Sunday, 13 January 2013

Les Miserables

It is Les Misérables weekend although the time spent on writing and listening is shared with Wii Sports and Wii Fit as the game disk arrived Saturday midmorning. I have booked up my March trip to London for £31 return. I am debating whether to get myself  dressed and to Morrison’s for some sprats as they had a good supply when visiting yesterday and where I bought four ready made packs. They are so fattening though with the batter and oil .I decided against and will make do with the supply already to hand

I saw Les Misérables one and three quarters times  at the Palace Theatre London in 1991.On the first occasion, a matinee performance on Janaury3rd 1991 Upper Circle  Row A 36 at £18.50 I had to leave early before meeting up for an evening meal prior to an evening performance of Miss Saigon at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. I was to see Miss Saigon four times. I went again to Les Misérables/
    `     soon afterwards and then purchased the complete Symphonic recording of the Alain Boubill and Claude Michel Schonberg musical based on the 1000 page historical novel by Victor Hugo which I have also commenced to read for the first time. James Cameron provided the Score for the Philharmonia Orchestra supplemented with musicians from the Palace Theatre. The cast for the  recording was drawn from London, Los Angeles, New York and Sydney productions with Eponine from Tokyo. A young Michael Ball played Marius.

This morning Friday January 11th 2012 two decades later I arrived at the Cine World Bolden in time for a £1.18 coffee  at McDonalds before the 11am first showing of the film version. There just over 100 individuals in the theatre by around 11.20 when the performance commenced 2 hours 40 minutes concluding at 2pm. I had planned to listen to the recording before attending and without doing so I had  to quickly adapt to what is a fast moving story spanning two decades from 1815 to the revolution of 1832.

While the stage musical made no attempt to cover the full story of the  Victor Hugo novel it is generally agreed that it captures the main themes and soul of the work in an extraordinary way which has led to its worldwide production  attended by an estimated 60 million people. It opened in Paris in 1980 and came to London and then to the West End in 1985, opening on Broadway in 1987 and then on tour in the States. It has remained a feature of the London Theatre scene now at the Queens Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue where one agent is selling tickets in the stalls at £86. I paid £5.40 for my cinema ticket this morning.

The story opens  as a prologue in 1815 when Jean Valjean is paroled after surviving five years for stealing a loaf of bread for the starving child of his sister and a further fourteen years after attempting to escape. He is paroled for the rest of his life with the implication that he is unlikely to find work and therefore accommodation and will live as  a beggar on the streets until  a premature death from cold, starvation and illness. The opening number is in effect a scene setting confrontation between Valjean prisoner 24601 and Javert then a senior prison official who warns Jean that he will never be free.

Listening to the Mayo Kermode Film Show on BBC radio 5 when I returned home they played part of the exchange with Russell Crowe not a singer and Valjean played by Hugh Jackman, an Australian who came to International attention through his performance in Oklahoma for the British National Theatre in London. Until Les Misérables he was known for his appearances in the X Men series of films while also appearing on Broadway. I also enjoyed his performance in the epic film Australia where he replaced Russell Crowe. I thought it was mistake to play the opening sequence in isolation from the rest of the show gives a false impression of his excellence performance.
This is because the film a film and not a theatrical production and where through close ups dramatic acting is as important if not more important than the quality of the singing. This film is extraordinary, very special in fact, for the collective acting of all the members of the cast and which is enhanced by the visual brilliance created on scale  impossible on the stage, although this is not to belittle the achievement of sets created at the Palace Theatre stage which were also remarkable.

Bitter, angry, an outcast Jean Valjean finds his way outside a house which happens to be the accommodation of the Bishop of Dijon who invites him in, feeds and offers a bed  for the night. Jean repays the hospitality by stealing silver, is captured and brought back where the Bishop confirms that he had given the silver as a gift and that the man had failed to take two ornate silver candlesticks the most valuable item of his possessions.

The Bishop sends him away with  the words “Remember  this my brother, see in this some higher plan, you must use this previous silver to become an honest man.”

It after this that Jean Valjean sings an important solo in which he looks back on his life. “ I feel my shame inside me like a knife!” He decides to begin a new life but potentially making his position worse by tearing up his yellow ticket of leave, his parole requirements. (What have I done?)

