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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Phantom of the Opera: 1925

   I'm sorry, I really am.  But I can't do it.  I can't review another Science fiction film.  I found the whole task of reviewing, "Phantom from Space" to be a pain.  I know a critic isn't supposed to have favorite genres, but mine is horror.  And while I still feel safe confined to this one genre, I'm going to keep it that way.  I'm sticking purely to horror films from now on.  

   If you want to, you can look at my last review as a bonus review.  I apologize for the delay with this review coming out as well, because for five days I was messing with the site, and trying different themes and gadgets out.  It all became a mess and I spent the remainder of the four days cleaning up the site.  Anyway, I'm hoping to publish this review the first of the month and I hope you enjoy my review of, "The Phantom of the Opera".  

The Phantom of the Opera was made in 1925, and was directed by Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney, Edward Sedgwick, and Carl Laemmle.  Though the last three are not credited in the film, Lon Chaney does have one of the lead roles.  To inform those who do not know, Lon Chaney was an actor who made his career during the age of silent films.  He became known as, "The man with a thousand faces" after his success in such films as, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", and the film I am about to review today, "The Phantom of the Opera", because of his acting ability coupled with his makeup expertise.      

This is Lon Chaney without any makeup


This is Lon Chaney in, "The Phantom of the Opera"


   Our film opens inside of an opera house after we find out that places like this (or any other high class place of business) towers high over the torture chambers and hidden dungeons.  This is extremely symbolic and I'm so glad that this is written because it perfectly explained life in Paris at the time in one sentence.  It was written, "Sanctuary of song lovers, The Paris Opera House rising nobly over medieval torture chambers, hidden dungeons, long forgotten."  It describes the hierarchic put into play during the time period this movie takes place.  It's incredible how this sentence fills you in on everything before the film even begins.  

   So while the performance is continuing, we find that a shady deal is being proposed.  After the deed I sold (of which I believe is for the Opera house) the sellers start discussing an urban legend:  The the deed was haunted by a phantom!  Now I'm not a sales man, nor do I know much about business, but to sell a deed and then to say that it’s haunted by a phantom isn't too smart of a move.  So, the people that were told of the phantom go searching for him within the opera house.  They find him in theater box five after asking a maid for directions. They peer into the room to find the silhouette of whom of which they believe belongs to the phantom.  The men flee from the room, regain composure, and re-enter to find that the phantom had vanished.  

   This establishes the phantoms character.  We now know that he wants to be alone (or is forced to be) and the fact that he chooses to be in a theater box and not a normal seat emphasizes that trait.  We cut to the conclusion of the ballet, while one of the workers (who appear to be working backstage) has a black cat cross his path.  Although a foreboding occurrence, he shakes it off disbelievingly.  I’ve noticed a reoccurring character persona with the people in 1920's horror films, that disbelieve the horrifying (or not) main attraction.  The ballerinas all gather backstage, but later run away from, who we assume is the Phantom.  They go to tell one of the people in the theater.  Then one of the ballerina's said that he had no nose, but another one interrupts to say that he did, and that it was enormous.   It just strikes me as odd to say those things and I don't know why.  

   The next scene hypes up the Phantom more, but not allot of horror is implemented.  We do have one man who has seen the Phantom describe him to us, but there is one thing wrong with the scene.  The music!  The music sets the tone of the film and what I got wasn't horror!  At least not in this scene.  The music is very important and I'm not set to believe that they didn't want us to be frightened during the Phantoms description. 

   We are then introduced to a new character:  Carlotta, and her mother.  We are told by her mother, that Carlotta had been insulted by the Phantom, and she hands the men who own the Opera House the letter that was proof of the insult.  The only problem is that I can't read the letter, but if you can, tell me in the comments section below.  So anyway, it seems as though that the Phantom is terrorizing Carlotta.  We find out later that Carlotta became ill on the day of her performance, and to replace her was a woman named Christine Daae. Later a shadow speaks to Christine, telling her that he has, "imparted the full measure of my art to you".  We also find out that the Phantom asked for Carlotta to be ill, because he fears a great misfortune will turn to face her.  Okay I'm still waiting for horror to show itself, and it still hasn't.  Nothing is frightening in the least at this point, and it appears to be playing on like a soap opera.....and just because the film takes place in an opera house doesn't give this film permission to have this tone.  

