Category Archives: film

Les Miserables and the hypocritics

By Neil Chapman

I want to talk about Les Miserables in a moment, but firstly I want to get something off my chest.

Critics.

Look down 

What do you think of ‘em, eh? These people who set themselves up as arbiters of our taste. The ones who go to all the first nights and then write their reviews for the newspapers the following day.

Critics or Muppets?

Critics or Muppets?

You know you shouldn’t but you do; you read them and they colour your view before you go to see whatever it is they’ve reviewed. It’s worse sometimes when you read the review after you’ve seen something that you really enjoyed it, then find the critics have slammed it. It can make you feel silly if you’re not careful. Silly or angry. Depends on your nature. Guess what I feel?

Yes I know, we are all critics from time to time. We all watch stuff and then have a view on it. So I guess it’s no different to listening to your mate’s opinion, but because it’s your mate, it’s easy to disregard their views because you know they don’t have your taste, your appreciation of the subtleties of the finer aspects of the arts, be that art itself, cinema, shows or even TV. But, when you read or listen or see what the so-called ‘critics’ have to say, for some reason you take more notice. Why is that? Because they’re ‘experts’? Because they know better than us? Because they are paid to do it?

Interesting question and I’m not sure either.

And dontcha just love it when they disagree with each other? Surely, (and think this through) if they were experts, all of them, surely they would all agree with each other? Anyway…

Master of the House

As my dear old mum used to say… Critics? Bollocks. They know nothing, at least when it comes to the arts, no more than you or I. I give you the Turner Prize. It doesn’t matter which year, or what won it, it’ll be questionable. But guaranteed to have some critics salivating at the mouth in their praise. I give you that pile of bricks they all loved, and what about Tracey Emin’s unmade bed?

Well...Mr.Saatchi liked it enough to pay £150k for t.

Well…Mr.Saatchi liked it enough to pay £150k for it.

All this is stuff you either like or you don’t. You might even grow to like it. What I don’t like though is being told what to like. And often, in the most high falutin’, pretentious, gobble-de-gook language imaginable.

It’s all about personal taste. I will refer you to the best writer I know and the best commentator on ‘entertainment’ I know, William Goldman, who famously said in his book ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’ that “Nobody knows anything.” Never, never has a truer word been spoken about almost anything, let alone entertainment. That’s just my view, of course.

Empty chairs at empty tables

Anyway, I digress, my point is, take no notice of the experts, the critics. If you want to see it, go and see it and make your own mind up and don’t be discouraged. Never forget Louis B Mayer originally cut  ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ out of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. It’s since won awards as the best song in a movie ever and no, I don’t like it either but that’s exactly my point! Decca Records? They turned down the Beatles saying “Guitar bands are on the way out”… and Western Union turned down a piece of kit in 1876 they said “Was of no inherent value to them”… that was the telephone. Oh dear.

More to the point, one of their most recent classic mis-judgements was in 1985 when Les Miserables was first staged. It was slammed by most of the critics, one of whom still hides behind the George Bernard Shaw bon mot, “50 million Frenchmen can’t be right”. Left to the critics this show wouldn’t have seen the light of day after its opening night in the Barbican. 28 years ago. 28 years! 42 countries! 21 languages! The most successful musical ever. 

On my own

So where is all this leading? The cinema that’s where, or ‘The Pictures’ as these places should be called. Why? Because I’m going to review a film for you. Yes after all that I’m going to be a critic. That’s why I wanted to compare notes about ‘critics’ earlier because here I am, putting myself in their position. Sort of. Although, this is more of a comparison than a review. And anyway, it’s my blog…

Bring him home

So here we go. I’m talking about the film version of Les Miserables recently released. And recently reviewed. It got good notices, but many of the critics just couldn’t help themselves and needed images-4(yes, needed) to disparage Russell Crowe’s singing. Why do they do this? Look, I know he can’t sing, you know he can’t sing and I’m pretty sure he knows he can’t sing either. But surely to God, after all these years, don’t they know it’s nothing to do with the singing? It’s all about the emotion, particularly his role.

