Monday, August 23, 2010

The Phantom Once Was Grotesque

I just watched the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera last night. (On Netflix, yes; I told you I'm addicted to it).

I'm a big fan of the recent movie-based-on-Andrew-Lloyd-Webber's-musical, and I also found the book itself . . . interesting. While the former is a great musical/love story spectacle, the latter is a strange evoking of that fascination for the grotesque. Gerard Butler (in the Andrew Lloyd Webber) makes a great character for that particular piece, yet I sometimes wish that the musical I enjoy had some more of the qualities of the book.

Enter the 1925 version. Not only is it black-and-white (except for some blue, red, etc, tinted scenes), but it is also silent. There is instrumental music and some singing when appropriate, but the dialogue is shown on screen shots. We've all seen that . . . watched a whole movie like that, though? I hadn't. It's difficult at first, being so used to modern film, yet quite fascinating. The entire acting method is different. Actors couldn't rely on lines because they didn't come out of their mouths; mood had to be portrayed more physically. Speaking of the physical, there is also a whole different mise-en-scene than a modern movie has.

But what I'm more interested in is the phantom himself. Gerard Butler isn't bad-looking, and his mask only covers half his face, making it easier to forget that he is a horribly disfigured monster. When we finally see it off, it just looks like he's recovering from a couple of burns; he doesn't look grotesque. But the 1925 phantom does. Sure, he might be a little laughable to a modern audience, too, but can anyone deny that he looks creepy? And acts creepy, evil, and pitiable like the book phantom does. Going along with this idea, you can actually see Christine's book perspective on him. First she thinks she's her angelic teacher, then he's mysterious and frightening, then she gets to see both the black part of his soul and the part that wishes it could be good and received by the world as good. None of this love triangle thing like in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (not to criticize that choice: it works well within the framework of the separate story he created).

It seems that no one who creates a portrayal of this book tries to make it the book; the 1925 did some things I really liked, while remaining different. I did, however, enjoy having a character (Leroux was his name, I think) much like the book's the Persian. I always liked the Persian; there is something slightly humorous to his scenes as he shows Raoul around the phantom's crooked lair. I actually got a little giddy when I saw that the mirrored torture chamber was in this movie. I love the bizarreness of that scene, so it was wonderful seeing it on screen. (Off-topic: I've actually been in one of those mirror-rooms, this one was lit only by strings of white Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling. I was excited to imagine I was in the book, but as soon as I got in and couldn't find my way to the door on the other side, the irrational adrenaline kicked in. I chickened out and followed along the wall to the door.)

No comments:

Post a Comment