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The Phantoms of the Opera

(Almost Complete)

Let's talk about classic movie monsters for a moment (of alliteration, mostly made by mistake).  Universal Studios has laid claim to a lot of classic monsters over the years, and while they don't necessarily own the complete copyright to the creatures in question, they certainly have milked their license for every penny possible.  Universal Studios has special Halloween events featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman with complete regularity.  In fact, you can often buy the classic movies attached to this trio in a boxed set, because hey, they're classics.  Of course, the "B-Squad" sometimes gets to make an appearance.  This article was inspired by the discovery of a boxed set of the "unsung monsters" of the old Universal days, containing The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and, yes, The Phantom of the Opera.  None of these monsters have an incredible amount of films featuring them, so I rolled the dice and decided to give one of them the tribute they deserve, despite not being vampires or throwing children in a lake while singing "Putting on the Ritz." 

The Phantom of the Opera won out, not because I was shocked to find so FEW films about him, but because the films that I did find are...bizarre and coming from all over the place.  We're going to see the evolution of the Phantom of the Opera...from Lon Chaney (That's the old, old version from the 1920's, kids) to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical aptly titled "Phantom of the super-successful Broadway Musical that actually has no Opera in it whatsoever".  On that note, I've also recruited professional Opera Singer who shall remain nameless, who's kindly listened to the singing in each of these films and can confirm or deny if this Phantom is haunting an opera house or just lurking about in the middle of the community center's talent show. 

For those of you who have never seen a Phantom of the Opera, here's the most generalized plot summary that will apply to almost every version we're going to talk about today:  Beneath the opera house is an underground lake where a deformed/mutant/satanic freak in a mask plays the organ and lusts after a young opera singer named Christine.  He'll eventually kidnap her and she'll rip off his mask, and she'll get rescued by some random boyfriend.  That's a REALLY general plot summary, but that's enough to understand even the weirdest of Phantom adaptations.

Disclaimers:  There are two things to understand before diving into this.  First off, this is the ALMOST complete guide to Phantom of the Opera.  By that I mean I'm only going to talk about the movies, and that there are a few minor phantom-things (like the cheesy television show from 1990) that I just couldn't get my hands on.  I'll update this (as I have some of the other "complete" articles) but be assured that I'm really not missing that many.  The second thing to know is that I'm not going to talk much about the original book by Gaston Leroux.  If you know the book you know that there isn't quite an accurate film version out there.  Some come close but, while the story is basically the same, each version is radically different.  So.  This is almost complete and isn't going to be a book report.  That said, let's do this.

 The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Oh, the joy of classics.  This article's going to start slow, but by the end of it we'll be showing how Julian Sands likes to attack obese women's breasts and how Freddy Krueger likes Opera too.  By the way, the reason these pictures have weird color schemes is that the original version got "colorized" and remastered a few times after 1925.  My copy of the Phantom is from Channel Four, a company that did a really good job making a film from the 1920's not look like total crap. Everyone's got to start somewhere, so let's take a peek at the original Phantom mask:

The weird thing is, you can't tell how freaking creepy that mask is.  Sure, it's pretty generic, but what you can't see is this weird cheese cloth hanging over the mouth.  So whenever the Phantom talks, his mask sort of puffs out like he's blowing on a napkin or something.  Alright, I know that doesn't sound creepy at all, but when it takes you ten minutes to sort out why his artificial face is flapping at you, people start to lose their nerve. 

Speaking of taking a lot of nerve, why do women always want to ruin a good thing?  Ripping the mask off the guy who will give them everything as long as they don't take off his mask is like a guy with a double-jointed stripper who likes to have sex with him suddenly deciding he wants a family.  Wait.  Um.  It's not exactly the same.  But if you're in a pretty loose relationship, it sort of kills it if you bring up having kids.  I think that's what I was trying to imply.  Nevermind.  Women can't keep themselves from ripping off the Phantom's mask when they get the chance.

