Oh John Carroll

Tag: musical

How To Succeed In Office Design Without Really Trying

I recently stumbled onto an interesting discovery while watching How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying for the first time, while also re-watching some Mad Men episodes in anticipation of its new season.  The film and the show both feature Robert Morse.  In How to Succeed…, Morse plays the fast-rising window-washer-turned-executive J. Pierpont Finch, while in Mad Men Morse is senior partner Bertram Cooper.

How to Succeed… has not aged well.  Its gender politics make it a bit of a slog to get through, but its worth watching for Morse alone.  He’s delightfully eccentric here, having brought the role from Broadway to the big screen.  If you’re a Mad Men fan, you’ll have an even greater appreciation for the odd stylings of Bert Cooper after watching.

But what really caught my eye were the similar tastes of Finch and Cooper.  In How to Succeed…, Finch hits a road block when a Vice President figures out his quick rise to the top and decides to fire him.  Finch gets the axe in the VP’s office:

Pre Finch

Finch, though, is much too smart to be outplayed at this point in his meteoric rise.  He sets up the VP, sees him fired, and becomes the company’s newest vice president.  As with everything having to do with Finch, change comes quickly.  By the following day, the office has been entirely re-designed for VP Finch:

Postfinch1

Postfinch2

Postfinch3

By now, you probably see where I’m going.  Finch shares an appreciation for Asian art and culture with one Bertram Cooper of Sterling Cooper, right down to each office prominently featuring a painted screen. 

Bert1

Bert2

Bert3

Bert4

That’s some great linking you’re doing, Mad Men.

And yes, I had my doubts about this, skeptical reader.  It could be a coincidence.  But if the Robert Morse link isn’t enough, and if Finch’s rise to the head of the company (which sells the top-selling-if-vague wickets, in case you’re wondering), how about this final piece of evidence: Finch fills a number of roles in How to Succeed…, but his title in the office photographed at the top? 

Vice President of Advertising.

Near, Here

Les Miserables 57

I didn’t listen.

I read plenty about Les Misérables before seeing it this week.  And despite receiving plenty of warning, I went in expecting to enjoy it.  After all, I had not read the book or seen the musical staged.  I figured its critics surely had seen better productions, but a novice like myself would love the source material, even if it was simply a mediocre adaptation.

But Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is a shockingly poor film.  There are plenty of nits to pick — Russell Crowe seems hopelessly miscast as the policeman Javert, the film’s love story is hasty and better suited for the tradition of the stage, etc. — but the biggest problem of all is Hooper’s direction.

If you’ve seen previews for Les Misérables, you surely expected a grand and sweeping film.  And while there are a few shots that communicate such an epic production (almost all of them used in said previews, naturally), Hooper mostly positions the camera directly in front of his cast.  Prepare to familiarize yourself with Russell Crowe’s goatee hairs, Anne Hathaway’s teeth and Hugh Jackman’s pores.

Admittedly, this is an interesting approach, but it quickly becomes evident that it’s simply clashing with the material.  The actors all seem to approach differently, to boot: some play for the back row, while others dial it in.  But the camera treats them all the same: there’s nowhere to hide in Les Misérables.

Hathaway’s performance of Fantine’s “I Dreamed A Dream” — which might very well win her an Oscar — emerges unscathed, if only because it might be the only scene that demands the treatment that Hooper applies to the entire film.  Fantine is trapped and alone, cut to her lowest, and the camera doesn’t cut away from her during the film’s best five minutes.

This scene comes early, however, and has no counterpart in the film’s 157 minutes.  “One Day More” is a rousing vocal performance, but Hooper’s constant cutting from close-up to close-up only communicates that the cast’s performance surely comes together much easier (and I imagine much more beautifully) on stage than in a film that has no sense of its own scope.

What’s ultimately shocking about Les Misérables is how it made it this far.  How could no one have said “No!”?  I certainly understand that musical adaptations can be cut-and-dry.  I’m not opposed to bold choices.  But this seems like a bold choice chosen before the source material, rather than one born of the material itself.

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