One great scene

There is one moment in Tom Hooper’s “Les Miserables” when it all comes together. This is the scene where he trains the camera in close on Anne Hathaway’s face, and she proceeds to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” with such power, tragedy and utter conviction that Susan Boyle is probably still feeling the sonic boom.

Unfortunately this scene raises the bar so impossibly high that much of the rest of the two hours and thirty seven minutes just seemed silly and gimmicky. Listening to Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe trying to tackle their songs, I could hear the originals in my head — the beautiful melodies that I had first heard in the extraordinary voices of top Broadway professionals.

Alas, those well-remembered soaring melodies were playing only in my head. If I hadn’t already known that these were supposed to be great songs, I wouldn’t have suspected as much from what I heard in the movie theatre.

Of course the experience of seeing a movie is subjective, and if you watch Hooper’s “Les Miserables” you might think the whole thing was wonderful.

But accepting my premise for a moment, I wonder how often it happens that a film has just one transcendent scene, stuck inside what was otherwise either uninspired or a downright misfire. It would be interesting to compile a list.

2 Responses to “One great scene”

  1. CBill says:

    When Susan Boyle sang IDAD, she was singing it as it related to her own life, not in character as Fantine. She also had just one chance to get it right. Ms Hathaway did a dozen takes of the song and even then it was ‘slightly improved’ in the studio. To compare them is absurd. Ms Boyle made the song world famous and Ms Hathaway has done the same for the movie.

  2. admin says:

    I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from Susan Boyle’s awesome performance. But since you’ve raised the issue of comparison, it is not absurd to compare these two different treatments of the same song, because the choices made in each case are important.

    Anne Hathaway’s performance was intended as a portrait of the character of Fantine. Conveying this character in full context needs to operate on a far deeper level than does presenting the song in isolation as a personal statement.

    Hathaway had the task of conveying a very complicated character in all her complexity, which is much trickier than delivering a personal anthem, as wonderful as personal anthems are.

    Personally, I loved Susan Boyle’s rendition, yet such a rendition would not have worked in the context of the film, because her rendition didn’t make use of the original emotional intent of the song, as written for the character — to illuminate the ragged and uncomfortable contours of tragedy. Rather she appropriated the song to convey a narrative of overcoming personal adversity.

    And yes I understand you are a Susan Boyle fan. So am I. When Susan Boyle sang “I Dreamed a Dream”, it’s possible that Anne Hathaway felt the sonic boom. :-)

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