 

This is actually a pretty standard theme to Phantom of the Opera films.  Despite the fact that the Phantom offers Christine the world (Christine is the young singer the Phantom helps gain a singing career), she invariably rips off the mask the first chance she gets.   Sure, in some cases she's been kidnapped and the Phantom's a psychotic murderer, but that doesn't mean you should rip the face off of the PSYCHOTIC DEFORMED MADMAN THAT IS HOLDING YOU HOSTAGE the first chance you get.  It's unsafe at any speed.  The Lon Chaney Phantom is pretty amusing and not bad without the mask.  Sure, it looks like he stuck an orange peel under his upper lip but he can honestly pass as "deformed," unlike later Phantoms who pretty much like to pretend to be acid-burned zombies in formal wear.  By the way, according to the film's plot, this Phantom is a madman who mastered the Black Arts (think of it as a crash course in super-villainy) that has escaped from a penal colony for the criminally insane.  This is NOT a common backstory for the Phantom of the Opera, but each version likes to spin it their own little way (none of which are very close to the book, if you must know.

I'll be honest with you:  I was not expecting to enjoy this.  Silent film "classics" might be classics academically, but when it comes to being entertained, a lot of them leave something to be desired.  The classic Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney was rather awesome because I swear it's the story of a super villain straight out of a comic book.  The Phantom has magic torture chambers and a robotic lion-powered intruder alarm system.  It's very dated but really funny if you look at what denoted an "evil mastermind" in the 1920's.  Take a look at this bit of villainy: 

Phantom:  "Ah, my robot lion tells me that I have visitors.  I will...deal with them."

Christine: "So, you're just going to bludgeon them with a pipe?"

Phantom:  "Foolish woman, I am a master of the Black Arts.  This is a pipe of Evil.  It can do...amazing things." 

Phantom:  "Crap.  I hate it when women don't take my pipe seriously.  Still, it does have magic powers.  It will allow me to sneak up on anyone using a boat on my secret underground river.  How does it work, you ask?"

Phantom:  "I'm a submarine.  Dive, dive, dive!  Aaooogah, Aaooogah!"

Yes, the Phantom of the Opera puts on his tuxedo, attaches a pipe to his mouth, and sneaks up on boats traveling beneath the Opera house.  He also ends up dressing like the Red Death (a common occurrence in most Phantom adaptations) just so he can kick jesters and clowns in the face.

If kicking jesters in the face wasn't awesome enough, check out what he says after doing so. 

Next time someone tells a terrible joke, I dare you to shout this back at them.

This version of Phantom of the Opera is the only one to feature something that's both insane AND in the original book.  If you weren't sure if the Phantom of the Opera was meant to be a zany over-the-top villain, this might convince you.  He's decided that Christine must choose to marry him...or else. 

The Phantom lays out a metal Scorpion and metal grasshopper.  He tells her if she turns the scorpion then she must marry him.  Her other option, however:

Holy crap.  Marry me or the building will EXPLODE.  How's that for a marriage proposal?  It's also very Lex Luthor of the Phantom, as most tragic characters (a phrase most people thinks applies to the Phantom) don't threaten to kill everyone if their love spurns them.

Phantom:  "There you have it woman.  Choose your invertebrate and decide your fate.  Mu Hu ha ha ha. "

Phantom:  "Umm...You do know that the grasshopper means that all the gunpowder below us with detonate and everyone will die, right?  I mean I don't want us to all be dead and then find out this was a misunderstanding."

Phantom:  "Oh no.  It's totally up to you to decide.  I'm just going to stand over here and crap my pants because I think you'd rather kill us all than marry me.  Oh no, take your time.  I don't mind at all."

In the end she chooses the scorpion, which almost kills her boyfriend who rescues her and then there's a long chase scene on horseback.  Eventually the Phantom gets cornered by a mob, pretends to have a grenade, and then makes fun of the angry mob for being tricked into thinking he had a grenade.  It's all kind of goofy, but the 1925 Phantom of the Opera ends with the Phantom being beaten to death and thrown into the river.  Sort of an anti-climatic ending, to be honest, but it's an ending all the same. 

There is one final awesome thing from the 1925 version.  When a stagehand and a bunch of ballerinas have questions about the Phantom, they go to the one employee backstage that they can trust:  Joseph Buquet.  Who's Joseph Buquet? 

Joseph Buquet is the scary-ass propmaster who mutters to himself while fisting a paper-mache head of Jesus Christ.  Thank you, movie.