I dreamed a dream

Anyway, I have just been to see it. I couldn’t wait. I loved the stage show and I love the music to the point that I break down in tears almost every time I hear it.

I came away disappointed. Very disappointed. You who have seen the stage show and are going to see the film, you’ll be disappointed too, I think, and I’ll tell you why. Because it doesn’t have the same power as the musical. And that’s what we wanted to see, to experience again! Almost certainly, like me, you loved the show because you interacted with it. The orchestra in the pit a few yards away from you, the cast larger than life acting and singing their hearts out, the incredible sets filling the stage. And the music. Yes the film has the same music but actually it doesn’t. Not like the show has music. Music that fills your head, grabs your senses, music that takes you over, makes you a character in scene after scene, suffering with them, feeling what they feel, sharing their determination, their pain whatever. The show is happening now, right in front of you, creating magic, chemistry. Of course great films can move you, take you with them, but not quite like the theatre. And nothing quite like Les Mis.

And perhaps that’s where the problem with the film lies. Any film is going to struggle to compare favourably with a good stage production of the same film. So… if you saw the show, I think you’ll be disappointed.

Do you hear the people sing?

On the other hand, if you haven’t seen the musical, go see the film. You’ll love it. I mean that. Great story, great music and excellent acting and singing. If you have one shred of emotion within you, one shard, this show will find it. Russell Crowe? He does OK, in fact better than OK. The singing, the acting is really first class; Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne et al, they’re all good. They ‘act’ the singing if you know what I mean and carry it off easily.

But, but, but.  At some point in your life, if you get the chance to see the show, take it. Do this one thing, just for you and see the musical version of ‘Les Miserables’ and take those you love with you. I think it will be a night you will never forget. I don’t think you would ever be able to say that about the film.

Who am I?

But I could be wrong.

Bugger! I shouldn’t have said that.

I’ll never make a critic.

Extra Extra. Read all about it

by Neil Chapman 

Did I tell you about my brush with Hollywood? No?

Have they mentioned anything to you?

No? Seems I’ll have to tell you then.

Well. You’re in for a treat. But you will have to excuse the name-dropping. So lets get them outta the way. Charlize Thieron, Kristin Stewart, Rupert Saunders, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins etc. My co-stars so to speak. Are you sure?

Rewind about eight, nine years ago might be ten, can’t remember actually, but I do remember playing golf with some guy who just happened to mention he occasionally got work as a film extra. Worked when it suited him, bit of fun, he didn’t do it for the rubbish money, he did it for the craic. Interesting I thought, I fancy a go at that. So a matter of hours later, there I was, eagerly Googling up all the casting agencies I could find. And that’s where it lost its appeal; filling in reams and reams of information, supplying photographs etc. As I remember, I think I half-filled a couple of them in, got fed up, didn’t bother any more, and of course never heard a word from them.

So now fast forward to the summer of 2011. Out of the blue I get an e-mail. Simply asked “ Do you have long hair?, ”Can you grow a beard?” “Are you available on these dates?” Not too difficult even for me. So I responded with the new pics they asked for, which then passed a number of ‘auditions’ and I was told to pitch up at Pinewood for a fitting. Seems I was going to be a Noble Lord in the $150 million 2012 summer blockbuster “Snow White and the Huntsman”.  Not quite the stand out role I was now hoping for; there was a 100 or more of us. But it’s a start.

Noble or wot?

Noble or wot?

So I turn up on the due day for my fitting at the labyrinth that is Pinewood Studios. You are quickly assigned a dresser, and mine minced off to find a costume that might fit.  I stood amazed, half naked but amazed, as he disappeared off into the distance. Try and imagine a huge hangar of a building, completely filled with hanging rails, stuffed with every costume, doublet, tights, coat and cloak that had ever appeared in a British period film ever! It was rather like the biggest TMaxx in the world except the clothes were better, and in some cases, more modern.