Is only when I am able to listen to the film Libretto that differences between it and the theatre production may become apparent, but this is not something immediately evident to me although my impression is the order of some events may have been changed slightly rather than the  lyrics.

One change evident between the original productions and the film is that Valjean was described as having disguised himself whereas now he has shaved off his full face whiskers. He has become an important local personality, a factory owner and the town Mayor and known as Monsieur Madeleine. The date is 1823 and we  meer the poor of the town “ Its a struggle and a War”  “And they do not hear the little ones crying and Winter is coming on fast”, “ There’s gonna be hell to pay at the end of the Day.”

We meet Fantine as a worker grabs a letter, a demand from the Inn keeper and his wife who are fostering her daughter. Until this information has become known she was regarded as aloof from the rest of workforce, resistant to the sexual advances of the male foreman. Now the married women turn on Fantine and the foreman siezes the   opportunity to sack her for refusing his advances. Her employer who would have intervened and not tolerated such behaviour is distracted because of the appearance of Javert who has become the local police chief.

Where the order also appears to have altered is in  the incident of the runaway cart which pins  a man down and where Valjean uses his super strength (in the film he raises the flag pole of a damaged ship which is being hauled into a dry dock (filmed Portsmouth Harbour) by lines of the chain gang compared to the small number used in the stage production. Javert has already sensed he has seen Valjean from somewhere before now and from seeing the same great strength he suspects he has found the man who absconded from parole and makes  inquiries in Paris.

There is now one of the most mopving parts of the story commencing with Fantine singing the memorable number I dreamerd a dream, “I dreamed a dream that love would never die, I dreamed a dream so different from the hell I am living,“ followed by the number Lovedly Ladies to describes the prostitues, their pimps and other “low life” who inhabit the port of the town. The film emphasises the reality that the majority of these women were worn and sick creatures, garishly overpainted, and dirty in every sense. Fantine desperate to continue to fund the care of her child is forced to become a prostitute and we see her become thin to the point of emaciation, starving herself to save for the required payments, her body, her feelings has become dead.

There is an incident which leads to her arrest after she refuses a client who hits her with a stick so she claws him across the face, he calls the police who enter led by Javert. She explains what happens and is not believed but Valjean who is passing by steps from the crowd to plead her cause recognising her without knowing what happened, so she explains in disbelief at his ignorance. He takes her to hospital attracting the concern of Javert. It is at this point in the original production that the runaway cart incident occurs. Fantine is very ill.

There is then an important turning point in the story when Javert is confronterd with the information from Paris that the absconder Valjean has been apprehended and is to appear in court to be sentenced to further imprisonment and this poses a moral dilemma for Valjean could do nothing and become truly free knowing he had sent a man to prison for life. He goes to court and admits the truth.”My soul belongs to God. He gave me hope when hope was gone.” He admits he is 24601. There is then the second movings sequence when Fantine dies in hospital with Valjean offering to find and take care of her daughter as his own.

Fantine is played in the film by Anne Hathaway. A beautiful young woman previously in Brokeback Mountain, the Devil Wears Pravda and Rachel’s Getting Married for which she received an Academy Award nomination, Alice in Wonderland and the Dark Knight Rising. Interviewed on Mayo and Kermode she refused to reveal what she did to loose so much weight for the film and which of course could have been cinema trickery!!

However before Valjean can undertake the mission he is confronted by Javert who has come to return him to prison Valjean pleads with him for three days and then he will accept his fate willingly. He is refused, they fight and he escape after knocking down the policeman.

He finds Cossette working as a drudge at the Inn run by Thénardiers at Montfermeil. In the film the wife is played by Helena Bonham Carter who builds on her over the top comical roles of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonferland and as the wicked witch in Harry Potter, I thought she was good and funny whereas Sasha Baron Cohen is Sasha Baron Cohen also over the top but does not come off in my view as strongly as Helena although he tries hard to steal every scene that he is in and in fairness the part is drawn this way especially with Master of the Hosue in which he describes how he uses every tricks to get guests to pay several times for anything and everything if the eat and drink  and if they require accommodation. Helena priases her daughter who is spolit whereas Cosette is sent off to the woods to draw water from the well where she is found upset and bemoaning her fate by Valjean “Castles on a cloud“ Thenardier then  extracts all that he can for the visitor before releasing Cossette to him.

