Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Phantom of the Opera

I think I have car fever. It's becoming difficult to focus on anything other than reading car reviews and looking up cars in my price range. I'm in love with one car, but I want to take some time to test drive some other ones that are around the same cost. I don't know too much about subcompact cars, but I really like them, and I think that they'd be a perfect fit for me - good commuter cars that are low on gas. Blah blah blah cars cars cars. I've learned more about cars this last week than I've probably known my whole life. That's how bad I've got it. I want to test drive more cars tomorrow, and if it goes late, I might not be able to post about tomorrow's movie. We'll all survive, right? Right.

Enough about me. Today I watched The Phantom of the Opera, directed by Rupert Julian in 1925. I'm not a huge fan of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I mean, I hate it - the movie version and the actual musical itself. The music is really basic and boring and the more recent movie version is all kinds of  awful. Maybe I loved the silent version because it wasn't...that one. I also really love silent movies, and this one was really cool looking. The sets and makeup were really cool, and the music in it wasn't stupid and dumbed down. I liked it much more than some of the other Phantom movies that I've seen, personally, but I'm pretty unpleasant.

I think we all know the plot.  A creepy disfigured guys lives in  the many disgusting and strange basements of the Opera of Paris. He sort of forces a famous opera singer to give up her role and pushes Christine, mostly unknown, into the spotlight. He sort of loves her, but is also really creepy and controlling. He does a bunch of evil stuff and generally ruins any chance that he might have with Christine. I hope you enjoyed this lazy and modern retelling of this classic story.

I honestly only saw the recent movie with Gerard Butler, and even though I hated it, I always saw something kind of appealing about The Phantom (in that movie only). You know, he was a creep, but he at least seemed like he was occasionally nice (and had a really bad temper) and only a little disfigured. I always thought there was some sort of attraction between Christine and the Phantom, you know? There really isn't anything like that in the 1925 movie. The Phantom is really grotesque, and his entire face is scary (unlike the Gerard Butler guy, who just had half his face covered so he looked mostly a little mysterious at the very most). The Phantom seems like he causes more harm in this movie, at least more than I remember. I don't remember Gerard Butler like, clearly killing a bunch of people with a chandelier like in the 1925 movie. Maybe he did, but I feel like I'd remember that. Anyway.  It really feels much more like a horror story, where the one I saw before felt like a romantic movie or something. A gross romantic movie, because some of the romance was with the creeper Phantom. I like the 20's version more. The silence, the scares, the actual horror element of it  - it works so much better for me.

Kind of sexy?

Kind of actually scary.

I wasn't super enthused that it was a tinted silent film (although I know those were normal), until suddenly, during the masquerade, the film switched to rudimentary color. I actually was shocked - I wasn't expecting it at all. I was really impressed by it, though. The costumes were stunning, and the red cape that the Phantom wore was amazing. His mask was so ugly and creepy, and I really loved the switch to color. I mean, it was so melodramatic, but it was really fun and different. The color wasn't perfect, and because of that, it added something more. It felt unnatural and eerie, and the effect was just really cool.

I think that's how I feel about the whole movie. It was sort of melodramatic, not as subtle as some other silent horror movies that I've seen. But I liked it. Lon Chaney's gross Phantom makeup, above, is so cool. He did it himself, I read, which is impressive. He even, I read, held his nose up with wire to deform his face further. Pretty hardcore. I guess without writing for another hour and not sleeping, I have to say I just, overall, love this version so much more than the normal-feeling musical versions I've seen. I've sung some songs out of the musical, too, and I never was a huge fan. It always felt off to me - too simplistic, too normal. This is like Dracula or something - a legitimate horror movie. Plus, it has all the things I love about silent film. The nightmarish feel. The otherworldly look. I've said it all before, but it really works so well in horror films. I just really enjoyed this movie. It's on Netflix Instant if you want to check it out, although I don't really think it would be the best "first silent film ever" for anyone, just because it's such a spectacle. But hey, if it sounds good, go for it, and let me know what you think!

Have any thoughts on Phantom of the Opera? Share them in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Phantom of the Opera
Buy it on Amazon


  1. When you work through a "Great Movie" list, the silent films you encounter do tend to be the more subtly crafted on the era as these are the ones that stand the test of time and resonate most deeply with contemporary audiences. But the level of melodrama in The Phantom of the Opera is pretty much par for the course for the silent era, more so than the more subtle movies. Lon Chaney is always just fantastic, and this movie is without a doubt one of his best. I think it's fair to say that Chaney's movies are rarely about the subtlety of the plot, and always more about a fascinating character in a rip-roaring good story.

    I appreciate the need to test drive cars, but some of us very much look forward to your daily posts. I suppose we'll live though. :)

  2. Actually, I have a day off tomorrow, so I'm going to be able to post about Pixote anyway, even if I have to stay up a little late. Extremely flattered that anyone looks forward to my goofy posts - thank you!! :)

  3. Er, or maybe I won't be able to watch it tonight. I was going to watch it at my computer but something is jacked up with it so I'll have to finish the VHS tape I have of it tomorrow morning. But hey, two posts instead of one!