If there’s a negative about Les Miserables it’s that all those close-ups can get distracting. But, like we mentioned in our review, there’s a point to them. It puts the actors and raw emotion right out in front of you and it can feel emotionally sapping and even uncomfortable.
In a neat conversation with The Playlist, director Tom Hooper confirms that the reason he did all of those close-ups was to emphasize the performances and put the songs forward. Basically, he didn’t want to hide the performances. He wanted them to speak for themselves.
“I thought a lot about how to shoot the songs, and I felt that the physical environment of the actor is not important to the song,” he says. “I thought the camera should be a meditation on the human face as the best way of bringing out the emotion and meaning of the song. I felt like there were two languages of epic – the obvious physical landscape of epics, but there was also the kind of epic of the human face and the epic of the human heart. And that way of shooting was a reaction to how good the actors are. With Annie [Hathaway] I shot it with three cameras, I did have some options up my sleeve, but she so brilliantly told the story in the narrative of the close ups, it was so complete a piece of work, that I felt the best way to honor these performances. The first moment of stillness was right before it launches into song. But I also felt it was a great way of serving the live singing experience because one thing you could never do to play back was a three minute shot.”
He is right. A lot of the performances become heart breaking because we are so close to the actor and their emotion is shot right in our face. There’s nothing separating the audiences’ eyes and the actor’s raw emotion. This is why Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream is so damn heartbreaking.
Of course, you don’t have to do it with all of the performances. Mostly, because, ya know, not all of them are as Oscar-worthy as Hathaway’s. Sometimes, it’s OK to pull back a little on those other ones. Another sidenote in the excellent feature is that Russell Crowe held karaoke parties for the cast to bond. Aw. [The Playlist]