Phantom of the Opera (1943)

About twenty years later, Universal would try their hand at another adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera.  Starring Nelson Eddy and Claude Rains as the Phantom, this one was directed by Arthur Lubin, the same director who brought us "The Incredible Mr. Limpet", the story of how Don Knotts magically becomes a talking fish that fights Nazis during World War II.  While that's an abomination to discuss another day, it does sort of clue you in on the quality you're going to expect here.  The film's tagline was "In Flaming Technicolor", which may be one of the gayest (as in awesomely homosexual) taglines ever.  It's also sort of lame because you realize the tagline is "Yes, our film is in color."  :sigh:

First off, let's talk about the singing.  Since this is the first version to have sound, there's a lot of singing.  And despite the fact that they have a "chorus of over a hundred singers", none of them can sing Opera according to my secret Opera Singer friend.  According to her, they're doing this weird "crooning" thing that makes them sound like the midgets from the Wizard of Oz.  Actually, that's a pretty fair comparison because the singing in this film is about as close to Opera as the music found there.  The exception is the baritone voice of Nelson Eddy, an old actor I've actually heard of, who, according to a professional, can actually sing.  That's not to say that there are bad singers in this, just that they're singing the 1940's equivalent of pop music and NOT opera at all. 

This adaptation is a weird balance of psychodrama and 1940's dating comedy, where men who look exactly the same fight each other for the right to take Christine out on a date.  In this version, the Phantom is actually a violinist who goes crazy when he thinks someone is stealing his music.  He also has a crazy obsession with Christine, which seems vaguely sexual in the final film but was actually because the Phantom is her father, something that got cut out of the original film.  Suffice to say this version is pretty far off from the book, but later adaptations are going to go further.  This version is also the first to introduce the "horribly burned by acid" theme.  This would show up several times and for some reason be the most memorable origin story (I think, as I sort of assumed it to be the "correct" one before watching all these) despite being pretty screwed up.

When a secretary's first instinct is to grab a nearby pan of acid and throw it at the man strangling her boss, you kind of wonder what temp agency she works through.  Was there a question on the application asking what you would do when a psychotic violinist comes in and throttles your boss?  Was "throw disfiguring super-acid on his face" the right or wrong answer? 

 

Claude Raines as the Phantom is pretty tame...while he does strangle a few people here and there and drop a chandelier on some folks, he's definitely the lil' Phantom of the bunch.  Maybe it's the unintimidating mask or maybe it's the fact that he's only four feet tall and most coffee tables tower over him as he strolls about the set.  Claude Rains is most well known for his 1933 role as the Invisible Man where he was intimidating by not being seen.  Considering how he seems to represent the Lollipop Guild, that doesn't surprise me.

Remember kids, don't let secretaries throw acid on your face.  Hell, maybe you shouldn't attack people who just happen to have acid lying around.  The Phantom's true face in this one isn't that terrifying, but it is seriously what I would call disfigured. 

By the way, in the end The Phantom kidnaps Christine and when one of her boyfriends tries to shoot him another boyfriend knocks his hand so he shoots the ceiling and causes the Phantom to be buried alive instead of being shot in the face.  The heroes (and Christine) escape and have a happy time riddled with strange homosexual undertones.  Seriously.  Nelson Eddy and Edgar Barrier both fight over Christine and rub up against each other every time the get the chance.  By the end of the film, they give up on chasing her and decide to take each other out to dinner.  If you've got a sick mind, there's all sorts of things implied by their final conversation.  Of course that's totally unrelated to the Phantom, so it's time to jump ahead.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Oh Hammer Horror, what have you done?  For those who don't know much about horror, England gave birth to a little company called Hammer that churned out a LOT of horror movies featuring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and a few others we know and love.  They weren't the best, but by bad movie standards they're almost all invariably awesome.  They were low-Budget films made back to back so quickly they overlap.  You get everything from killer snake women to Dracula being killed by snow to weird British Twilight Zone rip offs.  I LIKE Hammer Horror, but that's not going to convince me that they're not unintentionally funny for the most part.  Their version of Phantom of the Opera is no exception.  This one was directed by Terence Fisher, the master of the Hammer Horror collection.  Again, I don't think Hammer Horror films are bad, it's just they helped define the horror genre's clichés, so that they all seem to be some sort of parody of a real horror movie...if that makes any sense.  I'll give you an example:

You know that organ music that a lot of us associate with the Phantom of the Opera?  It's Bach's "Fugue in D Minor" and this is the first and only time it appears in a Phantom of the Opera film, despite being referenced in almost every Phantom of the Opera parody out there.  Speaking of the music, it might be good to know that there's no Opera singing in this version either, as apparently everyone on staff is more suited to musical theatre.  If you don't know the difference between that and opera, I can't help you.  But know this:  We have yet to see a Phantom of the Opera that actually features opera singers. 

