Les Miserables may have even more enduring value because of the way it was shot. Most of the dramatic musical sequences are filmed and presented in close-up. I can not recall any movie musical, from Singin’ In The Rain to Chicago, that has more close-ups than Les Miserables. Historically, the close-up is “saved” for the most dramatic moments in film. Masters of the “old Hollywood” close-up, like Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges might have used a half a dozen close-ups in their storytelling; Les Miserables uses them in truckloads and for extended periods.
“I thought the great weapon in my arsenal was the close up,” said Director Tom Hooper, “because the one thing on stage that you can’t enjoy is the detail of what is going on in people’s faces as they are singing. I felt (that) having to do a meditation on the human face was by far the best way to bring out the emotion of the songs.” It is hard to argue with the Mr. Hooper. “I Dreamed A Dream” is shot in one extended take, one close-up. It is riveting.
Of course, much has been written about the Les Miserables cast singing in real time so as not to have a mechanical quality when the actor lip-syncs to playback ( which would be especially evident in the close-up). Les Miserables may have its faults, but few people will deny its emotional impact. In part, it is due to the close-up but it is also due to the confluence of genius that has carried through the great, artistic hands of Victor Hugo , Alan Boubil and Claude Michel Schönberg and to the director and players of this latest rendition on screen. Many film aficionados may argue about the use of close-ups in Les Miserables; but few seem to argue with its emotional impact.
Twenty years ago, it was said that the close-up was the language of television; but I am beginning to believe we will see the close-up more and more as a tool for 21st century storytelling . It translates well across all platforms: Movies screens, HD large screen displays, tablets, smart phones. A close-up is truly the great leveler. Like a memorable logo, it is powerful in thumbnail as well as a billboard.
The irony is, as we become more plugged-in to our tech gadgets, we might just find our most intimate moments there: in the close-up.