making 101).

This is the review: Hulk Vs Tom Hooper and the art of Cinematic Affection

I'm new to this reviewer. He calls himself Hulk and does his reviews in 2nd person and in capital letters. Yeah. Sounds pretentious - except he knows his stuff and this style (I suppose) is about standing out among a hundred reviewers.

The style doesn't particularly suit me but what he says and how he says it does.

This review helped me to understand why I admired so much of this film (the performances, the story, the sets and a lot of the music) but didn't come away actually feeling anything. Or rather I didn't come away saying "OMG! That was incredible!" - which is what I was totally expecting to do. I know a film has worked for me when I feel like I have experienced something. An emotion, a new insight, a thrill, an escape.... Les Mis certainly left me feeling some of these things but it ultimately left me feeling unaffected and cold.

I'm really glad I saw it on the big screen. There was much I loved - Anne Hathaway's song, I Dream, was one of the best things I've experienced in forever, and the sets, costumes and commitment by the performers was impressive. (Though I am completely puzzled by the casting of Russell Crowe - I figure it was about his gravitas over his singing).

But this isn't about individual performances or singing abilities. Or whether the musical Les Miserables is a fabulous musical or not. It's about how the director, Tom Hooper, failed to allow his some of his audience members (me!) to connect with it. It comes down to film making.

Even if you found no fault in the film whatsoever I recommend this review for the Cinematography 101 section (about half way down). I adore this stuff - it's insightful and just downright interesting. READ IT if you are interested in what makes films work...or not.

oh, and a quote from this review I really liked...."And thus it brings us squarely into one of the most vile and misused words in the intellectual canon: pretentious. When talking about movies, or art, or individuals people seem to use the word pretentious wrong all the time. Most of the time they mean esoteric. Sometimes they mean ostentatious. But when someone is pretentious it means they are reaching for merit that is undeserved.

16th-Jan-2013 12:10 pm (UTC)
I love Les Mis (book and musical) and I've been excited about the movie ever since I found out about it. I haven't seen it yet, because it only comes to the cinema around here at Feburary 21st and even then I still have to find someone to go with me. LOL I wish they had cast Anne for Eponine, though, but that's just me because I love Anne and Eponine is one of my favorite fictional characters ever. :)

However when I read this I'm feeling a little wary about it. I guess I'm just gonna see how it goes for me. :D
16th-Jan-2013 12:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's most definitely a personal experience. I think it might differ for those going into it with a love for the book and/or musical and what they want or expect from it.

I pretty much knew nothing (having not read the book or seen the musical on stage) so I went in with no expectations (other than knowing it was a famous and much loved musical).

To me Anne is amazing in the role of Fantine - I'm sure she would have been wonderful as Eponine also (though I really liked the girl who played her in the film).

See it for sure! It's a film experience and worth seeing. It just didn't leave me as emotionally connected with it as I think it could have done.
16th-Jan-2013 02:11 pm (UTC)
I will. Just try not to get up my hopes too much (similar to SPN tonight ;D).

Oh I'm sure she was. She's an amazing actress. I just love the role of Eponine a little more than the of Fantine. ;) I have a soft spot for the sad characters. LOL
16th-Jan-2013 12:31 pm (UTC)
Film Critic Hulk writes lots of great stuff and is definitely worth following on Twitter.

Here's a great "behind the scenes - making of" video around of Les Mis you might enjoy.
16th-Jan-2013 12:50 pm (UTC)
Ooh what's his twitter? I would love to follow.

and did you have a link for the making of vid? I love bts stuff. :)

I'm torn because I know an enormous amount of effort and thought would have gone into making this movie but after reading this I totally understand why much of it didn't work for me...

16th-Jan-2013 01:01 pm (UTC)
16th-Jan-2013 01:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks! <3
16th-Jan-2013 12:58 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen the movie, but that article was fantastic. The way the reviewer talks about the effectiveness of close-ups, reminded me of Kim Manners, actually. Manners also knew how to use close-up to maximum emotional effect. I truly miss his camera work on SPN.
16th-Jan-2013 01:11 pm (UTC)
Isn't it great?! I was in heaven reading it and going... YES YES YES! The break down of shots and angles and how it works to tell the story was fascinating. On the one hand he makes it sound like it's so easy and yet we know how hard it is to get it just right.