The mask in this one isn't bad, as it actually isn't trying to be "pretty", like the one before it and a few others to come.  Sometimes, simplicity is best.  I mean really, this one looks really close to Mike Myers of John Carpenter's Halloween series.  Though I will say that it's a completely different parallel once the mask comes off:

Here's the Phantom as he's crushed by a falling chandelier while he saves Christine from being crushed by dwarf. :blink:  What?  1.  The phantom of this opera was also burned by acid, an accident that happened when he tried to burn all the copies of an opera he wrote that had been stolen by the Opera Company's evil owner.  He's a good guy, if you can believe it.  2.  Almost all of the murders in this adaptation aren't done by the Phantom.  Instead, they're done by his loyal dwarf minion.  Seriously.

Unlike other versions, this is the only version to feature a psychotic dwarf that befriends the Phantom and decides to kill anyone he meets.  It's pretty random and a weak plot device, but it lets the Phantom be a hero, even though he's got a friend who stabs people in the eye whenever he gets the chance.   Speaking of totally weird things:

The dwarf apparently really liked Lon Chaney's "Look at me, I'm a submarine" trick and he decides to do it himself later in the film.  Go figure.

And now, for the really weird.

Phantom of the Paradise  (1974)

Oh my.  I've mentioned this film a few times before and as much as I like it, it is definitely one of the weirder Phantom adaptations out there.  Say hello to Phantom of the Rock Opera.  So no, there's no opera, but there is a lot of 1970's Rock and Roll.  You know, the kind of stuff your parents listened to when they weren't fighting The Man by smoking a lot of pot.  The Phantom is "Winslow Leach", a songwriter who, like his Hammer Horror counterpart, gets his music stolen from him. 

Since we're supposed to be comparing Phantoms, all I can say is that this one is very much into the whole symbolism thing.  The Phantom gets his music stolen and when he goes the record company he gets his face crushed by a record press (the thing that makes the records...think of it as a CD-burner that Neanderthals used when they weren't hunting mammoth).  The weird thing about this version is that, as an artist, it breaks me.  The music is NOT the kind of stuff I'd normally  listen to, but I find myself listening to the words...never a good sign.  My point is that Phantom of the Paradise is about a desperate and downtrodden artist who sells his soul to create something wonderful and ends up being cheated and dying alone and being laughed at.  It's a beautiful film from Brian de Palma (director of Carrie, Scarface, and Mission Impossible) that totally makes me cry.  That was a joke.  I would never talk about a goofy funny film that really gets under my skin.  Nope. 

:deep breath:

Let's meet our Phantom:

Sweet Mother of God, what is that?

Black lipstick.  Metal teeth.  Lots of leather.  A Hawkman mask.  Wow.

The Phantom of the Paradise (The Paradise is a music hall in this owned by the (or a) devil named Swan) is definitely out there.  He had his teeth pulled and replaced by metal ones when he was in prison, he lost his eye and his voice in an industrial accident, and he's cursed to wear skin-tight leather until the film ends.  He also can't talk without a device strapped to his chest that gives him the cool "robot" voice we all wish we had when we were six.  It also makes him look and sound like a proto-Darth Vader, weirdly enough.  The "Christine" in this film is named Phoenix, because it's very poetic to name a singer who rises from the ashes after a bird known for the very same thing. 

Things don't go well for this Phantom, as he ends up killing himself when he defeats Swan (a/the Devil) due to a weird Faustian soul-selling thing that I really don't want to explain because it'll just sound dumb if I type it.  Of course, some dumb things are awesome:

Like when the Phantom assaults a singer named Beef with a plunger.

