The cinematography in Les Miserables is quite controversial in the world of film and theater. Danny Cohen, the Cinematographer, and Top Hooper, the Director, made some interesting choices in the creation of the film.
One of the more notable techniques used was the choice to have the actors sing on stage. On the surface this does not seem to be a film technique; however, when a director chooses to have the actors sing it creates a fluidity to the filming. The director cannot simply stop the filming and restart when he wants to adjust an angle or remove a piece of scenery. Also this fluid nature allows the actors and actresses to fully invest in the scene. That investment is amplified by the actual singing which in its nature is cathartic.
Cohen's techniques generally follow the use of a handheld cameras and longer than normal takes. The handheld cameras create a jumpy, unsteady feeling to the filming. It also allows several trick shots that Cohen seems to prefer. Most notably the extreme close-ups, not centering the central figure, and the dutch angles. (A dutch angle is when the camera is tilted so the horizon is on the corner of the frame. )
I Dreamed and Dream took advantage of all of the aspects of the filming to create one of the best scenes in the movie. The song leading into I Dreamed a Dream, Lovely Ladies is almost nauseating with the use of fast clips, dutch angles, and jerky camera. It leads smoothly into On My Own. Anne Hathaway's character begins in the ships cabin. From there the camera remains off center giving Fantine's character a sense of loneliness and isolation. The camera steady. (This is one of only a few places in the movie where this happens.) It remains steady and does not move closer or pull back. The result is that the audience is drawn into the dispair of Fantine. One of the reasons that this particular section of the movie was so wildly successful was the clear contrast between the previous Lovely Ladies montage into such a completely focused moment in the movie.
On my Own unlike I Dreamed a Dream uses the hand camera and several angles to portray Eponine's realization that she will never be loved by Marius. The scene begins with a High-angle shot of Eponine reading the letter. The Low-key lighting is accentuated by the use of water on the stage. Once the music begins playing, the picture retracts to a long shot. Eponine's character is dwarfed by the surrounding set. As the music nears to her singing, the shot grows closer, all the while maintaining a sense of alone-ness. This is accomplished through Cohen's off center framing of each shot of Eponine. The camera moves into a middle close up once Eponine sings (All Alone). It will remain there throughout the rest of the song. Unlike Hathaway's performance, Samantha Barks moves through the street, followed by the hand cam which gives a sense of lack of control that adds to the message of the song. As Eponine's character sinks into despair, her move to sit in the streets is not followed until the last few moments of the song.
Do You Hear the People Sing is filmed, in contrast to the other two pieces, in an epic scale. The use of long cinematographic sweeps, the use of CGI to increase the scale of the set, and the abrupt cut to characters around the funeral route in time with the music enhances the impending feeling of danger. Again the use of the hand cam, close ups, and dutch angles are used sporadically as the character's begin the song of rebellion. The use of these elements brings in the audience as members of the funeral route. The use of the middle close ups, over-the-shoulder shots, and tilt shots remove the fourth wall from the theater and draw the audience into the uncomfortable setting. Unlike the other two songs which remain fairly uncut throughout the length of the song, Do You Hear the People Sing cuts quickly from angle to angle and character to character remaining under five seconds on each shot. The camera becomes more and more unsteady leading to the confrontation with the soldiers. During the battle the hand-cam is bumped and jostled almost as if it is a documentary crew filming the sudden outbreak of violence.
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