The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera ★★★★

HOOPTOBER 6

Opening Night - Film #1


He had no nose!



I have a large head.

But rather it being tall in length, it instead protrudes outwards towards the back. Since I've gotten older and my body has grown taller and a little bulkier in size, my head doesn't look quite as large as it used to when I was a child. Back then, I looked like a distant relative of the Xenomorph from Alien. Since my body frame was so small back then too, my head stuck out like a sore thumb and I was often made fun of for it.

My next door neighbors, friends, and classmates would tease and poke fun at my rather large appendage and this often made me feel different than everyone else; hats wouldn't fit me and would be too small while helmets would stay on but would be sitting inches above my ears rather than just right above them. I remember one Christmas when I was 12, my brother bought me one of those Darth Vader voice changing helmets and it brought me great anxiety knowing that the entire set wouldn't fit on my head and, sure enough, it didn't. I could wear the front of the mask or the posterior part of the helmet by themselves but never together as the full set. I had become so bummed out and disappointed (both at the fact that my head was too damn big and also the fact that my brother wasted money on the gift) that it brought me to tears.

Reflecting back on these moments now, it's no wonder that the films about people and creatures that are disfigured or suffering some sort of physical disability always strike a different type of chord with me. As in the case of this little film here, it was no exception.

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The Phantom of the Opera is based upon the 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra written by French author Gaston Leroux and, believe it or not, is the first film adaptation of Phantom that I have ever seen. Before going in, I predicted what the basic story structure would most likely have in store for me but what I ultimately didn't predict was how resonant and impactful the story was, despite being almost 94 years old; this is a film that's so old that its last remaining cast member died five years ago in 2014. Over the last several years I've grown more accustomed to silent horror films (and silent films in general) because they provide a different type of atmosphere than most other films that have actual sound included in them (the non-diegetic score not withstanding). Without the (spoken) dialogue to focus on, it allowed time for my eyes to wander and soak in the sets and actors, which ultimately allowed for me to become more immersed into the world and story.

Speaking of which, Phantom is able to tell such a simple and yet oddly moving story with just the performances alone. Granted, yes, there are the dialogue cards that pop up whenever someone is speaking in the film but the real power lies in the performances. Lon Chaney, in particular, is the stand out. His DIY makeup and prosthetics apply such a hideous and monstrous layer to his performance that sometimes it's difficult to determine whether you're looking at a man under the guise of makeup, or a real-life monster. After doing some research on how Mr. Chaney brought the Phantom to life, I was surprised to see that all it really took was applying some black paint to his eye sockets and nostrils, pulling his nose up with the help of some wire, and a false set of teeth in his mouth - that's it! And yet, despite being as simple as he was, Chaney's version of the Phantom remains iconic and frightening.

My two favorite scenes in particular - one taking place on a rooftop and the other at a waterfront - were exceptional all on their own because of Chaney's performance. The rooftop scene, in which Chaney's Phantom is clutching on to a statue, allows him to look menacing and almost like an evil and angelic presence looking down on the film's protagonists (Christine and Raoul). The waterfront scene, on the other hand, shows off the actor's ability to be sympathetic and in a way, it was a bit difficult for me not to side with him in that one particular moment despite being a character that has committed murder and other atrocities throughout the film. In the waterfront scene, an angry mob carrying torches surround the Phantom and in response, the titular character thrusts his clutched fist in the air which causes the mob to take a step back, thinking that the Phantom is holding something. After seeing the mob's fear of him, the Phantom opens his fist, of which he's holding absolutely nothing, and the mob proceeds to attack him; his last course of action is to laugh in the face of his impending doom.

This last scene in particular really stood out to me, and it was one I was able to relate to in a way. Since birth, The Phantom has been ridiculed and seen as a monster due to his deformities, and in his last few moments before his death, he realizes that these deformities are all anyone will ever see him as. Even before he started murdering and causing a ruckus in the Opera house, he had to live with his monstrous presence and even went as far as covering himself up with a mask that concealed his true form from the outside world. He was me when I was younger; he was different from everyone else.

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Recently, I've looked through old photo albums of my mom's side of the family and I noticed that when her cousins and uncles were younger, they had big heads too (in the same shape as mine) - I wasn't alone, nor will I ever be alone. I still receive subtle teases every now and then, of course; a recent one taking place during a ziplining tour on Catalina Island. One of the guides there, as he was hooking my harness up to the line, commented on how large my head was (the helmet I was wearing didn't do me any favors). In response, instead of being angry or hostile (like the Phantom), I laughed it off and with a smile, I told him that I shared that trait with my mom's side of the family. I didn't let the concept of my head bother me anymore.

My acceptance of my large appendage began a few years ago and as time has gone by, I've noticed that it has become easier to live with it. My brother was able to buy me a baseball cap that fits my head properly now (it almost touches my ears!). My girlfriend has always accepted me for everything that I am and when I brought up my concerns of my head size to her, she looked at me like I was crazy, stating that she loves me for everything that I am. It's as if everything has been looking up the more and more that I've become positive about my head size (which I think was the secret behind it).

But despite being the way that I am, and despite the teasing and ridicule that I've experienced over the years, I always tell myself that my big head makes me different and special from everyone else.

It makes me unique.

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