Trivia Time:  Can you spot what's wrong with this picture?

When Brian de Palma made this movie, the "evil" record label was known as a subsidiary of "Swan Song Enterprises."  The problem is that four months before this movie came out (on Halloween, oddly enough), Led Zeppelin created their own record label called "Swan Song Records."  Despite the fact that this movie was already made by then, they had to censor any image that mentioned Swan Song to avoid legal issues.  It's not interesting trivia but it does explain why there's these weird and not-so-subtle sensor squares placed throughout the film.

Scooby-Doo and the Phantom of the Recording Studio (1978)

Yes, there is an episode of Scooby Doo that is an overt parody of both the Phantom of the Opera AND Phantom of the Paradise....or maybe the band KISS.  I really don't have much else to say about that, because most episodes of Scooby Doo could be called parodies of Phantom of the Opera.  You know, because that's what a lot of Scooby Doo is. 

Have you guys ever wondered how the bad guys on Scooby Doo wear their glasses UNDER their masks?  I know I have.

Terror at the Opera (1987)

Now, I'm not sure if I should have included this film here, but just to cover all the bases, here it is.  Terror at the Opera is not a direct adaptation of Phantom of the Opera...but a keen film student could make an argument to the contrary.  The film is by Dario Argento, one of the big names of Italian Horror, if not horror in general.  Argento would later actually make a Phantom of the Opera film, but in the mid-1980's he made this:  The story of a young opera singer who has an evil guardian angel who lurks in the shadows, obsessed with her.  I'm not going to make that argument about how this is a version of the Phantom of the Opera just yet, so just assume that it must be because is has the word "opera" in the film's title.  On the plus side, this is the first film I've mentioned that has actual opera singers in it.  Who would have thought that Italians would know something about opera?  Of course, most of them are dubbed in from recordings of famous opera singers.  So, it doesn't completely count.

  The gimmick of the masked Phantom in Terror at the Opera (he wears a ski mask, if you must know) is that he ties up Betty (the "Christine" of this film), tapes a row of needles to her eyelids so that if she tries to close her eyes she'll blind herself.  And then he makes her watch him violently murder someone.  But don't worry, it's not like Dario Argento films are violent.

Dario Argento films are really super-violent.  This whole "making her watch violent murders" actually ends up making sense when we find out that the killer is a guy who dated Betty's mom who by coincidence had a fetish for watching people get murdered.  The killer ended up going crazy and killing Betty's mom but now that Betty's around he's doing the only thing he knows makes women happy.  I wish more soap-operas were this murder-centric.
So how is this possibly like Phantom of the Opera?

The killer gets disfigured towards the end of the film...so he's figuratively "unmasked" in a non-traditional manner AND he loses an eye just like almost all the other Phantoms AND he's obsessed with a young opera singer.  There's more to it than that but if you want to write a paper about post-modernistic adaptations of classic stories, I would totally start here.

Phantom of the Opera:  The Motion Picture (1989)

Brought to you by director Dwight Little (man behind Free Will`y 2 and Halloween 4), here we have what I would call the first "modern" Phantom of the Opera adaptation.  That is to say that the film isn't overtly dated in style and cinematic technique.  But enough about that.  What you really want to know is that Robert Englund, known for playing Freddy Krueger, is playing the Phantom.  Just glancing at the poster lets you know this was the major "selling point" of this film. The Phantom in this film has gone back to his "Black Arts" roots.  He's sold his soul to the devil (played by a midget), and he now has magic demonic powers...and a horribly disfigured face.    So we have Robert Englund ripping guys' heads off and bowling with them, crushing people's skulls, decapitating singers, skinning people while they're still alive, ripping people's hearts out, and other acts of crazy violence.  So what does his mask look like?  Well, the mask on the poster is only used for the "Red Death" scene and isn't the mask you see throughout the entire film.  So what IS the real mask?

There you go.  Instead of a normal mask, the Phantom uses make-up...

...and other people's skin sewn onto his face...

...to cover up the fact that his face looks a hell of a lot like Freddy Krueger.

