The Phantom of the Opera (1925/1929) – By Duane L. Martin

 

Ok, I have a confession to make.  I’ve never seen The Phantom of the Opera before in any of its incarnations.  I’ve owned it for years and vaguely knew what the story was about, but I’ve never actually seen it.  I guess I was put off by the musical version of it, since I’m SO not into musicals, but better late than never I guess.

I think most people have seen the film or at least have a vague idea of what the story is.  The Phantom lives in the catacombs under a Paris opera house where people, including him were tortured and imprisoned during the second revolution.  This torture drove him mad and caused severe disfigurement to his face.  As such, he wears a mask to conceal his hideousness.

Sadly, Erik loses his heart to a beautiful young opera singer named Christine.  He grooms her from the shadows and helps her with her career, even going so far as to threaten the opera house owners that if they don’t let her sing the lead in Faust, bad things will happen.  Unfortunately, Christine has another suitor named Raoul.  Even more unfortunately, when Erik finally reveals himself to her and declares his love, she can’t help but to remove his mask even though he told her not to.  Horrified, she says she wants to leave and promises him whatever he wants to hear in order to get him to let her.  Her empty promises soon become apparent however, and Erik sets a plan in motion to not only get the girl, but to put an end to Raoul as well.

This film is sad.  The whole time I was watching it, all I could think was what a total whore and a bitch Christine was.  She used Erik’s love for her to advance her career, and then when he turned out to be physically repulsive, suddenly she had no use for him anymore and just wanted to get as far away from him as possible.  The thing is, she had a great love for him before she saw what he actually looked like, which just shows how shallow she is.  Rather than accepting the great love and devotion he had for her and being thankful for all the help he’d given her, she just wanted to run off with her pretty boy Raoul.  The long and the short of it is, even though we’re supposed to see the Phantom as some kind of a monster, he’s really not.  He just wants to love her and for her to love him, and when she betrays him, he reacts the way most people would react.  He’s hurt and devastated and looking for revenge.

As for the film itself, this new blu-ray from Kino Lorber looks quite good.  There are 20 and 24 FPS versions of the film to select from, and there are two discs as well.  The first disc has the original theatrical version of the film, while the second disc contains an alternate release version from 1925 that contains scenes that were cut from the 1929 release version.

The color tinting on the film is really nice and accentuates the scenes quite well.  There’s even a full color section where the Phantom comes out dressed as the Red Death during a huge costume ball called the Bal Masque de l ‘Opera at the opera house.  The skull face mask along with the costume is truly terrifying, and the fact that the whole scene was in color made it even more so.

One of the things that’s striking about this film is the sheer number of people in it.  Silent films often had large casts and well designed sets, but this one just had a crazy number of people in it.  There were huge production numbers at the opera house, as well as a massive, torch-wielding mob at the end that comes to Christine’s rescue.  The opera house itself is huge, and the catacombs underneath the opera house feel spacious, but also cramped and almost claustrophobic in a way.  Then there’s the trap doors, secret rooms and all the other nice little touches that really bring the whole environment to life.

This release, as stated above, contains two discs.  The first disc includes the 1929 release version of the film with music composed and performed by Alloy Orchestra, as well as a theatre organ score arranged and performed by Gaylord Carter.  It also has a musical setting composed and performed by Gabriel Thiboudeau and audio commentary by film historian Jon C. Mirsalis.  Disc 2 contains the alternate 1925 release version of the film featuring a musical setting arranged and performed by Frederick Hodges, Lengthy excerpts of the 1930 sound re-issue version, the original screenplay, the original theatrical trailer, an interview with composer Gabriel Thiboudeau and two travel films capturing Paris in 1925.

I don’t know why I waited so long to watch this film.  I’m just glad I finally did.  While the acting is overly dramatic, as it is in all silent films just out of necessity, I thought they did a fantastic job of telling the story.  Lon Chaney in particular was just flat out creepy, and yet managed to make you feel sorry for him, even to the point where you start having some really bad feelings toward the object of his obsession, Christine.

I’ve loved silent films for a very long time, and now I can add this one to the long list of great silent films that I’ve seen and enjoyed.  I highly recommend this release to anyone who wants the best possible release of this amazing, classic film.

If you’d like to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here: http://www.kinolorber.com/video.php?id=2144