Sunday September 08, 2013
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
Last “Les Miserables” post of the day.
I first saw the cinematic “Les Miserables” before I was familiar with the music, and the music I became familiar with after seeing the movie was the original Broadway cast album, which has great singing performances from, among others, Robert Billig and Michael Maguire.
The movie has great performances, too, but the voices don't soar quite so much. Director Tom Hooper went for verisimilitude. He had his performers singing live, rather than to a studio-recorded playback. I still like that choice, that chance. This is what I wrote last December:
There’s power in these songs, and from these actors, that you don’t normally get from lip-synching to playback. You definitely feel it in Hathaway’s signature song. You feel it in Hugh Jackman’s early numbers, too, with his red eyes burning into you (“What Have I Done?), and in Redmayne’s great song of survivor’s guilt, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” which is my second-favorite number in the movie.
This week I saw the movie again on HBO, and the standout this time was Eddie Redmayne as Marius. Particularly “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”:
Apparently “Les Miserables,” as a musical, began as a concept album in the 1970s, then became a French musical in 1980 that closed after three months. It was revived in its English-language form in London in 1985, where it became a hit, and then on Broadway in 1987.
So it was written long before the AIDS crisis. Even so, I can't hear this song without thinking of AIDS and the havoc it wreaked:
Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me
That I live and you are gone
There's a grief that can't be spoken
There's a pain goes on and on
Watching this video several times today, I also thought of the Onion Cellar from Gunter Grass' “The Tin Drum”: that place where stoic people go to cut open onions and cry and feel. That's movies, too. The better ones?