Friday, January 04, 2013

Other Than That, What Did You Think of Russell Crowe in 'Les Miserables'?

An old joke has someone asking Mary Lincoln after her husband was assassinated, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

I’ve never cared for the music from Les Miserables and so, have no plans to see it. Our daughter, who has sung the music many times, went to see the film because of that and hated the movie, especially owing to what she saw as its overabundance of gore.

But Taylor Marsh, guest columnist over at The Moderate Voice evidently loves the novel and the musical on which it's based.

His review of Russell Crowe's performance in the blockbuster movie though is, to put it mildly, sharply critical. He says that Crowe is guilty of an "epic fail." There is no reason to ask Marsh about his opinion of Crowe's turn in the movie musical. He has emphatically assassinated the Aussie's performance.

He faults Crowe both for being a poor singer and for so focusing on the musicality which Marsh feels, is beyond his capacity, that he fails to develop the character of Javert, the baddie of Les Mis whose obsession with Jean Valjean is the driver of much of the novel's and the musical's drama. (Javert is Ahab to Valjean's Moby Dick.)

Along the way, Marsh also has bad things to say about the history of non-professional singers being cast in lead roles in film musicals for which he feels they had no talent. He singles out Audrey Hepburn, almost all of whose vocals in the classic film musical, My Fair Lady, were replaced with the singing of a professional singer, for particular criticism.

As a general rule, I don’t think it’s necessary for actors in musicals to be professional singers. Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons did more than creditable work in the film version of Guys and Dolls, arguably the best musical ever.

And, unlike Marsh, I liked Audrey Hepburn’s pre-dubbed versions for My Fair Lady, some of which I've heard on TCM, precisely because her vocals seemed so much more in-character than did the dubbed pseudo-operatic renderings of the talented singer whose voice filled in for Hepburn's. Rex Harrison’s talk-singing also works in that film.

(Given that Harrison was performing as Henry Higgins on Broadway at roughly the same time that Bob Dylan was beginning his recording career with such tunes in his repertoire as ‘Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues’ and ‘Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,’ Harrison and Dylan might be considered, with a little stretch of the imagination, as early progenitors of rap music. Not really, I’m just funning on this point.)

Whether Crowe is any good, musically or dramatically, in Les Miserables, is not likely something about which I'll ever have an opinion. (Loved Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and The Insider, never cared for the movie, The Gladiator and so can't say whether I cared for his performance in it or not.) But I think that there's more to inhabiting and presenting a song than having a technically theatrical voice. And sometimes it's the subtle things that convey what's going on inside of a character.

UPDATE: From a discussion of the use of dubbing in movie musicals, Ann Althouse records her "annoyance" with movies in general. While I sometimes take a pass on watching movies because sitting through a film that may or may not interest me makes me feel that I'm wasting my time, that's not always the case. What about you? Do you watch movies any more?

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