And I too thought of Kim...
16th-Jan-2013 12:58 pm (UTC)
I haven't watched the film yet (as there's no cinema in town) but I really want to out of a huge sense of curiosity - I grew up with the music for almost the entirety of my childhood and when I was finally able to go, I went to London to see the original broadway stageplay live, so when I saw the trailers for this I was equally thrilled and exceedingly nervous to see what came of it. I hold no expectations. So as soon as I can find a decent download, I'm off to watch it! :D
16th-Jan-2013 01:17 pm (UTC)
No cinema...whaaaaaa....:((

It is most definitely a film to see - if only out of curiosity and a love for the stage play. I saw because I was fascinated by the idea that the actors were able to sing as it was being filmed and not recorded and dubbed over later. It looked wonderful in the trailers and I was eager to see the performances.

I know many people loved it but, like Avatar (for me), it just didn't make me go....WOW!
16th-Jan-2013 01:31 pm (UTC)
I feel like such an old lady now. I tried to read the review twice, and in both cases the complete upper case stopped me cold. The style of writing (BUT BEFORE WE GO ON, HULK REALLY DOES HAVE TO EMPHASIZE JUST HOW MUCH HULK HATES THESE THINGS. might have turned me completely off anyway, but I was willing to give that a try to see if I could get past that to the wisdom underneath.

But the all caps just made my head hurt too much and I gave up.
16th-Jan-2013 07:26 pm (UTC)
I ended up copying it and pasting it into word and changing it all to sentence case. The caps were too much for me also. ;)

The 2nd person is annoying also but once I got past that what he is saying is very interesting. :)

16th-Jan-2013 01:36 pm (UTC)
I'm actually looking forward to watching an episode of Supernatural as it has Felicia Day in it.

Just takes one of my favorite redheads to reel me in...

Edited at 2013-01-16 01:37 pm (UTC)
16th-Jan-2013 07:49 pm (UTC)
Oh yes. She's been in one before - 7.20 (The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo). It was a great episode and she was fantastic. I am looking forward to more eps with her in them. :)
16th-Jan-2013 08:02 pm (UTC)
Somehow I missed that one. Guess I need to look it up and find it.
16th-Jan-2013 10:57 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you'll enjoy it. It's one of my fav fun eps. :))
16th-Jan-2013 01:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the link. I know nothing at all about cinematography, but I think this explains some things. I found much of the first part, in particular, quite cold and unmoving - before it erupts into a cast of thousands and you are looking at a fairly intimate story: the battle of wills between Valjean and Javert. That's an odd thing to be unmoved by, really.

Although, I could have done without the capslock. I wonder if Hulk might understand that his formatting does to my brain what misused cinematography does to his. :)

The thing about Crowe is that I felt he didn't have any gravitas. I think he might have made an excellent Javert in a non-musical adaptation, but here I thought he was devoting about 90 per cent of his brain to hitting the right notes and the remaining ten per cent to not tripping over his own feet, and that left no room for actual acting. Javert is a difficult part, because his unyielding attitude is not automatically sympathetic. It takes work and nuance to make him human. If you can just barely carry a tune, that isn't going to happen.

I found a lot of Hugh Jackman's Valjean frustrating, too, though. One of the things I admire about the musical is that it manages to pack just about all of this brick of a novel into a reasonable amount of viewing time. I've never seen a film adaptation that was able to accomplish anything like that. But in order to do it, you've got to use the music as a tool - and I thought the way Jackman talked through a lot of his songs worked against that, and he can sing. A lot of the time, you've got one three-minute solo to completely change your character's point of view. If you talk through it, you're losing the thread that takes you from point A to point B.

I did, however, think the young people were all excellent and did a lot to redeem the experience. And it is an amusingly rewarding experience if you've read the book. Hey, it's Marius's grumpy grandpa! And Gavroche's elephant! And they reworked the barricade stuff to look like the novel! And poor Fantine's teeth!
17th-Jan-2013 06:34 am (UTC)
I read your review immediately after I watched and agreed with a lot of what you said. Though I was moved my Anne's Fatine and many of the young performers. I agree they were fantastic. In fact, other than Russell I can't fault the performances - I just felt disconnected from the whole thing and I wondered (after reading this) if it was because of the way it was filmed.

My thinking with Russell Crowe's casting is that his persona carries gravitas (imo) and it might have been thought that that would carry him through this. I agree that he would have carried the role off perfectly without the signing. I think he is a solid actor but I felt so awkward watching him sing.