   A second letter is sneaked into the room.....and I still can't read it!  Again, if you can read this other letter please let me know what it reads in the comments section below.  The lack of legibility with the letters in this film is extremely frustrating.  What’s more is that I hope I can catch on later what the letters are saying, because they seem important.  As far as I can tell the phantom wants Christine Daae to sing, "Marguerite", instead of Carlotta.  However, the next evening Carlotta appeared as, “Marguerite", after being convinced by her mother.   

   The notes just keep coming!!  It doesn't matter how close the letter is or how long it stays to be read... I just can't read it!  And this is important because half of the story is told through this fashion.  It certainly doesn't help that this is a silent film either!  So the lights start to flicker during the performance, and everybody has this open mouthed expression that you see in every silent horror movie.  The Phantom's shadow appears and threatens to drop the chandelier, which is exactly what happens.  I know that I should be happy that some action has risen out of this film, but it’s a little depressing.  I've waited a half an hour to see a chandelier drop.  And it’s not like I'm expecting any flashy effects, I'm just looking for something to speed up the mystery. 

   It's confining to be stuck in this Opera House, although the isolation is effective.  You do get a greater feeling from the film when you want to get out of the opera house just as much as the people getting terrorized by the Phantom do.  It's nice to have complete consistency, but there's a point in the film where too much of the same thing can leave you unsatisfied above all emotions, and it leaves you craving for something new.  So chaos ensues, but you’re displaced from the feeling that everyone else is left with in the film, because the music hasn't changed since!  The pattern is horrendous!  There is so much done wrong because of the music!  In order for an emotion to come from the audience correctly, they must first connect with the disaster. If you have happy music playing during a sad moment, the audience doesn't know what to think, and neither do I.  

   So, Christine goes down to the cellar, to meet the shadow that was talking to her.  AND......FINALLY.....AFTER 33 MINUETS.......WE SEE THE PHANTOM!  OH, JOY!!!  He looks how the Phantom of the opera would look.  He has the half mask over his face, and everything!  And even after the main attraction shows him.....the music still doesn't change!  But finally, after taking Christine down the stairs, the music does change, somewhat.  But it doesn't last very long, while the Phantom is leading her out towards a black lake.  Well, maybe things will seem grimmer, by comparison because of all the non-frightening moments, and I guess it works a little in its favor.  

   Here is when things seem to start to get good.  We have finally changed location to a darker place.  I believe it was mentioned at the beginning of this review about the torture chambers lurking below the higher classed establishments.  I really like how there incorporating this with the story now. And I also don't care that there still isn't a change in music, because at this point I'm just glad to be moving on with the film.  So, after bringing Christine five cellars underground, the Phantom confess his love for her.  It would almost portray Romeo and Juliet if this guy didn't look so...creepy.  

   However Lon Chaney does do a very good job at seeming calm and normal, because he is playing two roles.  One of which is the Phantom, and the other is the monster behind the mask.  But after all of this, Christine says this, "You-you are the Phantom!"  It took you that long to figure that out?  Anyone else would have made a more alert Christine.  We find out that The Phantom's real name is Erik, and I believe he's presenting to her a more human side of his being.  Up above, the Chandelier incident makes the papers, as well as the disappearance of Christine.  

   Down below, the kidnapped Christine wakes to find that Erik (The Phantom) has showered her with shoes and clothes.  She finds a note (again of which I can't read), and stumbles upon Erik playing Don Juan Triumphant on the piano.   Erik explains that the music reminds him of her, but while turning to continue the song Christine unmasks Erik to find the horrible beast cowering behind it.  This might be one of the most famous scenes in the whole film, and after this, Lon Chaney really picks up the film and puts it in its place for being so mellow before.  This is what I like about his role.  He can play two people and yet, he still knows that he needs to top his first performance with his second.  And this is when his character really shines.  The Phantom is ugly, and we can all see that.  However The Phantom tries to hide; to be more than a man because acting human isn't an option in his eyes.  When Erik is unmasked his persona is broken and so is his belief that he can be someone else.  So, Erik embraces his fate, and instead of being the human that he was all along, he is transformed into the monster that the public makes him out to be.  

