Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Notre-Dame de Paris Pity Party

A movie musical? Oh, like Mamma Mia? That's cute, I guess.

Everyone* is super psyched about the movie adaptation of the Les Miserables stage musical that's coming out on Christmas. I'm psyched. I've been psyched for a while. I am crying right now because I am not currently watching Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter perform "Master of the House." There is even an advent calendar!

*Correction: Grumpy Cat is not psyched about Les Miserables.

But as excited as I am, I can't help feeling a little sad for other Victor Hugo novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, aka The Hunchback of Notre Dame, of which I am also a huge fan. Everyone's freaking out over Les Miz, and there's Notre-Dame just sitting there abandoned like Quasimodo in the church's free baby bin while no one makes advent calendars for it.

Les Miz is close to my heart, and for me conjures memories of escaping by reading in gardens and cafes during a difficult time. I saw the musical afterwards and have the soundtrack on my iPod. Notre-Dame is a far more recent read for me, and I was surprised by how much it grabbed me. I love them both. However, as much as I love Les Miz, it can kinda be subtitled "How many people have to die so Cosette and Marius can have their boring, bougie wedding?" Spoiler alert: a lot.

I was trying to take a thoughtful picture but it turned out like porn.

Audiences generally want some sort of happy ending, preferably romance-related. Even though almost all of everybody's favorites get killed before the end of Les Miz, Cosette and Marius survive to register at Williams & Sonoma which makes Valjean happy, so...mission accomplished? Meanwhile, Notre-Dame's just like, "yeah, everyone died..." The last few chapters are like Disneyland's Small World ride, except instead of passing by different idyllic but stereotypical scenes of kids holding hands, you pass by scenes of people getting their brains knocked out, dying from shock, being hanged, getting tossed off cathedrals, starving to death in a pile of corpses, etc. It is basically Joss Whedon's fondest dream.

So Les Miz has a supposedly happy ending and advent calendars and Grumpy Cat memes and Anne Hathaway method acting by dying of TB, but does it have a scene where a guy and a girl are having a sex in a hotel room and the girl's pet goat is also in the hotel room and then a second guy whom the first guy allowed to watch the sex stabs the first guy during the sex? Spoiler alert: it does not.

Obviously the choice centerpiece scene for Auguste Couder's 1833
Scenes tirees de Notre-Dame de Paris.

Notre-Dame also has the most beautiful man/goat relationship ever written (same goat as above). While struggling writer Pierre Gringoire's fake marriage to Esmeralda doesn't net him any sex, it does gain him custody of the little white trick-performing goat, Djali. The goat becomes Gringoire's dearest friend (not that high a bar - Frollo was his only friend previously) and he is certain she shares his feelings. Like Esmeralda, Quasimodo, and Frollo, Djali too is accused of being the devil (man, the 1400s were rough), but survives and gets the story's sole happy ending: a daring escape and new life with Gringoire.

Yeah, Phoebus and Fleur-de-Lys get married, but that happens off-scene and everyone knows he's going to cheat on her anyways (he was the stabee in the hotel sex scene).

FYI, Esmeralda is not generally topless.
Also her necklace is supposed to have a shoe on it.

Notre-Dame also has Jehan Frollo du Moulin in its corner. Jehan is Frollo's spoiled little brother/"other" kid, who always gets cut out of adaptations, which is too bad, because he is hilarious. Jehan is nothing like the rest of his family. While Frollo and Quasimodo are content to stay inside the cathedral to do their alchemy/bell-ringing, Jehan is a loud, obnoxious extrovert. His main activities are drinking, bullying, and hitting up a frustrated but enabling Frollo for money. When the gypsies rise up to take Esmeralda from Notre-Dame, he joins the fight on a whim and is promptly killed by his adopted brother Quasimodo. But hey, at least unlike Les Miz's Grantaire, he manages to not be passed out drunk through his book's central uprising. This is actually a pretty huge accomplishment for Jehan.

Jehan just being Jehan.

See? Notre-Dame de Paris has lots of cool stuff, Les Miserables. It doesn't need your star-studded premieres or forthcoming Oscar statuettes. In fact, once Frollo cracks the riddle of alchemy, they can have all the solid gold Oscar statuettes they want!

And to be honest, Notre-Dame being the forgotten sibling to Les Miz seems to be an American/British (or just English-speaking?) issue. Notre-Dame, from what I could see during my trips to France, is a bigger BFD in France. The Maison de Victor Hugo is scant on Les Miz artifacts, but full of awesome Notre-Dame stuff like the above Couder panel, early editions, and this poster:

It was in a stairwell and also I am a terrible photographer, ok?
Quasi's at the top, then we've got Frollo, Djali, Esmeralda, Phoebus,
and Jehan being drunk in the background.

The big reason Les Miz is so popular in America is definitely the musical (you think all the people psyched for Les Miz have slogged through Hugo's Waterloo and sewer lectures?). It's a great musical. And it's in English. Notre-Dame became a record-breaking, wildly popular (and more modern) musical in 1998, but it's in French, so we don't get much of it here. Maybe if a subtitled movie musical is made of that musical, we can get some Notre-Dame fever stateside. There is a subtitled DVD (je ne comprends pas bien francais?) I'm trying to track down, but fortunately some of it, like any recorded thing, is on Youtube. Here is the signature song, "Belle," in which Quasimodo, Frollo, and Phoebus creep on Esmeralda while sounding amazing:

So obviously Notre-Dame is doing just fine in its home country. And hey, Notre-Dame de Paris is the novel of outcasts! While Fantine is raiding Lady Gaga's prop room for premiere press is the perfect time for Notre-Dame to be tragically relegated in the secure yet cold embrace of the cathedral's walls.

Etchings: various public domain, both accredited to Gustave Brion thought not sure about the first
Grumpy Cat: all the majesty of the universe and the internets
Statue: Esmeralda and Her Goat by Antonio Rossetti
Painting & poster: my own terrible photos from the Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris

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