Blog Directory CineVerse: Unmasking the Phantom

Unmasking the Phantom

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Yesterday, CineVerse took a stroll down the corridors of silent cinema to enjoy "The Phantom of the Opera," which provoked a healthy discussion. Highlights of our group conversation are as follows:

HOW WOULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN GROUNDBREAKING, INNOVATIVE AND ATTENTION-GETTING FOR THE MID TO LATE 1920S?
·       The studio lavished an exorbitant budget on the project to make it one of its crown jewel films: the elaborate opera set was the first concrete and steel stage built in Hollywood, which still stands today; the two-color Technicolor process used was expensive and complex; and over 250 dancers were enlisted for the dance sequences.
·       The horrific makeup job by Lon Chaney was shocking to audiences in that era, and a testament to the genius vision of this major silent era star; likewise, Chaney’s performance, which relies heavily on exaggerated body language, helps carry the film.
·       Likewise, the unmasking scene is one of the most iconic, famous and horrifying in the history of cinema, although it’s lost its potential to scare by today’s standards.
·       This was the first monster in Universal’s lineup of famous monsters it would portray on the big screen throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s.
·       The film has memorable set pieces: the Phantom appearing as the Red Death in a tinted color sequence; the sabotaging of the chandelier; the trek through the many underground layers beneath the opera house.
·       This character also set the template for future horror villains who were “perceived as insane and clinically institutionalized, only to later learn that they could not be rehabilitated and perhaps never needed to be,” according to one critic.
·       The movie is also an early example of a meta-narrative: of containing a play within the play or a performance within the performance.

THEMES IMBUED IN PHANTOM OF THE OPERA:
·       Rejection and the tragic agony and consequences of unrequited love.
·       The human trait of “masking” our true selves by fabricating a superficial disguise to cover up a flaw or something we’re ashamed of. Beauty is only skin deep, and the true beauty of a person lies beneath the fa├žade they create.
·       The dangers of blindly chasing success, fame and fortune: As one critic put it: “Carlotta’s misguided ambitions and the new owner’s drive for success ultimately initiate the phantom’s tragic endgame.”
·       The duality and dichotomy of man: We’re each capable of opposite natures, from beautiful and honorable to ugly and cruel.
·       The classic love triangle: concerning Erik, Christine and Raul.
·       Redemption: Erik remains a murderous, hunted villain throughout the movie, but he proves that he’s capable of bestowing kindness on Christine and releasing her from his ultimatum choice of either sparing Raul’s life and remaining with him, or leaving him which means Raul dies.

WHAT OTHER FILMS, CHARACTERS OR WORKS OF LITERATURE DOES THIS MOVIE REMIND YOU OF?
·       Beauty and the Beast, another tale of a disfigured monster who tries to win the love of a beautiful woman.
·       The Hunchback of Notre Dame, yet another ugly but pitiable creature who loves an attractive woman but who must sacrifice himself for her.
·       Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—a similar tale about the dual nature of man.
·       Frankenstein, which also features a hideous monster that struggles for acceptance and survival in a world that hates and rejects him.

OTHER MEMORABLE FILMS STARRING LON CHANEY
·       The Penalty, in which he plays a legless criminal mastermind
·       The Hunchback of Notre Dame
·       The Unknown, in which he plays an armless circus performer who throws knives with his feet
·       Laugh, Clown, Laugh, in which he portrays a the tragic clown Pagliacci
·       He Who Gets Slapped
·       The Unholy Three
·       London After Midnight, one of the most famous lost films in history, destroyed by fire decades ago

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