The Phantom of the Opera

September is Stage Musicals Lunar Cycle

The Phantom of the Opera. Really Useful Films/Scion Films 2004.

Before watching the movie:

I’m vaguely familiar with the basic story. Probably less than I should be, since I saw the Wishbone episode several times and I read The Canary Trainer, which is basically “Sherlock Holmes solves the case of the Phantom of the Opera”.

I’ve even heard some of the music (that organ fugue theme is inescapable, especially around Halloween), but I still don’t consider myself knowing this movie very well. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to comment on its faithfulness.

After watching the movie:

A prestigious operahouse is under new management, and new patronage: the Vicomte de Chagny. The star soprano’s temper requires that an understudy take her role on opening night: the unknown Christine Daae, whom the Vicomte (aka Raoul) recognizes as his childhood sweetheart. But there is a complication to their reunion: Christine is under the tutelage and influence of the “Phantom” haunting the operahouse, and will not allow another man into her life. Christine believes the phantom to be the “Angel of Music” her dead father promised as a guardian. Raoul believes him to be a figment of her imagination, and they fall in love anew. But the phantom is no specter and no figment, rather a truly dangerous madman in a mask.

This is an expansive film that at the same time feels like I’m watching an enhancement of a stage performance while doing things that only film can do. The opening scene, and scenes bridging the acts, are set apart from the rest in story by being several years after the plot and in style by being monochromatic and treated like an old flickering film. And then the initial transition into the story is a fantastic spectacle that is achieved with bright light, thundering music, and artistic addition of color that honestly thrilled me much more than I would have expected if it was described to me.

Here is my usual gripe about most musicals: songs that treat the story as a secondary art to the music. I used to think this was about not advancing the story. I respond very well to songs that introduce characters and settings, and songs that herald plot points. But I’ve now realized that I’m fine to some extent with songs that stop to explore an important and/or thematic moment in detail without really advancing it. But there’s a difference between sketching a scene for study and making an oil painting of a scene. Some songs felt like the latter. One particularly egregious number was “Masquerade”, which is about… having a party.The party itself is not thematically important, nor is it a specific setting we need to know in detail. It goes on for several minutes, but the party is only part of the plot for the Phantom to crash it.

I think every version of the story has this problem, but Christine and Raoul’s backstory is flubbed. It seems like it’s always kind of briefly tossed out that “by the way, they grew up together and loved each other as children”.  Raoul visits the stage during a rehearsal, and Christine casually tells her friend in said friend’s only important scene “hey, I grew up with that guy! We were childhood sweethearts!” It particularly bothers me here because that completely bad way to exposit this fact (which mainly just jumpstarts their romance and could be omitted without much consequence) is followed by two excellent ways. Raoul sees her performing and recognizes her, singing “Is that her? Can it be? I remember her, does she remember me?” and then he goes to her dressing room after the performance and quotes a story about her from their childhood with her, which could have been immediately followed with “like yesterday” expository comments if necessary.

I’m sure this complaint has been made numerous times, but from what I knew, I always pictured the Phantom as a man in his 50s, while Gerard Butler looks like he’s playing mid 30s to early 50s. This way we have another sexy character, right? Meanwhile, maybe it’s because I’m almost ten years older than her, but I thought Emmy Rossum was a mid- to late-20something possibly trying and definitely failing to play a teenager, when in fact she was 16 when shooting.

Watch this movie: if you’re a fan of grandiose stage musicals but have a light wallet.

Don’t watch this movie: If your sympathy for deformed characters outweighs their wrongs. Try Cyrano De Bergerac instead.

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