Week 7 Blog Assignment: Les Mis

For this week’s assignment I chose the opening scene from Les Miserables. It begins with a shot of the vast expanse of the shipyard, and the camera quickly zooms in on the prisoners who are pulling the ropes and then to Javert standing on the wall, and the shots go back and forth. This creates a spacial continuity because of the axis of rotation of the different shots. First we see the prisoners facing towards us at a straight angle of 180 degrees, then the shot moves up to 90 degrees when we see Javert on the platform. This creates a sense of power and authority that Javert has because from the shots it seems like he is very high up above the prisoners.

From the beginning of the scene we establish a relationship between prisoner 24601 and Javert. When the prisoners are singing “look down” prisoner 24601 looks up at Javert, who motions for him to keep working. This part of the scene distorts our perception of height because we get a shot of Javert looking toward the ground at the prisoners below (1:32) but the prisoners look so small that you can barely see them, like ants. We wonder then how Javert could have noticed one out of the hundreds of prisoner’s heads tilt up. This relationship builds until the end of the scene when Javert picks him out to retrieve the flag.

Near the middle of the scene (1:56) we see the establishing shot of the prisoners. They are all in straight lines and pulling the ropes in a perfect, rhythmic synchronization to the beat of the music. This continuous movement shows that the prisoners move as one, and that they are much like robots, moving in a sort of mechanical motion. The water also creates a sense of rhythm, as the waves are crashing to the beat of the music as well.

At the end of the scene we see the connection between Javert and prisoner 24601 unfold. Javert makes 24601 pick up the flag which is extremely heavy, but as he is doing so the camera tilts upward,  following his lifting of the flag. From this camera angle we can tell how heavy the flag is, because of slowness of the tilt.

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One thought on “Week 7 Blog Assignment: Les Mis

  1. This scene opened with an establishing shot. The establishing shot gave the audience a clear idea of the setting and a little bit of the plot as we see how the different characters are treated. It is easy to see who the one in charge in this scene is and how all of the men have to follow him due to his height above the others. You are correct when you say this is a manipulation of space as he seems to be way above the rest of the workers. I also find it interesting how you pointed out the camera tilt emphasizes how heavy the flag is. This also establishes a relationship between two characters. It is amazing how small parts of editing have such a massive impact on how a movie begins and plays out. The rhythm is also vital to this movie as it is a musical, so it’s interesting to see that incorporated into the scene as well.

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