   A title card explains that one night every year, all of Paris gathers to,!  A costumed figure shows up, dresses as, "The Red Death".  Usually things in red are meant to be paid attention to during a film.  It seems as though for this part in particular, the film had been colorized.  I'm assuming the reason being to show the red of the outfit, or to show contrast between a sad moment and a happy one but I'm not too sure about that last one.  We cut to on top of the roof of the Opera, where Raoul and Christine have met in secret, away from Erik.  However, The Phantom, in fact, was waiting for them!  How he figured out where they were while down stairs is a mystery to me.  The film slowly recedes back to black and white after Christine plans for Raoul to take her away after her last performance at the Opera.  

   We find out later that Erik was born during, "The Boulevard Massacre", was entitled to Devils Island, escaped, and is now at large. (In case you didn't know, "The Boulevard Massacre", was an escape from Devils Island, which at the time housed the criminally insane.  Erik was one of the criminally insane, was locked away, but escaped).  So, the time has finally come.  Christine performs for the last time on stage at the opera.  However one of the men backstage finds a man hanged opposite to the staircase.  Later, the Phantom steals Christine away, while everyone in the theater begins to search for her.  

   Raoul and one other man go searching for Christine in a more elaborate way than expected.  They find secret passages and trap doors, all leading down into the fifth cellar.  We cut to The Phantom with Christine who is already down there.  We realize that The Phantom is using the love of Christine as a cure for the ugliness the public has dumped upon him.  Raoul and the man accompanying him, fall through a trap door and into an old torture chamber.  The Phantom hears them and pursues the voices while Christine runs away to meet with Raoul.  Raoul's brother finds the location of the Phantom and plans to avenge him.  Obviously he doesn't know what avenged means, because in order to avenge someone, they have to be dead!!! The time has come once again to end the review and start my conclusion.

In Conclusion:  There are many things that I’ve been dying to say during this but, unfortunately due to my reviewing style I'm limited to the freedom of where I get to write things, which is why I'm planning on doing something about it. (More information at the end of the conclusion)  "The Phantom of the Opera" was a deep film, though it may not seem like it at first glance.  It's basically a twist on beauty and the beast.  Many films have duplicated this theme, but I can't say the same for this...... because it was a book before it became a film.  However, the reason that not many of, "The Phantom of the Opera" remakes are alike, is because film, is an interpretative art.  It's personal visual perspective that's shared and entertaining.  Some people don't agree with a film adaptation and other's do, and it's one of the reasons that can make an adaptation good or bad.  But the sad truth is that no film can please everyone, because it's all comes down to a matter of opinion.  The opinion that I had of this film, was that it was very good.  There were some moments when something that was already established (i.e. the characters personalities and roles in the film).  And I think you can see the way my feelings changed from being bored to understanding the meaning of the film.  Most depictions of the Phantom make him seem like too good of a person.  You know, he may seem scary but he really isn’t and inside he's a human like you and me.  But this film depicted him to have already taken that path.  Where he tries to fit in, fails, and therefore is secluded to a life of pain and misery.  And just how the public's opinion changes to believing that he is a monster, so does the Phantoms perspective of the world around him.  He is forced to live where no one will find him, but he constantly taking revenge on the people that gave him this image (i.e. everyone).  He later realizes that if the people around him so desperately want him to be a monster (because a human is afraid of anything it doesn't understand) then The Phantom embraces his new identity and says, "If it's a monster you want, then it's a monster you'll get".  In this perspective, the film was made for both the annalistic viewer and the non-annalistic viewer.  However at the same time that it pleases those audiences, it excludes many others.  So, it's the sad truth that, "The Phantom of the Opera" isn’t for everyone.  However, if you like movies made in the 20's, then you'll most likely enjoy this.  Lon Chaney is wonderful as the Phantom and continues to haunt us to this day, and not many actors from this far back can captivate you like he has in his role as, "The Phantom".  The climax is great and you really should see how the end plays out, so sit back and enjoy the first, "The Phantom of the Opera"!  

Thank you,

   Albert Dubin

P.S:   I'm going to spend the next couple of days for coming up with a new style to review films.  I'm thinking about using formats where I write a synopsis, then move on to the background, and finally I'll make my conclusion consist of the entire review.  Don't hold me to this style yet, because I'm still thinking about how I want to go about reviewing from now on.  Please, if you read my reviews, I implore you to give suggestions if you'd like me to review a certain way.  I'm open to any idea that comes my way.  I'm going for comedic effect in the next review, and thank once again.  

I give this film 4 Red Death costumes out of 5

           Next Review:  The Terror 1963


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