Friday, January 22, 2016

Sean Kelly

Blindspot 2016: Classic Horror: The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

It is time for me to begin a new round of the Blindspot series, with this year's theme being classic horror. I start my journey off in the silent era and the 1925 film version of The Phantom of the Opera, starring "The Man of a Thousand Faces" Lon Chaney. Underneath the Paris Opera House lives a heavily disfigured man named Erik (Chaney), who is known by most as The Phantom. Erik becomes obsessed with young opera singer Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) and warns her to stay away from her love  Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry).

Based on Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, most people are probably aware of The Phantom of the Opera in one way or another. In addition to multiple film adaptations, the story is also part of pop culture through the 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which I happened to see on stage in Toronto just last week. It is for that reason I decided to go slightly out of chronological order and see the 1925 adaptation of Phantom of the Opera before my other silent horror blindspot pick, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which I will watch next month.

This version of The Phantom of the Opera is the second adaptation of the novel (following 1916's Das Phantom der Oper) and is arguably the most well known. It should be noted that there have been multiple different cuts of the film and the version that I watched is based on a 1930 re-edit, which has a much better quality than the original 1925 cut, which is currently only available from a 16mm source. As such, my thoughts on the film are based on that edit of the film.

Probably the most well known aspect of this version of The Phantom of the Opera is Lon Chaney's horrific skull-like make-up when The Phantom is unmasked. Apparently this big reveal was incredibly shocking to audiences at the time, with them screaming or fainting at the sight. Of course, since this image of The Phantom is so ingrained into pop culture, it is no longer that shocking when the mask comes off at around the halfway point of the film.  However, Chaney's make-up is still quite well done and is apparently the closest to the description of The Phantom in the original novel.

An interesting sequence in The Phantom of the Opera is the "Bal Masqué" scene, which was presented in technicolor on the version of the film I watched. As such, this masquerade scene was presented in full colour, which includes the appearance of The Phantom in his now iconic "red death" costume. Apparently, there were originally other technicolor sequences in the film, but the Bal Masqué is the only one to survive the test of time.

This adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera is very much a typical monster movie, with The Phantom not really having the tragic aspects present in later adaptations, particularly the musical. Along with 1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (also starring Lon Chaney), The Phantom of the Opera helped to start off the era of Universal Monsters, which properly would begin in the 1930s. However, that is an era that I will discuss in the months to come.

8 / 10 stars

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).