The Phantom of The Opera (1925)

May 7, 2010
The Phantom of The Opera is one of the most essential gothic horror stories of all-time. Whether you were first introduced to the Phantom through the novel, the musical, or one of the film adaptations, the character remains an iconic figure, and rightly so. The Phantom's tragic story is one that combines elements of the most timeless archetypes - unrequited romance, revenge, depression, and mystery. This film adaptation, made way back in 1925, may not be fully accurate to the original story, but it's certainly one of the closest film adaptations. The Phantom's physical appearance, in particular, is noteworthy as it showcases the figure's face as being truly hideous, as the original novel described it as. I say this because most adaptations, for some reason or another, have downplayed the Phantom's physical features (especially the recent 2004 version).

Moving on, the film follows a young opera singer, Christine Daaé, as she receives musical lessons from a dark and secretive lurker of the Paris Opera House. While Christine believes this "ghost" is an angel that her late father has sent to her, her lover Raoul believes that this man may actually be a far more sinister creature. It starts out innocently enough, but when the Phantom reveals himself to Christine, things take a turn for the worse.

The element of silent film that I truly love is the atmosphere. No other form of film, in my opinion, has ever successfully captured the dark mood of gothic horror better than silent film. Great examples of such atmosphere can be found in films like Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Seriously, the atmosphere in this film is just hypnotic and its alluring nature really sucks the viewer into this fantastical tale with such beautiful cinematography.

Speaking of cinematography, this film looks absolutely wonderful in black-and-white. Whatever you do, DON'T see this film with the colored shades added in - it can completely wreck a few sequences. The camerawork is fantastic, and some of the shots used here would prove to be very innovative as other films borrowed some of the techniques used. For example, I love the sequence where the Phantom first meets Christine, as the way the scene is shot could be considered a visual representation of a few of the film's themes.

Though its story is told relatively simply, the ideas behind it are still very strong. There's a macabre fascination with the ideas behind the Phantom, of what must be going through his head, and how his isolation has driven him to a mixture of madness and genius. These themes have been fixtures of the gothic horror genre for years, and these themes are marvelously haunting in their execution. Lon Chaney's also to be heavily commended for his portrayal as the Phantom, as his presence can be felt so strongly and without the use of words or any sound.

The pacing's great as well, as the film constantly tries to "overwhelm" you, in a way. There's still some lingering in the film, but this version of The Phantom of The Opera is more concerned with the quickness of its plot and characters. This quickness, in a bizarre way, allows the film to barrage the viewer with a variety of images in order to get its message across. It feels misguided during the first 20 minutes or so, but turns into a cinematic treat nevertheless.

One of the reasons this film is historically important, though, is that it features one of the first usages of color in film history. This colored sequence takes place during the Opera Masquerade, as the entire thing plays out in full Technicolor. It may not be amazing, but the sequence certainly leaves an impression upon the viewer with its rich visuals. It's also quite interesting to see a film this old in color, albeit briefly, as it adds a bit more of an artistic flair - especially when the Phantom enters dressed as the "Red Death" from the short story by Edgar Allen Poe.

The characterization's not that great, but it's a silent film, so it's not really to be expected. Regardless, the actors portraying these great characters look fantastic onscreen and the script is pretty smart for a film this old, though it still has a few cheesy lines that silent films often suffered from ("You! You must be the Phantom!").

It's often been debated whether or not this film's actually great or not, as it's nowhere near as subtle, artistic, or powerful as films like Nosferatu were. However, Phantom of The Opera's fevered melodrama and cinematography make it a great-looking film, and a haunting one at that.

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