And yes! Being yelled at is a difficult way to read. I copied it all into word and changed the case so I could read it more easily. Plus I want to keep all that stuff on camera work. (good for my media class!)

16th-Jan-2013 04:16 pm (UTC)
That looks as though it's a fascinating read, it's going to take me a week or so to get through it! Ugh - why, oh why does someone with such insight into visual medium have to write in such an undesirable and impossible to concentrate on format? If it hadn't been recommended by you I would have bailed after the first sentence.

Is it show tonight? Wow, hiatus really had me confused and I wasn't sure when it was back - *sigh* - I guess that means I'm not really hyped about the possibility of them turning around the season...bummer.
17th-Jan-2013 06:36 am (UTC)
it's going to take me a week or so to get through it!

I copied and pasted it into word and changed the case so I cold read it. ;) I was finding it very hard going also.

Show is tonight!! It's been on and I have my copy and just waiting for an opportunity to watch it! *fingers crossed* it will be at least ok...;)
17th-Jan-2013 01:42 am (UTC)
Great article. Thanks for the link. OMG, the capslock was ridiculous--I felt like this guy was bellowing at me the whole time I was reading. ;)

His points about understanding the simple fundamentals and knowing when to use them and to use them sparingly reminded me so much of a literary fiction class I took. I may be silly for saying this, but I feel like writing and cinematography rest on similar overarching principles--most of all being able to know how to use the tools to emotionally manipulate the audience to the best effect while making it seem effortless and almost invisible. The most talented writers/directors/cinematographers make it look easy and tease people into thinking that "anyone" can do it.

On a very minor note, I've always been slightly confused about the "tracking" and dolly shot terminology bec. tracking is used as a noun and a verb even though they always seemed to me to be the same thing. Now I don't feel so dumb for being all "Bhuz?" about it.
17th-Jan-2013 06:47 am (UTC)
It's interesting isn't it? (and the capslock is a curious choice...not one that is easy to read that's for sure...)

The most talented writers/directors/cinematographers make it look easy and tease people into thinking that "anyone" can do it.

Absolutely! It's not until you see something badly done that it becomes obvious how hard it all is. I always think that about writing. When I read good fic it feels so natural and I think...that's easy. I could do that. Then I put pen to paper and realize it's not AT ALL easy. Film making would be the same. I made a small film with my school children last year and boy....it was not easy at all. (fun though!) I wonder sometimes if for some people it's instinctual or purely learned. Maybe a bit of both.

21st-Jan-2013 04:00 am (UTC)
It's not until you see something badly done that it becomes obvious how hard it all is.

Or in my case, write something only to read it later and discover how terrible it is. O_o I have so much respect for writers and filmmakers--it is hard. And even harder because so much of it requires putting yourself into your work and putting it out there for other people to see and possibly rip to shreds. So not only do you have to be talented, determined, hardworking, and have a vision, you also have to be BRAVE and thick skinned.

I made a small film with my school children last year and boy....it was not easy at all. (fun though!)

That sounds like a challenge, but rewarding (as things with kids usually are). Glad it was fun (as things with kids usually are).

I wonder sometimes if for some people it's instinctual or purely learned. Maybe a bit of both.

I think the seeds of talent has to be there, but on top of that the work ethic and perseverance have to be part of one's personality. The rest I feel like is crafted with lots of hard work.
17th-Jan-2013 06:37 am (UTC)
That was the most useful thing I have read about filming. It explains so much about why Bitten was interesting but not engaging. It seems like SPN has been lucky in some of it's directors who know when to use an odd angled shot and not break the connection with the audience. It also made me think so much of the light and color changes from Sam's rom-com flashbacks to darker everyday SPN and desaturated Purgatory.

I really liked the talk about looking away from the camera resulting in creating more mystery. I wonder if that's why the shots in the Impala from behind the boys connect more with me if there's a glimpse of eyes in the rearview mirror.

This made my inner geek very happy. I wish I could take a class about some of this stuff.
17th-Jan-2013 06:52 am (UTC)
Great isn't it?! I thought you'd like that. I was completely enthralled and wished I have been in those lectures he was talking about.

I admit I was reading a lot of it and relating it to SPN. Especially the colour palletes and choice of angles and lenses. And all the found footage stuff was particularly interesting in relation to Bitten.

I've made a copy of this and will probably refer to it a few times. It is certainly an entertaining way to learn all the basics of cinematography. :))

I saw that you've posted about the last couple of eps - I'm looking forward to taking a look as soon as I have a chance. :)

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