So the cast of Les Misérables sang live, to the accompaniment of an off-camera piano piped into their ears? You could have fooled me. The memo arrived only after I saw the movie. As I watched, it had never crossed my mind that the actors were not lip-synching. I wasn't watching for glitches, but I did think I caught some. Slippage of this sort was the least of my complaints. (What I could not swallow was Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's score, which makes Andrew Llyod Webber sound like Hector Berlioz.)
As the world knows, the director Tom ("The King's Speech") Hooper would have walked sooner than filming the old-fashioned way. And few of the actors can resist thumping their chests in interview after interview. But if there is anything new under the sun, singing live in the movies isn't it. On the blog Theo's Roundtable, Clive Hirschhorn cites many precedents. Let me add one more. In 1968, when Barbra Streisand went to Hollywood to reprise Funny Girl, the producers expected her to pre-record her songs and shoot to playback. So she did, mostly. But to the bean counters' horror, she insisted on performing the climactic number "My Man" live, in a continuous take. A transcendent performance vindicated Stresisand's decision, and on Oscar night, she got her reward.
But how about some perspective? Movies are make-believe. What is more, they are virtually without excpetion works of bricolage, spliced together from countless pits and pieces. The impression of an organic whole, if it exists, is a hard-won illusion. With all due respect to artistic integrity, the industry is big business. And in the end, expediency looms larger.
News flash! The high-definition broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera are sung not only live but in real time! And since the premieres of Les Miz in Paris (1980) and London (1985), ensembles on most if not all inhabited continents have been singing the show (live!) as often as eight times a week. So what if the exponentially better paid stars and starlets now on screen sang live, too? By the same token, so what if they had not? The movies aren't theater. They didn't have to. What does grate is the bragging.
And I wonder: didn't they cheat even a little? Consider a relevant parallel. Movie action and spoken dialogue are routinely filmed in the same takes. Sometimes, though, the audio quality leaves something to be desired, or a line reading could use a tweak. So in post-production the talent returns to the recording booth, where they loop and loop and loop again. Are we to believe that the Les Miz gang were spared this rite of passage on principle?