Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Review: Phantom of the Opera (film version)

First things, I have never read the book that the stage version was based on, but I have been in love with the stage version and the music for many many years. Indeed, in many ways I am hesitant to read the book precisely because I like the stage version so much.

The short review is: if you like the stage version, I can't imagine you not liking this. If you don't like Andrew Lloyd Webber or his music however, save your money.

This is, of course, a film of the stage version, not a film of the book. It stays really very faithful the stage version for most of its length. There are a few changes. Some of these are minor alterations of verse, some of the songs are truncatde. An 'explanation' scene of the phatom is added (imo the weakest moment in the film). There is one semi-major change, but it does not substantially alter the character of the work, so I'm happy to let that pass.

There were two particular sequences that I found very impressive. The first is the starting one, in the "present" at the auction, and the uncovering of the chandelier. The music of the overture has always been the most poweful for me (repeated of course in the signature song). The sequence of the transformation from "the present", drab and dreary (its filmed like on old film) to the bright and colourful past is superb. The second sequence is the replaying of that tune, in the eponymous Phantom of the Opera song/scene. However, in neither sequence do I think it excelled (though it did equal) the stage version sequences. In part that is because so much is told by the music.

And I love the music.

AS for the characters, the quality of acting was superb. In particular I found Carlotta (Minnie Driver) to be very enlightening. I think it must be very hard to play (to sing, even) a "poor" singer, but the character of Carlotta comes across perfectly. Indeed, I can honsetly say that I never fully appreciated Carlotta as a character until I watched this. Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson) gives what I think is actually one of the best performances in the film, really bringing out this rather pivotal role.

Of course, the film really revolves around three characters: Raoul (Patrick Wilson), Christine (Emmy Rossum) and the Phantom (Gerard Butler), and here I am afraid I go off on one of my tangents, so what follows is really more of me thinking aloud and not really a review.

It is actually quite a tricky relationship, with the sort of blurring that I love. On a purely superficial level it seems simple, the Phantom is the baddie, Christine the victim, and Raoul the hero. Of course, that is entirely wrong, the roles are far more blurred, though the superficial characteristics do have some value (they are not, after all, entirely wrong).

Of the three though I found Raoul to least able to capture the ambiguity of character, for while Raoul might superficially be the rescuing hero, he is also the victim in the grotto, and more widely he is the oppressor, the force of society that rejects and makes outcast those like the Phantom. He also is, at times, plainly ignorant "there is no phantom of opera" at one point he states, showing that he clearly does not believe or understand Christine's tale.

Christine is, in some ways, simpler. Superficially the victim, in the grotto she is the rescuer not only superficailly on Raoul, but also of the Phantom. But in her own way she is the villain - the unthinking rejection of the Phantom when she uncovers the mask, the automatic revulsion - is a typical kind of oppression. She is also the most heroic in many ways of all the three in that moment in the grotto.

The Phantom is probably more complex, superficially the villain. But is he? There is no doubt many of his deeds are moderately despicable, but he exerts great sympathy through the condition of his existence: "not for any mortal sin, but for the wickedness of my abhorrent face". In the grotto he is plainly the villain, but also the victim: "hounded out by everyone / met with hatred everywhere / no kind word from anyone / no compassion anywhere / Christine Christine / why? why?". the sense of victim and villain pursue him through most of the play/film, though he starts off as a hero-figure (the Angel of Music). Conveying these elements without farce is not an easy thing to do. It is done excellents in face and tone of voice. There is a madness to the Phantom, and a terrible sadness. In many ways he reminds me of Heathcliffe, that gypsy cuckoo-child of Wuthering Hieghts

Other thoughts, all three are in their ways innocent and ignorant. The ignorance is easier to see - Roaul's ignorance of the Phantom most starkly at Masquerade, Christine's same ignorance at her father's grave, and the Phantom's own ignorance of people. Then we come to innocence. Raoul is is man of the solid world, innocent of the knowledge of fantasy. It is a reverse innocence of the usual kind in many ways. Christine is more conventionally innoncent, but is also the first to loose it on the first descent into the grotto and the literal uncovering of the mask. The Phantom's innoence is the innocence of the animal. He makes in many respects the reverse journey of Raoul, from being steeped in knowledge of the fantastical world to understnading something of the real world, at the end. Both Raoul and the Phantom make their jounrneys from ignorance and innocence through Christine, and Christine has her ignorance corrected by Roaul and her innocence taken away by Phantom.

Another parallel that comes to mind is the myriad relatinships between Angus Thermopylae, Morn Hyland, and Nick Succorso in The Real Story by Stephen Donaldson and the subsequent Gap books.

Anyway, sorry for the tangnet. I recommend it.

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