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On Christmas Day, the eagerly-awaited movie musical Les Misérables — “A Musical Phenomenon” the advertisement promises — opens across the United States. If it makes half the splash that its Broadway source did in 1987, we’re in for a long ride. The musical ran for 6680 performances, and won Tony awards for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score. It closed and then re-opened for another 463-performance run in 2006. It continues to tour the US.
Extensive production gossip on the movie has focused on Anne Hathaway’s brave hair-shaving, braver weight loss of twenty-five pounds, and bravest willingness to sing live during filming. Director Tom Hooper has repeatedly noted the incomparable intimacy achieved by actors singing live on film. Barbra Streisand, at age 25, knew the same thing when she insisted on singing live for the film of Funny Girl in 1968 (she shared the Best Actress Oscar with Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter).
The 60 million people who have seen the stage version of the Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil musical will no doubt compare the movie to their memories of a dark and shadowy stage, the crowd of actors marching in step during the thrilling Act One finale of “One Day More,” the huge rotating barricade littered with fifty bloody bodies of the revolutionary students, and a breathtaking theatrical moment when the evil Javert jumps to his death off the upstage catwalk bridge.
Given Hathaway’s stardom, movie goers might also compare the film’s portrayal of the tragic Fantine with her stage character, played by Patti LuPone, Ruthie Henshall, Lea Salonga, and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Film critic A.O. Scott recently commented on the number of strong women in 2012’s movies. What will Les Miz bring us?
If it’s anything like the stage musical, don’t get excited, fellow feminists. For all of its theatrical heft, musical power, and romantic reputation, Les Miz leaves women in the lurch.
Women in the musical play small and insignificant roles. First, they appear late: Fantine’s first song halfway through Act One is a woman’s first solo, well after the male characters have been introduced and have sung and the story is well on its way.
Second, the three featured female characters — Fantine, Cosette, and Eponine — are delineated from the other minor female characters and ensemble players by their spiritual purity, a narrow female stereotype. Third, the women only exist to set off the complex decisions, ethical struggles, and brave actions of the men. Finally, the women only sing about men (though, according to the Bechdel test that Scott cites, there are more than two women in the show and they do have names: a hopeful sign, perhaps?).
The central story of Les Miz has nothing whatsoever to do with women, but rather follows the battle between Valjean and Javert. Dramaturgically, the women only function to strengthen the men’s characterizations. Fantine’s sole purpose, for example, is to show Valjean’s extraordinary generosity when he agrees to raise her soon-to-be-orphaned daughter, Cosette, as his own. Cosette serves as Marius’s love interest so that he can choose her over a political career. (Unlike the musicals of the 1950s where the individual lovers each signified political differences that the musical eventually resolved through their union, in Les Miz, the lovers are a mere diversion from the real plot, which is “political” and decidedly homoerotic.) And Eponine exists so that she can pine for Marius and die for his cause. During the stage musical’s production process, in fact, codirectors Trevor Nunn and John Caird worked with the composers to eliminate the women characters’ back stories and reduce their stage time.
Equally important for this stage production was the amazing sceneography, designed by Royal Shakespeare Company veteran John Napier. The musical’s Act Two climax, when two giant towers, weighing three tons and driven by computer, glide, merge, and interlock to form a stage-filling structure on which the bodies of dead rebel students lay signals how Les Miz sceneographically values men and their world. In his review of the Broadway production, Frank Rich in the New York Times described how “in a dazzling transition, the towers tilt to form an enormous barricade.” The male characters interact with the set from this barricade to the tower to the tavern. Valjean carries the wounded Marius through the sewers of Paris, evoked by fog and dim grey lighting, and even the villain Javert kills himself by jumping off a high bridge upstage, a moment that invariably elicits gasps from the audience when the actor disappears below the stage floor.
The musical’s principal women, on the other hand, are excluded from the impressive, visually engaging scenes. Each female character’s song is staged with her alone, almost as if in concert, apart from the story, performing in a single pool of light. Now there’s nothing wrong with an actor being onstage in a single spotlight: that’s what stars are made of. But according to the visual codes that tell an audience what’s important here, the women are shut out. Fantine sings both of her two songs in Act One alone, one before she succumbs to prostitution and the other — her big death song — on a cot; Cosette’s key number is staged in front of the gates of her house.
Eponine does a bit better: her showstopping “On My Own” begins with the actor walking on a slowly revolving platform, but by the second verse, the turntable stops and she stands still for the number’s climax.
Eponine does get one opportunity to interact with the musical’s remarkable scenery — in her death scene. Although her involvement with the students’ rebellion is not because she is political, but because she wants to be on the barricade to be near Marius, she gets caught in the crossfire. Marius takes her into his arms, soothing her and kissing her gently, and they sing, “A Little Fall of Rain,” leaning against by the barricade, and she dies. The message is clear in this touching moment: the women only get to be on Les Miz’s big set when they die.
This account of women’s sad situation in Les Miz relies on the languages of the stage. It may be that the film adaptation will give women more to do. Or maybe the tools of film will alter the architecture of this musical. Or maybe Hathaway — thin, bald, and singing “live” — will deliver a performance that will vindicate the women in Les Miz.
