Sunday, March 01, 2015

cherbourg vs. les miz

When Tom Hooper’s film of the cult pop opera, ”Les Misérables,”opened in 2012, much was made of the fact that all the singing was done "live," no pre-recording or subsequent lip-syncing by his game cast.

But Hooper really had no other option.  Except for a few lines of dialogue here and there, the film was near-literally all-singing.  His movie - or rather its players - could not withstand 158 minutes of lip-syncing.

Hooper's decision to have his cast sing everything "live" was praised not only as gutsy, but also as a first.  Not true.  Film musicals in the 1930s routinely had "live" singing, and as late as 1975, Peter Bogdanovich had his ”At Long Last Love” cast do the same thing for the film's entirety.

Doris Day sang all her songs live in 1957's "The Pajama Game" and, in 1962, Mervyn LeRoy shot two back-to-back ”Gypsy” numbers "live" - Rosalind Russell's "Mr. Goldstone, I Love You" (one of the few songs in the film in which Russell did her own singing) and Natalie Wood's "Little Lamb" (a song that was later recorded for the film's soundtrack album).

As impressive as this is, more awesome is what director Jacques Demy achieved in 1964 with "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" ("Les parapluies de Cherbourg"). Like "Les Miz," Demy's film is all-singing.  But none of it was done "live."  The songs were all pre-recorded, which meant that Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo and company had to lip-sync every scene. I can't imagine the process being anything less than arch and cumbersome.

Of course, Demy's film isn't bloated.  It runs a trim 91 minutes. Perhaps also at 91 minutes, "Les Miz" would have been pre-recorded, too.

Demy passed in 1990 and I've no idea if his approach to filming "Cherbourg" has ever been documented in an interview.  Perhaps this information is buried in some old edition of Cahiers du cinema. 

It's something I'd like to read.

"Cherbourg."  "Les Miz."   Both are all-singing features (with scattered dialogue) and classic movies. But which one was more difficult to film?

Any opinions?


Sheila said...

I vote for "Cherbourg." I'm sure that lip-syncing an entire film was "grueling," a word that seems counterproductive for a film musical. But Demy and his cast made it look easy.

jesse said...

"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," no contest!