Les Mis Picspam, Part the First
I’m putting this up in parts, because they’ve taken down the Youtube videos now, and I’m not finished some of the later parts.
I adore musicals. In the same way I like Quentin Tarantino films, V for Vendetta, and Pushing Daisies, I adore heightened realities where everything works out either perfectly, or perfectly wrong, where everything is coloured beautifully and people can rhyme in harmony on the spur of any moment.
So sung-through musicals, like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, are top of the top, because if you’re going to do something, do it ALL THE WAY.
I recently (HAHAHAHA this is no longer true) got very into Les Miserables, and I have had the songs stuck in my head for days (years). Now, for those who don’t know, Les Miserables is the most depressing musical of all time, in which everyone is first tortured by fate, then tortured by actual people, and then they die. It is SO relentlessly depressing it is actually hilarious. So while I’ve had the songs and stories and characters trapped in my brain, I have also had a never-ending stream of peanut gallery commentating happening in the background of my mind, and in order to shut it up, I decided to put pen to paper, or hand to keyboard, and do a virtual MST3King of the 25th Anniversary edition of the musical, as that is the version I’ve enjoyed the most (oh, sue me).
Because it’s not like I have work or a job or a life to keep me occupied, or anything.
The opening lyrics begin:
Look down, look down, don’t look ‘em in the eye/Look down, look down, you’re here until you die
…thus effectively setting the tone for the rest of the musical. So if you were expecting Hairspray or Grease (ALL MUSICALS ARE HAPPINESS AND SUNSHINE; I know this because there is singing), and the title wasn’t enough to tip you off, I’d leave now.
Anyway, so we open on Bagne prison in Toulon, France. It’s 1815, so these guys are working the chain gang, rather than painting clown pictures and getting liberal arts degrees. Surprisingly, none of them are thrilled with this arrangement.
It was at this point, when I first watched the musical, that I went: “Oh! Shit.” (Read: ok, they’re not kidding around.)
This is my favourite guy! Look how earnest he is. Plus, then the brass section gets going and I just die.
Prison guard Javert enters to rain on the parade (because before he came along, they were doing just fine), calling for the parole of prisoner 24601.
Javert goes “What? HAHAHA. No,” and calls him names, like “thief.”
Valjean, I am going to cut you some slack because English should not be your first language, but “stealing” = “thieving”.
There. That’s the argument I would have started with.
Javert is not interested. He orders Valjean not to forget his name, and then proceeds to spend the rest of the musical harassing him and referring to himself in the third person (tm Michael).
Carrying his yellow ticket of leave, Valjean ventures out to reacquaint himself with the world.
The world, however, wastes no time in letting Valjean know it still doesn’t care for him, because this is a long ass play, and we’ve got a lot of story to get to.
Some business man refuses to pay Valjean in full because he was a prisoner. Now, this I do not (did not) understand – did Valjean wave around this yellow card when applying for employment? Might I suggest he simply hide it in his pocket next time?
Valjean has a temper tantrum about the frustrations of a penal system that gobbles up minor and major offenders alike and maroons them on a plane of existence, where badness is punished, but goodness is forever out of reach by virtue of being placed in said system in the first place, because musicals are for light entertainment. After he’s done whining, he runs straight into literally the last person you would expect to see in 19th century France.
Bishop Will Farrel offers Valjean wine, bed, and bread, out of naught but the goodness of his heart. Poor man doesn’t know that bread is Valjean’s greatest weakness. Sure enough, Valjean gives in to temptation, stealing some silver (and, I can only assume, MORE BREAD) and runs.
Why? Because it worked so well last time?
Needless to say, he is caught. Immediately.
Valjean, you are not very good at this. Might I suggest a different hobby?
But soft! What light through yonder Bishop breaks? He has come to place Valjean under the Jewish mother of all guilt trips!
Will Farrell tells the policemen that of course he gave Valjean that silver (AND THAT BREAD), but also, here, have some more stuff.
I really do love the bishop, especially in the book, he’s I think my second favourite character after Valjean, but seriously, what does a man have to do to piss him off? If you shot the bishop’s son, he would apologise for the inconvenience pulling the trigger must have had on your finger, thank you for putting the boy out of his misery, and offer you a better gun, that you may shoot straighter next time.
Anyway, so Will Farrell, who could teach my mother a thing or two about guilt, tells Valjean to use the stolen goods as a stepping stone for living an honest life. And instead of trying to see what he can get Farrell to give him if he doesn’t (maybe some gold? or MORE BREAD?), Valjean follows the good man’s word, and breaks his parole.
I’m not sure “use this precious silver to become an honest man” = “break parole,” but whatever.
Yes, don’t worry about that, it’s a common side effect of guilt tripping.
In short, Valjean has a minor emotional breakdown, an identity crisis, and hates the world some more, but eventually decides to rip up that ticket (SERIOUSLY, DOES THIS TICKET SYSTEM SEEM FAULTY TO ANYONE ELSE?) and thus ends the prologue.
I’ll put up Part the Next next Friday.