Ten. That’s how many times the audience at the London premiere of Les Misérables burst into applause this week. Ten times, during the film. During the film? Who are these emotionally incontinent, cultural barbarians?
It’s not the first time. The film’s director, Tom Hooper, revealed that at the first screening in New York, a fortnight ago, guests clapped “14 to 15 times”. And not only clapped. “For a minute, I freaked out, wondering, what’s that odd sound on the soundtrack,” said Hooper. “I looked around and realised it’s the sound of people crying en masse.”
Right. There is still time to get a grip. Les Mis is not released here for another month but the hype is already getting out of hand. The film, Hooper's first since The King's Speech, stars Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Sacha Baron Cohen among many others. Reviews are already calling it a masterpiece. Oscars will surely follow. To judge from the trailers which have been running since, it feels like, Victor Hugo's time, it is epic, full of rousing choruses and virtuoso solo turns, designed to make audiences cheer and cry.
Even if one takes into account the fact that many of those genuflecting at the screenings so far will have been friends of the cast and crew, the mid-movie ovation is part of an irritating new trend. The peacocking of one’s ability to appreciate culture deeply.
Once, heartfelt applause at the curtain and perhaps a genteel shower of bouquets for a true diva sufficed. Now, standing ovations have become near-mandatory in the West End. They’re no longer reserved for the truly extraordinary. People are out of their seats at the drop of the curtain.
In cinemas, this noisy outpouring makes even less sense. In an art form which relies entirely on the audience’s ability to lose itself in what’s happening on screen, it may even detract from the work. Applauding every time someone hits the high notes, in a movie musical, is over-excitable to a fault.
Much has been made of the fact that Hooper insisted on filming his stars singing “live”, but Russell Crowe needed 40 takes to nail one of his numbers, so “live” is a fluid notion here. Goodness knows what Les Mis fans would do if faced with a real top C, from a live performer, singing in the same theatre as them. They’d probably never recover.
* Talking of cinema, the fortunes of my lovely local fleapit, the Ritzy in Brixton, took a turn this week. The Picturehouse chain, which includes the Ritzy and 20 other much-loved arthouse cinemas across the UK, has been bought by Cineworld for £47.3m.
Takeover stories like this always provoke a sinking feeling to start with. The soulless multiplex shovelling up the sainted indies like so much cheap popcorn. Alas!
In fact, Picturehouse is hardly a vulnerable, profitless concern. It is the country's largest independent chain and already shows a mix of blockbuster and arthouse fare. In a statement, it promises "business as usual", with no changes to the ethos, pricing structure or staffing of their cinemas.
If it keeps to its word, this could be a fruitful partnership. With Cineworld's financial clout behind it, Picturehouse can expand, with plans to open 10 more cinemas in 2014. But it's what Picturehouse could do for Cineworld that is even more exciting.
These days viewers want more from their cinema experience than a car-chase and a vat of Coca Cola. If they take the time to look, Cineworld will learn valuable lessons from their latest acquisition – about inventive programming, welcoming venues, quirky community spirit and knowledgeable staff. And that can only be a good thing.Reuse content