Thursday, October 4, 2012

L is for Les Misérables


Before we get to today’s topic, a short note about some blog business.  I know I mentioned once before that I’d had some comments disappear while using the Intense Debate CommentLuv system.  Well, it’s happened again, though I may have stumbled upon the issue after some further research.   My fingers are crossed.  In the meantime, please accept my apologies for any of your comments that have vanished into the ether, and know that I appreciate them all sincerely. 

Also, tonight on American TV, we’ve got the first of the presidential debates.  I don’t have high expectations, but hope that the candidates will at least lay out their line of reasoning and that voters will listen with an open mind.

Now, to the topic at hand.  Back when I was still in high school—1978, to be precise—there was a television movie adaptation of the book, Les MisérablesLes Miserables TVI was one of those weirdo kids who always enjoyed literature class, and, don’t tell anybody, but I even read some books that weren’t actual assignments.  I had tried to read Victor Hugo’s (lengthy) classic some time shortly before the movie hit the small screen, but, honestly, it just didn’t do it for me and I set it aside.  When I saw the commercial for the TV movie, I thought maybe if I watched it first, then I’d be more inclined to actually read the book.  With Richard Jordan and Anthony Perkins in the primary roles, it looked like it would be pretty good .  But the plan didn’t work too well, as I wasn’t particularly impressed with the movie, either.

I think that failed experiment pointed out a flaw in my beloved platform of television.  You see, TV can do many things.  It can educate and entertain; it can expose people to places and things they might not ever have the opportunity to otherwise experience; it can help open minds and make changes to social norms.  As a medium, it’s got a lot going for it.  But what it’s not always so good at is interpreting literature, and especially classic literature. 

Of course, it’s possible Les Misérables isn’t the best test of that ability.  As I mentioned, it’s a pretty lengthy book—spanning about twenty years and covering a variety of storylines, all set against the backdrop of the political and social unrest of 19th century France.  Admittedly, that’s a pretty big undertaking to squeeze into 2.5 hours.  Still, I was disappointed.

So, this story that’s been captivating audiences (even if not me) for over a hundred years, what’s it about, anyway?  Basically, it’s about a man, Jean Valjean, whom we meet as he is being released from prison after almost twenty years.  His crime?  First stealing some bread, and then attempting to escape his imprisonment.  Not exactly a hardened criminal, but he’s a marked man now.  The story follows his life as he attempts to leave the past behind him and build a new life.  That new life involves hiding from an obsessive police inspector (Javert) out to put Valjean back behind bars, as well as raising the young daughter of a recently deceased factory employee.  Oh, yeah, and surviving an armed insurrection gets thrown in there, too.  It was a busy couple of decades.  Like I said, a lot to fit into a standard TV film.

Still, television gave it another try in 2000, this time as a mini-series.  Honestly, I didn’t even want to watch that one, though my instinct is that its format gave it a much better chance of success.  But besides having already been unimpressed with both the book and a movie, casting is always a big consideration for me.  In this case, it had the impressive John Malkovich as Javert, but also Gérard Depardieu as Valjean, and I have to admit that I’m not much of a Depardieu fan.  But of late, I’ve been thinking I should queue up Netflix and give it a try.  But I’m still not getting my hopes up.

But, while television may not excel at interpreting classic literature, it turns out that theatre can pretty much nail it.  The classic tale of honor and redemption was set to music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, with lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, and debuted in Paris in 1980.  The lyrics were adapted into English by Herbert Kretzmer, and the show moved first to London in 1985, and then to Broadway in 1987.  It’s been wowing audiences—including me—ever since.  I hope TV won’t mind too much that I’m cheating on it just a little bit.

Linking up with ABC Wednesday; be sure to check out the full listing of other L entries.    ABCW11




31 Days of TV