The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera

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Lon Chaney is a legend of horror cinema, and the 1925 ”The Phantom of the Opera” is a big reason why. Nearly 100 years of monster movies have been released since “Phantom” shocked audiences, so it can be difficult to wrap one’s head around just how horrifying the reveal of the phantom’s face was to people. But even watching it now--after seeing the Cenobites ripping apart flesh, Duane’s ill-fated attempts to satiate his twin brother Belial’s fiendish appetites, the poorly regulated hostel industry in Eastern Europe—there is still a jolt of shock when the mask is ripped from the phantom’s face.

Silent films of the 20s can be difficult for a lot of viewers. It’s an entirely different cinematic language than what a lot of people are accustomed to now. But starting with this film is a good way in. The story is well-known by this point, as it’s been adapted into multiple films and a long-running theatrical musical. I was surprised by how engrossed in the film I was. The narrative holds together well, and the visual storytelling captivates for the entire running time. There are multiple versions of the film included on the library’s Kino Lorber DVD, none of them necessarily the “right” version. I watched the restored 1929 theatrical version (the 78 minute cut), and loved every second of it. I look forward to checking out the other options down the line.

Even though there was a movie version made as recently as 2004, I feel like this story is primed for a retelling in the modern age. The story is essentially about a man, who feels ugly and unfairly prevented from having the objects (and woman) he believes himself to deserve, so he terrorizes those he imagines oppose him, and in his mind, justifiably kidnaps the object of his infatuation until she can be made to succumb to his elusive charms. While the phantom may meet a grim fate at the movie’s end, much of the empathy is reserved for him. It would be fascinating to see from what perspective a young director—hey, maybe even a female director—would choose to tell this story.


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