No one seems to be stating plainly that Tom Hooper‘s Les Miserables is not a musical — it’s an opera. And yet Hooper is steering clear of the term — too high falutin’ sounding, I suppose — and instead calling it a “through-sung musical.”
Maybe it’s me or maybe I’m a little fucked up or something (as Joe Pesci‘s Tommy said during that famous Bamboo Lounge scene in Goodfellas), but a musical narrative piece that is entirely sung without any dialogue to speak of is an opera, right? It doesn’t have to be La Boheme or Aida — you just have to sing it all the way through. Like Alan Parker‘s Evita. Yes, Parker’s film had five or six lines so that technically made it an operetta. But Hooper is saying Les Miz is “all song.”
Hooper explained his view in arecent chat with TheWrap‘s Steve Pond, to wit:
“Hugh Jackman said the other day that he thinks the movie musical is the Mount Everest of filmmaking,” Hooper said, “and I became intrigued about whether that combination of singing and music and storytelling could create an alternate reality in which emotion could be even more heightened.”
“While many of the most successful movie musicals of last 20 years have used various stratagems to deal with the musical problem — How do you get a modern audience to buy into people suddenly breaking into song? — Hooper went with a little-used solution: He created a “through-sung” musical in which the entire film is sung. There aren’t any jarring moments in which characters shift from dialogue to song because it’s all song.”
In other words, as Pesci would say, it’s a fucking opera.
“I really went back to school and studied all the great musicals,” Hooper said. “And I was struck by the difficulty of the gear change. I remember in ‘The Sound of Music,’ there’s a 28-minute stretch without a song, and then there’s a romantic song.
“And you kind of go, ‘Oh, we’re back in a song,’
“The original draft of the screenplay was 50 percent dialogue and 50 percent music, and I worried that there wasn’t a clear rationale about why you were singing at one point and speaking at another. And the more I looked over it, the more I thought, there’s not an obvious justification to be in one mode or the other mode. And then I thought, maybe the way to avoid those difficult gear changes is just to commit to singing.”
“The result, he said, is the creation of an alternative world. ‘We’re just saying, ‘This is a world like ours, but just as we generate grammatical and sentence construction, these people generate melody and rhyme construction. Other than that, it’s exactly the same.’”
I have to say that I love what Hooper said during a post-screening q & a about the benefit of having won a Best Picture Oscar: “I had a feeling after The King’s Speech that when the industry gives you that kind of acknowledgement, you should use it to take a risk or to stretch yourself. I didn’t want to be conservative and do another film like that.”