All in all I did 6 days filming or shooting as we (in the business) call it.  Three days getting slaughtered in the castle courtyard, and three days in the cathedral for Ravenna’s wedding and then Snow White’s coronation scenes. The hours were brutal. Supposedly 6am.until 4pm.ish (but we never left until at least 10pm, and some days were 2pm. until 10pm.ish (got away about 4am.) However despite that I found it fascinating.  Yes, lots of waiting around whilst they set up the next shots, but even that I found really interesting. Organised chaos; electricians, camera guys, make up people, lighting guys, I’m guessing at least 70/80 people all rushing around doing what they had to for the next shot.

Whatever you may have heard about film extras being treated like cattle, ill fed etc. forget it. It was very inclusive experience, everyone was really polite, matey even; all part of the team. As for the grub, first class. And food becomes important at 3am in the morning when you’ve been there 12 hours. And even that becomes a bit of an event; 50 assorted pizzas, 50 lots of fish and chips and 50 lots of scampi and chips, and the chuck wagon kicking off again, turning out burgers. Surreal really, all dressed up in medieval clothes, mingling with the ‘stars’, 3am in the morning, leaning against the walls of a $5 million castle they built last month, and all of us talking bollocks about our next ‘project’. Yup, I’m now officially a ‘Luvvie’.

Of course you don’t get to mingle with Charlize, and obviously Rupert and Kristin were off doing

More evil than medieval

More evil than medieval

their own mingling. But that’s another story. Perhaps ‘Not so Snow White’ or ‘I used to be Snow White but I drifted?’

There’s not much more to add really. Well there is but modesty forbids. I want to tell you how I threw myself into the role, draining myself emotionally, giving it my all as a Noble Lord. There were a couple of moments there I allowed myself to think BAFTA.

All this took place in the November, filming was completed in December, and the film was premiered June 1st 2012. No, the bastards didn’t invite me to the premiere. Leicester Square Odeon, 1673 seats and they can’t fit me in. I could have stood at the side, I’d have been very quiet and I would have promised to wear a suit. But no. I’m ever so slowly beginning to get a bad feeling about this.

So I go to my local Odeon with my Wonderful Girl Friend. She casually mentions at the ticket office “He’s in this” pointing at me. Cue pandemonium… I’m signing autographs for all the staff and the people behind us in the queue. Love it!

Watch the film… it’s good. Very good. But one small problem. I ain’t in it. No-where to be seen. And apart from a minutes worth in the Cathedral, neither was any of the stuff we spent six days filming.

So it was a case of very early one morning in October last, waiting for HMV to open. I thought it odd there was no-one else queuing for it, but that’s another story. And at 9.01 am I have the DVD, the expensive one, the extended version, the directors cut with an extra five minutes, the one with all the added features. At 1pm. I want to take it back. Get my money back. Two hours and seven minutes and no sign of moi! Unbelievable.

Seems that Rupert let Charlize, Kristin, Ray, et al, hog the show. I’m starting to think now this film business is like everything else. It’s who you know. But wait. There’s always the deleted scenes. Of course… at least that’s something. An hour or so later, nope. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. It would appear that I’ve been deleted from the deleted scenes as well.

So that was my brush with Hollywood. The end of a love affair. In fact my experience was a bit like a new love affair…it’s full of nice surprises and then you get fucked. That’s a film industry term I believe.

But guess what? We have to go all through this again. Yaaaaay.

Last May I did a couple of days with Ralph (call me Rafe) Fiennes and Kristin Scott-Thomas (oops, there I go again). It’s a film called The Invisible Woman’, about Charles Dickens and the much younger mistress he kept very quiet about. This time I’m playing a train passenger who gets involved when the train crashes. Lets just say I’m quietly confident I might appear in this one. We’ll see. I think it’s due out in April-ish. Worryingly I haven’t received the invite yet for the premiere…I’m starting to see a pattern here. And there may not be an HMV to bale me out either.

I’ll keep you posted.