It is at this point that the film introduces a new number Suddenly which has been nominated for an Oscar. Javert also  visits the Inn shortly after Valjean and Cosette have departed.

In the original production this development is omitted and the action moves to the streets of Paris where revolution is in the air. It is 1832 and the poor sing  beggars at your feet echoes the opening music with the chain gang. The singers of  the poor are represented by a prostitute a pimp and an  old women.  and  introduced to  Marius who who  reports that General Remarque is ill, a man who speaks for the poor, We are also introduced to young Gavroche, a clever street urchin who has identified with the rebellion,

Also in Paris  are Thernardier and his wife and grown up daughter Eponine who is in love with Marius who although from a wealth family is living in the same tenement plotting a revolution with  students. They enounter Valjean out with Cosette now grown up and Marius is smitten much to the disappointment of Eponione. Thernardier recpgnises Valjean and exposes him. Eponine spots the arrival of Javert with police constables and Valjean quickly disappears leaving Cosette in the company of Marius. Thernardier gets off because of the absence of a victim who Javert speculates it is Valjean. Javert has an important solo but it is Gavroche who claims But it it’s me who runs this town, Marius begs Eponine find where Cosette lives,

There is now the build up to the rebellion and conclusion of the first part of stage show, Under the banner song of Red and Black the students meets at the ABC cafe to plan their next action, The are waiting for the right moment , the right sign to rally the people to get behind them. Marius is distracted and is chided on being in love and told to concentrate on the task in hand, - Red, he sings  I feel my soul on fire - Black my world  if she is not there - Red the colour of desire- Black the colour of despair. The news comes from Gavroche that General Lemarque is dead, the awaited sign, they will take to arms and man the barricades - They Will come one and all-they will come when we call.

The optimism continues with Do you herar the people sing.. There is a life about to start, tomorrow, will you join in our crusade?

It is time for Cosette to  reveal to Valjean that she has grown up and fallen in Love- In my Life. Valjean commentsd at one point -You will learn that truth is given by God To us all in our time, in our turn,  before leaving the garden where Cosette reflects in how she is feeling, Marius has come to the garden with the help of Eponine who realises that she has lost all hope of winning his love. The couple expresses their feelings for each other.

Outside Eponine finds that her father and his henchmen have also made their way to the house  and when she threatens to warn Cosette and her father of their arrival she is threatened but still screams a warning.. The gang scatter with her father saying he will punish her later,  Marius leaves as Valjean arrives to find out what is happening. He thinks Javert is involved and announces that they must both get away first to Calais and then by ship abroad This leads another of the memorable numbers.

“One Day More” cries Valjean to get away but this poses a conflict for Cosette and in tuirn of Marius between his departing love and the barricades with his colleagues  and friends. Javert also joins in One Day more and plots to join the students  and nip the rebellion in the bud... “They will wet themselves with blood.” Eponine sings  One day more on my own. And everyone sings Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in heaven has in store, One Day more.

The action moves to the following day and the barricades Javert joins in disgusied as a rebel. Eponine accepts this is no place for her but wants to be with Marius who sends  her off with a letter for  Cosette, Cosette is declaring her in a solo  “On My Own. The Barricades are complete, the students are ready.Jarvert returns  from his false mission warning the students that the authorities have strength in numbers but they will not attack that night, Gavoroche recognises who he is and Javert is captured with a nose placed around his neck.

Eponine returns having delivered  the letter into the hands of Valjean. She is mortally wounded.  She has her moment ”A Little Fall of Rain as she is conforted that she is  dying in the arms of Marius “That’s all I need to know you will keep me close, you will keep me safe“, Others declare they will fight in her name. She will not die in vain. They carry off her  body .

Valjean has read he letter and goes in search of Marius dressed as a soldier he is admitted to the barricade. They are able to repel the first attack. Valjean asks to be put in charge of Javert. He then cuts the bonds and tell him to go. Javert says he will still go afer him Valjean tells him where he can be found. He fires a shot which convinces the comrades he has desposed of the police chief.

