If you were to write a list under the heading “The most brutal things in or associated with the music of Les Misérables, ranked,” number one would be a no-brainer: It’s for sure Gavroche getting shot before he can finish his reprise. (There are no spoilers for a book that’s over 150 years old which then became one of the most popular musicals in history.) We will, perhaps, accept arguments for “A Little Fall Of Rain,” but come on, the pup never grows up because he dies. That’s rough. Then number two would be “A Little Fall Of Rain,” because it’s got youth and death and unrequited love and, again, a person who dies before she can finish her song. So those are one and two.
But three? Three is this video, a thoughtful, bemused, surprisingly empathetic but nevertheless brutal takedown of the approach made with regard to the music in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. It is almost 40 minutes long and watching the whole thing is 38 minutes well-spent.
Sideways 440 (here’s their Patreon) makes videos about music—how it works, why it works, what it can do, how it goes wrong, etc. It’s smart stuff, and this Les Mis video is no exception. As you might expect from the runtime, it’s considerably more nuanced than “wow, lol, Russell Crowe = bad,” tackling everything from the ways in which already troubling or dangerous physical transformations and long shoots on film sets can inhibit and harm the voice to the problem with crying while you’re singing. (Although, Russell Crowe, wow, bad, lol, etc.). Frequent excerpts from various concert versions of the musical allow for easy comparison between what’s sung in the film and, you know, what’s written, and the narrator’s absolute bafflement at some of the choices made (for example, Hugh Jackman depriving himself of water for three days before shooting a musical) is quite engaging.
But the most interesting segment is near the end, during which some sequences from the film that actually work (at least musically) demonstrate that Tom Hooper’s Big Idea—to film the cast singing live—could actually work in the right, safe circumstances. Here’s what the creator had to say in a post about the film on Patreon:
I didn’t want to have a video just trashing poor [Russell] Crowe for 30 minutes, and it seems like everyone got that he was really a victim of this overly ambitious film.
Like I said, I’m very conflicted about this film, it proves that it’s possible to create a successful film in these demanding circumstances, and to that end it seems that Hooper managed to accomplish what he set out to achieve.
But at the same time, the conditions on set were needlessly expensive, time-consuming, and fundamentally dangerous.
For what it’s worth, I’m content knowing that maybe at some point someone’ll see this video and realize how important it is to take care of your voice.
For starters, do the exact opposite of depriving yourself of water for three goddamned days before singing, and if you want to sound really good and clear in your big ballad, don’t watch a video of Gavroche’s death, because that will for sure make you cry.
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