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The Phantom Of The Opera

The Phantom Of The Opera

By Patrick Samuel • January 4th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Park Circus

Release Date: December 12th 2011
Certificate (UK): PG
Running Time: 91 minutes

Year of production: 1925

Director: Rupert Julian
Writers: Elliot J. Clawson, Raymond Shrock

Cast: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmond Carewe, Snitz Edwards, Gibson Gowland, Bernard Siegel, John Sainpolis, Mary Fabian, Virginia Pearson

As a fan of the silent era and especially of classic gothic horror I suppose it seems odd that I’ve only just gotten around to watching The Phantom of the Opera.

Perhaps it was the idea that of it being turned into a gaudy West End musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber that put me off. A trip to central London is never complete without seeing at least a dozen or so posters plastered around the underground station escalators or billboards on the street. Its over-exposure should be enough to put anyone off but year after year it continues to play.

Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux and directed by Rupert Julian, this first screen outing features silent screen star Lon Chaney as the infamous phantom. The story begins with the Paris Opera House passing on to new managers, but as the old managers are about the leave they suddenly tell of a mysterious ghost. Thinking it’s a joke, the new managers laugh it off but soon they see the figure for themselves, sitting in box #5.

Phantom of the Opera

They aren’t the only ones troubled by such a sight. The ballerinas, performing in a production of Faust, also catch a glimpse of a shadow on a wall and are thrown into a hysterical frenzy.

There’s also Comte Philip de Chagny (John St. Polis) and his brother, the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry) who attend the shows. Raul is madly in love with Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) and always goes to see her perform. Meanwhile, Mme. Carlotta (Virginia Pearson), the prima donna of the Paris Grand Opera, has been receiving letters from the phantom demanding that unless she lets Christine perform the role of Marguerite terrible things will befall them all.

Fearing the consequences, her and the managers oblige the phantom in his wish and let Christine perform but not for long. Eventually Carlotta takes to the stage and the phantom makes good on his threat resulting on a giant crystal chandelier falling from the ceiling onto the audience below. It’s clear that he has a fixation on the beautiful understudy but as his next plans involve kidnapping her, it’s time for Raoul to prove just how much he loves her.

With its gothic sets, grand score and menacing villain The Phantom of the Opera was really much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Lon Chaney gives a spirited performance as the insane would-be lover.

Phantom of the Opera

When he finally has Christine, he makes her promise to never look behind his mask, building us up for that inevitable moment when his true face is revealed. I’ve heard it talked about for so long as one of the great moments in cinematic gothic horror history. It’s made even more memorable by Mary Philbin’s reaction.

Reaching up behind him as he sits at the piano playing soulfully, her hands seem completely out of her control, maddened with curiosity. She pulls off the phantom’s mask, he rises up and turns toward her and this is when she sees his horribly deformed face. Unable to contain the horror, Christine begins to recoil and back away, sinking to the floor as she goes, shaking and screaming.

After this scene the film then switches to Technicolor for the masked ball. There’s much to take in during these scenes and as The Phantom of the Opera makes its way to its tragic end it also reminds me of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), another great gothic horror with a deformed villain on the rampage, as well as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), both of which I saw as a child and fell in love with.

Despite it taking me this long to see The Phantom of the Opera, it’s a film that I now count as one of my all-time favourite classics. But it will still be a long time before I go to see a West End musical!

Phantom of the Opera

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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