This makes it all the more horrible when Christine rips his mask off...because she literally has to rip off his FACE to do so.  This is by far the most screwed up Phantom of the Opera so far and is definitely the darkest one on this list.  Any film where the Phantom seduces a singer just so he can cut off her head and boil it is a winner in my book.  I honestly liked this one, even if it was made because of Robert Englund.  It's an honest attempt at doing something with the original Phantom story.   It's also very gruesome and seriously awesome in a modern Horror kind of way.

Plus, this one has real Opera singing it it.  Woo hoo!

Gremlins 2:  The New Batch (1990)

What, you thought I wouldn't mention my favorite little Phantom of the Opera cameo? 

Well, now that I have, it's time to watch Julian Sands have sex with rats.

Phantom of the Opera (1998)

Say hello to the big winner of the Phantom of the Opera "totally screwed up contest."  While a few of the adaptations are out there, this one wins hands down.  This one is also by Dario Argento and stars his daughter, Asia Argento, who plays Christine and has lots of sex with the Phantom of the Opera, played by Julian Sands, of Warlock and Boxing Helena fame.  Wait, she has sex with the Phantom?  How is that possible?

Because this Phantom isn't disfigured at all.  He was abandoned as a child and raised by rats beneath the opera house.  So it's like a cross between Willard and The Jungle Book in a lot of ways.  Being raised by rats gives him all sorts of evil powers or something, because now he has telepathy, mind control, and a few other weird little powers (like the ability to gnaw people like a giant Julian Sands-sized rat would).  The story of the Phantom changes drastically when you make him sexy and not disfigured...suddenly there's nothing WRONG with him and the story is more about romance and obsession.  Of course, he still wants to trap Christine beneath the Opera house in his cave.  Plus, she decides she needs to leave when she sees something that he does when he thinks he's alone.

This is a picture of Julian Sands (the Phantom) unbuckling his pants after rubbing a rat on his nipples.  Since his character was raised by rats, he likes to have kinky rat sex, which apparently means putting rodents down his trousers.  I'm not joking, by the way.  Christine is totally happy with him and their passionate love-making until she sees him preparing to do the nasty with a rat.  Gah. 

For the sake of time, let's make a list:

Totally Messed Up Thing #1:  That's the Director's daughter.

I don't know if I'm a prude or something, but knowing that Dario Argento cast his daughter in the lead role bothers me a little.

Dario:  "Alright now honey, remember to stick them out as best you can.  This is supposed to be the Phantom's vision of you so it would be best if you could shake it a bit.  Think Britney Spears when she was slutty and not fat and pregnant."

Dario:  "Nice cleavage, sweetie.  Now, in this scene you're the erotic fantasy of a dope fiend, so I want you to stick out your tongue and pretend to give oral sex to this nice gentleman here."

Dario:  "So, the scene where you get raped by Julian Sands seems to be going well.  Can I get anyone a coke?"

Totally Messed Up Thing #2:  Man, Italians sure do like nudity.

Just by the number of NO's found on the above image, I think you can tell that there is a wee bit of nudity in this film.  Just a little.

Totally Messed Up Thing #3:  The Magic Midget-Powered Rat Catching Machine.

You are not ready for this.  Of all the screwed up things that have appeared in Phantom of the Opera versions, nothing is weirder than a rocket car/lawnmower/vacuum cleaner that a ratcatcher and his midget friend ride around in, sucking up rats, and chopping them up.

Hell, I watched the film and I still don't believe it.

This actually brings up another weird addition to this film.  Now, I've seen a fair amount of Argento films and this has to be the first one that's got a lot of zany slapstick comedy in it.  It's all very....absurd, but slapstick comedy is the best term I can come up for it.  A lot of it involves fat people and midgets, if that helps any.

Totally Messed Up Thing #4:  Julian Sands and the Breast Threat

In every Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom assaults Carlotta, the diva, and gets her to not sing so that Christine can.  In some films she's poisoned while in others she's just frightened off.  In this one, Julian Sands tries a new approach.

"You will not sing tonight....

...if you care for these big breasts of yours"

:pulls out large boob and claws it before running away:

Yeah.  Julian Sands is a super-crazy Rat King psycho in this.  We've got him doing all sorts of horrible things...even the classic chandelier drop is horrible...in fact, this is the first film where we actually see the chandelier hit people, huge shards of crystal and gold piercing their screaming bodies.  Ah, you have to love the classics.