Marius and the fellow student revolutionaries have a night of drink and preparations for the battle the following day. There is then another of memorable numbers sung by Valjean over the wounded Marius  Bring Him Home  over the sleeping body  Marius.

With the failure of the people of Paris to immediate rise up the battle is lost and the barricade remains the only one surviving. Gavorich is killed and this spurs the rest to fight on with many killed and the remainder executed on capture. In the film Javert appears affected by the death of the young and pins a medal on one. Valjean finds the wounded and unconscious body of Marius and carries and drags him with difficulty throught her sewers. Javert realises that Valjean is not among the dead and could have used the sewers to escape and follows. Also in the sewers is Thenardier and his men robbing those found dead and when he thinks he found the dead body of Marius he takes the boys gold ring, and then runs off when he finds the exhausted body of Valjean nearby. Valjean  recovers and take Marius  out of the sewers..

He is confronted by Javert once more and pleads just for an hour to take the young man for treatment. Javert has mixed feelings and proclaims ”the man of mercy comes again and talks of justice.” He allows 24601 to complete his task but warns he will be wating for him to keep his word and return. However he then has a major crisis of conscience and self doubt and commits sucide. “Who is this man, what sort of devil is he?

The women discover the bodies of the young men lain side by side and sing “of the children of the barricades someone used to cradle them and kiss them, when they cried.” Marius recovered returns to the cafe and sings another memorable tune “Empty Chairs at Every table. Oh my friends do not ask me what your sacrifice was for? “ He is played in the film by and proves one of the many excellent performances with the young Cosette, the face of the play and the film, young Gavroche and Eponine all memorable performances. Less so perhaps the older Cosette.

Cosette arrives to  help Marius with his recovery and they are to become lovers. Marius seeks Valjean and offers him a home with them. Valjean explains why this cannot be, revealing his past persuading Marius to help Cosette accept his departure in her best interests. The couple marry but the wedding reception is spoiled by the arrival of Therardier and his wife wanting more money and posing as a Lord and Lady at what has been a Society wedding. Marius sees that  Thenardier has his ring and realises that it was Valjean who saved him after the battle..

Thenardier and his wife have their final  number “Beggars at the Feast.”

Valjean has returned to church where he and Cosett had found sanctuary with the help of the man who he rescued from under the cart so long ago. He is preparing to die “God on high hear me now take me home. “The spirit of Fantine arrives to accompany him on his journey  “You raised my child with love and you will be with God,” The young couple rush into the room without seeing the presence of Fantine, They press Valjean not to dire and he tries to live on, but his time has come  and Fantine is there to bless him  “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

There is an epilogue as the people of Paris rise up behind a large barricade  “Do you hear the people sing say do you hear distant drums it is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes tomorrow. “ As with the stage production is the opportunity for the full cast to appears resurrected in several cases in a song of revolutionary triumph against injustice and oppression.

There was applause, somewhat embarrassed, as the film ended and with several others I stayed stead as the best music is repteaed throught the credits. A couple was approached by a young assistant, possible their son or a relative to enquire had they like the film and the man said one of the best films ever. I would not as far as that but certainly one of the best musical alongside Evita which I have viewed several times and also the Moulin Rouge  both of which I have the DVD with another with more serious intent Caberet. While not a film these are alongside the best staged production along with Les Misérables, Miss Saigion where I have a cassette edition recording and where the film will come hopefully one day.

There have been film adaption disappointment with the most significant Hair where I have both Long Play records editions, the first excluded songs related to drug use and verbal sexuality and is a rare item. Les Miserables  as a stage production and now as film can be criticised for  not being out of lace in a Tea party convention, from its emphasise on personal responsibility, crime and punishment and salvation through atonement and  the Christian meaning of love. There is  a lack of socialist principles in the story. As with Miss Saigon  (Madam Butterfly retold) there is great emphasise on giving the public what it wants with emotional numbers and exicting sets, Those who have read the book extol the fact that the production does communicate what the book is about which is encouraging. I found the performance satisfying and moving. A box of tissues is required,

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