Archive for December 2012

Les Misérables

December 29, 2012

The apparition of these faces in the crowd …
–Pound, “In a Station of the Metro”

Yes, this really is an opera rather than a musical, in that there are few spoken lines. A handful of scenes approach an operatic feel, especially the trio with the young tenor (Eddie Redmayne), soprano (Amanda Seyfried), and mezzo (Samantha Barks). The music itself, though, is unremarkable. No one is going to go home humming any of it (well, maybe “On My Own”). All the opera houses have supertitles now–subtitles would have helped here, or room in the budget for a diction coach.

Hugh Jackman’s part was too high for him–especially in the second half of the film, where he was straining with his head voice, it was a bit painful to watch. A just transposition could have worked wonders. Russell Crowe burst past his low expectations. His role called for no singing fireworks, but he excelled in the limited range that he had.

The inn scene with Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter was a welcome change from the dour mood of the first half hour, but it didn’t need to be so . . . gross.

The film relies heavily on CGI, so that Paris resembles Minas Tirith (complete with a statue of an Oliphaunt). Scenes are generally very dark; perhaps only about 20 percent of the screen time is in daylight.

Anne Hathaway’s part was cut as short as her hair, so that she played not a character, but a statistic.

And on the hair–not to give away the ending, but it could be pointed out that the blessed will rise again at the age of youth, as Christ did.




Chesterton: Man & Mask, by Garry Wills

December 20, 2012

If ever I cross the sea and stray
To the city of Maryland,
I will sit on a stone and watch or pray
For a stranger’s child that was there one day:
And the child will never come back to play,
And no one will understand.
–“Memory,” G.K. Chesterton

This is an early book by Wills in his National Review days. It’s both a bio of sorts and a tour through Chesterton’s major writings. It’s an all-out apologia for the big fellow as a major English author–few flaws are found. Wills even adopts Chesterton’s style. This may be only the result of close discussion of the texts–the voice of Wills is lost in Chesterton’s roar.

The book covers the poems, essays, novels, plays, and political writings.

In the Introduction, Wills asks:

If Chesterton was the laughing prophet and saint, why did his religious quest mark time between his entrance into the Anglican communion and his transfer of allegiance to Catholicism? How could he ignore the practice of his Anglican faith, and all but the minimal action of a ‘practicing Catholic’? How could asceticism and vocation be so absent from his life?

If he was an apologist for orthodoxy, how could he ignore sin and the need for penance? Did he know what original sin really is, or was an ignorance of it at the root of his optimism, his glorification of the common man, his utopian politics?

If he was a philosopher, why did he never speak except in symbols and highly colored language? If he lacked emotional depth, why did he use the heightened rhetoric of passion? Are his poems and prose not merely aesthetically negligible, but empty bombast incapable of any justification at all? In short, if he is a philosopher, he chants his meditation to rather hysterical rhythms.

Why did he channel most of his professional efforts, against the wishes and advice of those nearest him, into political commentary?

Was he a monster of innocence and insight, or a neurotic with a defensive smile and desperate gaiety? Did his gaiety surmount evil, or simply ignore it?

As noted, Wills hews closely to the texts themselves, so you have to like this kind of thing. The suave cisalpinism of Wills’s later writings is not on evidence.