Julian Sands, biting out women's tongues and skewering their lovers on stalagmites.  Thank you Dario Argento, your daughter, and Italy.

Antonio Banderas is the Phantom of the Opera

(Andrew Lloyd Webber Royal Albert Hall Celebration, 1998)

God bless the Internet.  How else would I have found footage of Sarah Brightman (the first woman to sing the lead in Webber's Broadway musical) singing with Antonio Banderas?  The duo is singing the title song "Phantom of the Opera" and she's muttering about how the Phantom is in her mind and, well, best personified by Antonio Banderas.  It's rather fitting, in that she doesn't know what the Phantom looks like so of course, as any woman would, she assumes that he's Antonio Banderas.   This performance was part of an awards ceremony, and there's only one reason I bring it up right now:

Antonio Banderas in high heels.  You might not be able to see it very well, but Antonio is totally wearing high heels.  I know it's a normal thing for men to be filmed as if they're taller than they are (we all know Danny Devito is only a foot tall, for instance) but when we can see that a guy is wearing women's shoes to make up for the height issue...I don't know. 

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Almost twenty years after the hit Broadway musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber's creation hit the big screen.  Directed by Joel Schumacher, the man behind The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Batman & Robin, and The Lost Boys, here we have a musical that's lacking something fairly obvious.  The musical version of Phantom of the Opera is most known for it's award-winning song, "Phantom of the Opera."  It's the song people sing, and hell, it's the only song in the show to actually get played on the radio.  So when they made the movie, what song did they decide not to include?  :sigh:  A lot of people have theories as to why it wasn't included.  My Opera Singer friend (who again points out that this movie has no opera in it) confirms my suspicions:  Gerard Butler (the man who plays the Phantom) can't sing.  I'm not sure if this is completely true, but even my untrained senses (which have seen/heard the musical several times in my life) know when something is awry.  Since I'm not a singer and am now going into totally biased/bitchy mode, I'll stop talking about it.  Singing aside, let's check out what we have to.

Edit:  I confess.  Either I screwed up or the version of the Phantom of the Opera I watched when it hit Germany didn't have the song, "Phantom of the Opera."  A lot you guys have emailed me telling me I'm crazy...and maybe you're right.  The film is just not worth watching again to double-check.  Me and my singer friend just didn't hear the lyric "The Phantom of the Opera is there...inside my mind."  You know.  THE lyric to end all Lloyd lyrics.  But I digress.

Ah, the classic half mask...the mask that Lloyd Webber made famous.  The mask that people have associated with the Phantom of the Broadway Musical since 1986.  I wonder what his face looks like.

So....he has a rash and blemish?  This Phantom is by far the least disfigured (despite having a backstory where he was a circus freak living in a cage) when compared to the other Phantoms that were supposed to be disfigured.  Even funnier, the above image is from when he first shows his face.  There's a bit of computer magic and special lighting there for dramatic effect.  Let's see what he looks like casually:

 

Wow.  He looks sort of like a slightly puffy Jeff Bridges.  The fact that he looks like this and curses himself to live in a sub-basement just goes to show how vain he is.  I mean, not to say that I have some ugly friends, but...well, I have some ugly friends.  I think we all know someone who's definitively less attractive than Gerard there and THEY don't wear a mask and bemoan their accursed fate.  :sigh:   

By the way, if you're one of my friends and you're very ugly then I assure you, I'm not talking about you.  Seriously.

Well, it's been a long road for the Phantom of the Opera.  We've seen everything from super-villainy to slasher horror to Julian Sands shoving rats down his pants.  We've seen masked and unmasked Phantoms and Phantoms that don't really need to wear masks.  Out of all these films we've only found two of them that actually have any Opera Singers in them, and only one where the people on screen are the same as the people we hear singing.  We've seen Andrew Lloyd Webber's influence both good and bad on modern Phantoms of the Opera and we've seen a Phantom use a plunger on a man named after a type of meat.  All in all, it's been a weird ride.  Weird being the key word.

-jared

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Copyright, Jared Hindman, January 11th, 2007.  All images are the property of their respective owners and are used via Fair Use review purposes only.   Please, my Angel of Music, Please don't sue.

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