The first trailer for an upcoming adaptation of the Les Miserables musical has been released, turning the hit musical version of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece into a film.
What do you think? The film will be out in December, competing with The Great Gatsby for literary movie-goers. Internet pranksters have already created a .GIF that captures a particularly emotive moment in Anne Hathaway‘s singing performance.
The Washington Post broke down some of the imagery: “We see images of Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean waist deep in water as prisoner 24601 and later comforting a fifthly young Cosette in a bleak forest. Then there’s Russell Crowe looking appropriately intense as Javert. Eddie Redmayne as Marius makes a stand for revolution on the barricades and eyes the lovely Cosette, played by Amanda Seyfried.”
Legendary Pictures has released the third trailer for its upcoming Batman comic book adaptation, The Dark Knight Rises. We’ve embedded the trailer above–what do you think?
According to Comic Book Resources, Titan Books will publish the official movie tie-in novel by Greg Cox. Both the book and the movie will be released in July 2012.
Here’s more from E! Online: “[Anne] Hathaway gets lots of screen time in the new trailer as both [Selina] Kyle and her feline alter ego Catwoman. She appears to be taking Batman’s side and has no problem getting in on the action. There’s plenty of Jordon Gordon-Levitt‘s mysterious new cop John Blake looking all emotional. We also get to see franchise stalwarts like Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).”
Follow this link to watch the trailer–what do you think? Nolan collaborated on the screenplay with his brother, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan. The movie will hit theaters in July 2012. The trailer highlights the infamous Batman villain Bane as he wrecks Gotham City.
Here’s more from Movies.com: “[The trailer revealed] some enticing dialogue from Anne Hathaway, playing Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). Naturally her chat with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), as they dance close together at a masquerade ball, falls somewhere between seductive and threatening, but that’s what we expect from her character. Will she be a villain? A romantic sidekick? Both? Other brief glimpses of Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Matthew Modine are exactly that — brief glimpses.”
Audible.com has hired major actors to produce “tour de force performances” of new audiobooks. The stars helped choose the books, and the lineup includes Samuel L. Jackson reading A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes and Kim Basinger reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin.
What celebrity would you choose to read your favorite book? The program will add more celebrities in the future. We’ve included the current list below…
Kate Winslet explained why she read Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola: “You use a different part of your brain and it keeps your creative juices flowing … It is challenging, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun as well. As a listener, being able to tune out and be taken into another world, an atmosphere, an environment that is being created entirely for you by somebody else’s voice is really a wonderful, magical thing.”
Jennifer Lawrence, the star of The Hunger Games, may take a role in a film adaptation of The Silver Linings Playbook.
Novelist Matthew Quick debuted with The Silver Linings Playbook in 2008. David O. Russell wrote the screenplay and will direct the film.
Here’s more from The Huffington Post: “Lawrence would play Tiffany, the very attractive widowed wife of his best friend Ronnie. She begins to secretly pursue and mentor him as the two work to put their lives back together.”
After months of speculation we now know that Christopher Nolan isn’t giving up the Batman franchise without going into the sexy feminine side of the myth: Anne Hathaway will play Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises — and yes that sounds pretty dirty. And the previously announced Tom Hardy will play back-breaker Bane, an escaped criminal who gets super strength after getting jacked on drugs. (Bane was responsible for breaking Batman’s spine in a 90s comics storyline.)
Hathaway joins a storied list of Catwomans, from Julie Newmar through Michelle Pfeiffer. (Let’s not mention Halle Berry…oops…) She doesn’t have much action star vibe, but that’s what CGI is for…and she would definitely look adorable in kitten ears. Somehow, we doubt Nolan’s vision includes kitten ears, however.
We’re big Tom Hardy fans here, so as long as he gets good and pumped up to play Bane, we’re all on board.
With two of Batman’s most important nemeses in the third film, Nolan looks on track to break the “third film curse” — if all goes as well as it could, this will be one easily the best superhero film trilogy of all.
(Venice, Italy) I predict the Academy will have a difficult time deciding who is the Best Actress next year. I am seeing such amazing performances here at the Venice Film Festival, and incredible roles for women... finally.
Rachel Getting Married is a real Tri-State area kind of film, and if you are from the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), you'll know what I mean. The general buzz is that it's a winner. Written by first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet, director Jonathan Demme said he was busy with documentary work when Sidney Lumet asked him to read his daughter's script. It's kind of like a home movie, if you happen to have folks at home like Jonathan Demme, Jenny Lumet, Debra Winger, Anne Hathaway, etc., along with a bunch of talented musicians.
Since I am SO FAR out of the loop, I didn't know Debra Winger had exiled herself from Hollywood for a while, or that Jonathan Demme had been making documentaries. I didn't know who Anne Hathaway was, and I've never heard of Rosemarie DeWitt -- who I thought was Debra Winger the entire movie! Now, of COURSE she couldn't have been Debra Winger because that is Debra Winger up there on the left, who played the mother, but the last time I saw Debra Winger's image, she looked like Rosemarie DeWitt, over there on the right.
