Film 11: The Phantom of the Opera

The_Phantom_of_the_Opera_(1925_film)

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) dir. Rupert Julian.  USA.

“The Phantom of the Opera” is not a great film if you are concerned with art and subtlety, depth and message; “Nosferatu” is a world beyond it. But in its fevered melodrama and images of cadaverous romance, it finds a kind of show-biz majesty. And it has two elements of genius: It creates beneath the opera one of the most grotesque places in the cinema, and Chaney’s performance transforms an absurd character into a haunting one.

— Roger Ebert

Abigail: The use of light and shadow in this movie is awesome.  It was also fun to see just how influential the images of this (rather bad print) were.  A lot of the frames could be a still from the Broadway Musical.  This is the first well done adaptation we have seen on this docket.  Both Birth of a Nation and Greed were taken from source material, but neither elevated it above its original form, or added anything by filming it.  Here, the story remains basically the same, but the style and characters are given a different flavor and depth than reading the novel alone.  This is a worthwhile piece of film, well paced, and beautifully shot.

Forrest: This is an unextraordinary but well-handled film.  It tells its story and looks good doing it, without aspiring to anything more.  That’s by no means an aspersion on its merits.   I like movies that do that.  It’s unpretentious and workmanlike.  It’s the first title on our docket that feels like a modern studio picture.  The trio of comedians (Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd) smack of auteurism, as of course do Griffith and von Stroheim.  “Phantom,” though, is…just a movie.  It’s a pretty good one, too.  It’s visually stunning, and brilliantly uses light and shadow.  The sets are glorious, with trap doors and mirrors and booby traps and eerie underground canals.  The opera house is a wonder of production design.  The story is simple, but clean and brisk.  None of the characters especially register, though Lon Chaney’s Phantom is an impressive creation.  (He’s also perhaps the first criminally insane one-name horror villain in cinema.  Erik — precursor of Jason, Freddy, Chuckie, and all the rest?)  This isn’t a film that will inspire deep thoughts, but it’s an enjoyable and visually arresting two hours.  Thrills and chills and a happy ending, and then we all go home.

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