Monday, December 31, 2012

Les Miserables or Les Pommes et Oranges!

Ok. I've read the reviews and the Facebook sniping and now that I have finally seen it: LES MISERABLES - THE FILM, I can finally comment and respond. First, I saw the original London Production with Colm Wilkinson and the Broadway with him and two other guys later and I also saw it in London again on three separate occasions. So, I saw the original 7 times. I saw the prototype high school version and then directed that version in 2004. I LOVE the play. Am I clear? Now about the movie. It is a movie, a film, a motion picture ADAPTED from a Broadway pop/opera/musical. Brilliantly photographed, cleverly adapted, wonderfully cast (more on that) and beautifully acted. The controversy about the live on camera singing and Russell Crowe's performance are all pish tosh. There are many presentational, artificial musical "comedies" like CHICAGO which are adapted up front and in your face, in old school movie musical/ Broadway style but LES MIS is not that and never was. This is an emotional story with emotional songs written in a quasi pop/ opera style with an occasional nod to traditional musical comedy( The Thenardier's) So, Facebook and the net is choc-a-block with all kinds of nit picking criticism. "Russell Crowe can't sing", "they added dialogue", "songs were cut", "Amanda Seyfried has a vibrato" . People: stop!Many Broadway fans once again apply stage criticism to film. Folks, its apples and oranges. In order for this expressionisticly staged melodramatic story, with it's "popera" music to work, they had to find a way to make it realistic. Film is all about closeups and having Russell Crowe or anybody belt out those extremely difficult songs of Javert and make them both realistic and understandable would have been ludicrous. Russell Crowe is a fine actor, who took excellent direction and made you HEAR every bit of his recitative and sung lyrics. His performance was as careful and as deliberate as everybody else's. So, why all the complaints. Probably because they are some of the most ridiculously difficult songs ever written for a Broadway show. Having seen and worked on a combination of 9 productions, I can tell you most Javerts struggled with the songs. Those most successful, belted them out with big strong voices hitting fully sounded notes but always lost much intelligibility of lyrics. The director and the producer, who also produced the original show, knew that the "dialogue" for this musical was primarily recitative with some full out character songs. If you are going to be faithful, realistic and dramatic, then an adjustment had to be made to make the lyrics/ dialogue clear, audible and understandable. Dialogue and visuals, especially closeups, tell film stories. All the recitative and many of the songs were slowed down or , in some cases, quieted down, to make the word heard and understood. It was a brilliant choice. They also mixed the sound film in an uniquely different fashion. All the vocals were pushed to the front and center and the orchestrations reduced in volume much in the same way but not to the same degree that background music is used to underscore emotions and themes. This compromise succeeded because I heard lyrics that I never heard before and I know that anybody who has familiarity will have the same experience. Those with little familiarity with the show will never notice the trick . Now on the topic of vibrato, some singers have them some don't. Some are taught to use it others to lose it. It is a matter of taste. If it were such an evil, why did Billie Burke, Jeanette McDonald, Joan Baez and Buffy Sainte Marie have such successful careers. So listen folks, Broadway fans, "purists" and drama queens if you haven't seen the film be prepared to to reign in your natural prejudice that " demands" exact replication of the Broadway show. Of course, some might also, have to reign in their personal jealousy for their favorite part being ruined by those"movie" actors. Really folks, you can't replicate a live theatre experience. Film has to be accepted for what it is and how it functions as film. You can't compare apples and oranges. Oh and then, the true measure of Les Mis in any incarnation, did it make you choke up or cry. It has always affected me this way and the film did as well. I cried. It was a success. There.

Friday, June 29, 2012

My rant on the Healthcare Debate

I am so fed up with all the carping and complaining about the healthcare debate. People who I know to be fairly intelligent are posting wild propaganda that is based on fear mongering and bias. It is propagated by politicians seeking no other goal but reelection and corporations who support them to increase their influence and profits. The issue of what is good and helpful to people is completely being ignored by many people I know because they are being made to believe that "the other side" is only capable of evil. Can we please look at the issue more carefully. Let us first look at the "chewing gum" cartoon which makes people believe that the are being taxed for something they don't want. If we look at the logic of this then we can see its flaws. Taken at face value the cartoon states "I don't want to pay money for chewing gum-alias-health care. Who doesn't want health care? Suicides? Christian Scientists?(another argument for another day). This argument is very flawed. If we are discussing mandating insurance then let's look at another insurance that is already mandated.
Today, across the country we are all mandated to buy car insurance if we want to drive a car. We do not have a choice. If we drive without insurance, we incur multiple steep fines. We could even serve jail time. Once upon a time, car insurance rates were out of control across the country. Premiums often went through the roof and if you had an accident with an uninsured driver the costs would be your expense.
Such has been the case with health care and health insurance. It has not been mandatory and inexpensive options do not really exist. Yet, anyone who checks into an ER must be treated regardless of their ability to pay. Who pays for that? We all do. The costs of private insurance rates are outrageous everywhere and taxpayer pand business owner burden on welfare, Medicare & Medicaid have become astronomical because, to a large degree, we are paying for the care of the uninsured. Republicans would not support government run universal health care, so the opposition figured out a way to pay for the uninsured's emergency care and offset the insurance companies refusal to cover many by asking those who refuse to be insured to pay a tax to, in essence, cover them in an emergency. This "tax" penalty protects all Americans. Mandating we all have insurance protects our future healthcare costs from rising even more astronomically, just as Drivers are protected by buying mandated car insurance. I find it sad and strange that the ultra right and most mainstream Republicans want to deny universal healthcare. They don't want "social medicine" but they have no plans to replace it that is either fair or economical. Oh, but Governor Romney had a plan that he implemented in Massachusetts that required everyone in the State to buy or obtain health insurance. That state has the lowest rate of uninsured in the country, about 3% compared to the national average over 15%. Funny that his model that was the basis for The Affordable Care Act is now criticized by him as an evil. Why? Because he's running for President. The reality of the healthcare issue is that we as a nation are living longer and costs are increasing at a rapid rate. If The Affordable Healthcare Act and it's imminent tweaks and adjustments do not help stem the costs of a larger aging population then a more Universal Plan will be necessary and that will cost money and that will mean raising higher taxes especially on those who can afford it and don't pay enough now. The infamous 1%, Republicans and corporate conservatives will never stand for that and they will find an insidious way to make upstanding senior citizens & middle Americans to believe that higher taxes on those who do mot pay their fair share, that will make them live longer or make them comfortable are evil. They will finds a way to make make people believe that death is preferable to higher taxes on the rich. Unbelievable but sadly true.

"E Pluribis Unum"our original national motto means Out of many, one or One from many. One people united under a common cause in a country designed with a concept of the common good for one united people. Apparently, we have lost that thread. It's more like the Three Stooges: One for all & all for one and Everyman for himself. Rant over.

Monday, April 23, 2012

William Shakespeare's Birthday April 23

Shakespeare has been an important part of my life since seeing his plays broadcast on TV in 1964, for his 400th birthday. I was 10. I chose Hofstra University as my college because of their Shakespeare festival and have been fortunate to have directed 17 of his plays, some multiple times for a total of 32 productions.all in all his plays have provided me with the foundations of my directing skills and actor training.

Happy 448 Will.

"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.
Julius Caesar (I, ii 140-141)

"He was not for an age but for all time." Ben Jonson