The movie is about a dysfunctional family coming together for a wedding. One journalist -- I think he was Italian -- but he was definitely not American -- asked if the movie was an accurate portrait of America today. Ha! It was an accurate portrait of America thirty years ago as well! What was a bit surreal for me is that the last time I had seen Jonathan Demme was many years ago at a Bar Mitzvah in Los Angeles, so watching the movie about this family event, and then going to the press conference was sort of like a reality blur for me -- actually living in Venice, being yanked into Connecticut during the film, then yanked again to the present to the press conference in Venice to listen to Americans from the East Coast. Plus, it turns out that Anne Hathaway is from New Jersey (where I grew up), and that she studied at the Paper Mill Playhouse, which is where I saw my very first play as a child. It felt sort of like when I saw The Merchant of Venice while I was in New York City in 2005, but the other way around. You come out of the movie and sort of lose your sense of time and place -- it's jarring.
In his director's statement, Jonathan Demme says (he is intentionally not using capitalization): "because i wanted to present the possibility of a really wonderful wedding, there was very little 'extras casting' for the movie -- basically, we created a guest list of people i knew -- actors and civilians -- that seemed to fit with the couple, and proceeded to let the weekend unfold on film, with everybody getting to know each other as we filmed, in the way people actually become a momentary community at 'real-life' special events."
It mostly worked, although I did think it got bogged down a bit during the wedding itself with too much music, and we lost the protagonist, Kym, Anne Hathaway's character.
Since I don't know her work, I read up a bit on Anne Hathaway, and learned that she has a "squeaky clean" image. You can be sure she has shattered that image with this movie, and that is an understatement. From the production notes: "I love Kym's almost compulsive need for honesty," says Hathaway, "and how direct she is. Her timing may not be appropriate, but she's trying so hard to get across the chasm of tragedy that separates her from her family, trying to acknowledge and atone in her own way. At the end, maybe her sister Rachel understands her journey, and that acceptance is crucial."
During the movie, I thought, where is the mother in all this? And that is the beauty of Jenny Lumet's screenplay. Kym is the one who everyone is blaming, but, to me, I thought, where the hell is the mother? And just as I was thinking that came one of the most powerful scenes in the film between Debra Winger and Anne Hathaway.
Here is a little production note trivia that will make sense to you after you see the film. It is such a great moment, it's interesting to know Anne Hathaway was improvising: "At one point," says Demme, "Anne Hathaway was trying to act out a very intense scene while the musicians noodled around outside. She was distracted and the assistant director came to me and said that she was having trouble, so I said: 'Tell her to do something about it, then.' That's when Kym yells at them to shut up -- all unplanned and improvised but completely in character."
I was encouraged to hear that Jonathan Demme is also having problems with distribution companies. He completely blasted distrubution, saying they don't do their job. He said the reason he worked with Sony Pictures Classics was because they were the only distributor he knew that worked as hard as everyone else on a picture. I guess films and books are not much different these days.
Another journalist asked if the movie reflected America itself coming together again, as well as this fictional family. Jenny Lumet said she hadn't thought of it before, but yes, she felt as if America is trying to come together again.
I feel it, too. I know there is a lot of grumbling about what is wrong with the International Venice Film Festival, but from my point of view as an American who completely dropped out during the Bush years -- not only physically from the country, but also from news, television, films -- everything except music videos -- the festival gives me great hope. As I've said, I am attending the festival from a very particular point of view. When the festival began last week, I was exhausted just from being American, always on the defense here in Europe -- not with everyone, of course, but with enough people who are either too ignorant or lazy to differentiate between individuals. Like everything, people appreciate things more if they are gone.
Everyone seemed so happy to see Natalie Portman and Charlize Theron, and Jonathan Demme. Everyone seemed so happy to see familiar faces like Brad Pitt and George Clooney, who gave no interviews except at the press conference, but appeared like gods and vanished again.
I am so pleased with the quality of the American films and the demeanor of the representatives from my country that I feel like waving the flag:)
James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host the Oscars (as the Academy forgoes the veteran comedian route in favor of what some are calling the "SNL" approach — and almost everyone is calling an obvious bid to appeal to younger viewers. As... Read the rest of this post
Actress Anne Hathaway will star as Catwoman in the next Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. The movie is set for a July 2012 release. If you don’t want to wait, follow Michelle Phan’s video tips (embedded above) for wearing Catwoman’s signature style.
Christian Bale will reprise his role as Batman, following his blockbuster success with The Dark Knight. Director Christopher Nolan will helm the project once again.
Here’s more from Deadline New York: “Hathaway [will] play Selina Kyle, who has a double identity as Catwoman. Nolan has also acknowledged that his Inception star Tom Hardy will play the villain role of Bane, an escaped prisoner who became abnormally strong after being pumped full of drugs. Bane is known as ‘the man who broke the Bat’ after he broke Batman’s spinal cord in the comics storyline.” (Via Jason Pinter)