So I was listening to this, today, and it always makes me think of the Phantom of the Opera. (I will admit, I’m a little bit of a Phan.) He’s really quite a fascinating character, if you look at the book (or books, if you count Susan Kay’s novel as part of the canon, which many fans do). He is an inventor, an engineer, an architect, a magician, a musical genius both as performer and composer, who has served royalty. He has traveled the world. He is also a prolific murderer who has ultimately been driven mad by the cruelty he found there, because of his equally remarkable physical ugliness. It is only after living a full and eventful life that he retreats to his subterranean “house by the lake.”
Thinking of all this, I always wind up thinking of the movies made about him, and it strikes me as rather sad that the only one that really comes close to capturing the character--this musical genius--in his full scope is the silent film starring Lon Chaney.
Now, mind you, I’m not a purist. The other versions of the tale that have been committed to film all have something to be recommended, and I own a few of them. However, I always find it a bit frustrating that none of the other films get his backstory right, when really his backstory is what ultimately makes him the fascinating character that he is.
In the 1943 film, starring Claude Rains, the Phantom is a poor, middle-aged violinist, at the end of his rope. He writes one good song, and when he attacks the publisher who tries to steal it from him, his face gets burned by acid and he flees to the sewers and dungeons under the Opera. (I will, however, say for it that Claude Rains’ performance is marvelous, and at least they get the general area of the character’s age right.)
In the 1982 film, starring Robert Englund, the Phantom is a psychotic composer who made a deal with the devil. While I applaud this film for being the only one that doesn’t try to declaw the Phantom, that gives him a dark and epic past if not the canon one, and does contain some of my favorite film!Phantom moments, it degenerates into horror movie schlock at the end.
The 1990 mini series starring Charles Dance is endearing and funny, and makes extensive use of actual opera, but again it robs him of backstory in that he is actually raised under the opera house and is thus essentially innocent until the events of the story. Also, they seem to have entirely forgotten that he wasn’t only a lover of music, but a composer in his own right.
The 2004 film based on the stage production has some lovely visuals and a few good performances, but the Phantom is pulled underground as a child by a sympathetic young!Madame Giry. Apart from this, it is the film with the second-prettiest Phantom, delivering us Gerard Butler with a really bad sunburn on half his face (second only to Julian Sands, in the Argento version, whose main difference from the rest of the human race is an eccentric affection for rats).
As an aside, I’ve said this before, but listen, folks, this is what the Phantom of the Opera is supposed to look like.
Long story short, while this tale has stood the test of time for a full century, inspired many enjoyable films, and even a spin-off novel or two worth reading, I would like to see one well-done, modern film which captures this character in his full scope with all of the genius and horror and heartbreak that birthed the Phantom Phenomenon.
Y’hear me, Santa? Just one.