Dir. Rupert Julian. Run Time: 93 mins. PG
(Original Theatrical Release Poster)
The Phantom Of The Opera has long been a staple in the classic horror movie circles, and for good reason. The film is not short on any spectacle, the plot and pacing keep the viewer riveted to the screen for the entire duration, and as always Lon Chaney is on top form in his horrific role as The titular Phantom. The real interest to be derived from this film in the modern day and age where spectacle is certainly not lacking, however, comes from the many conundrums that it produces within the savvy film-goer.
The film is by no means a masterpiece of art; it fits very squarely in the Hollywood tradition of narrative structure and shooting style built around the desire for easily digestible entertainment and profit. A ghostly phantom haunts the forgotten passages and torture chambers beneath the Paris opera house and abducts a beautiful young singer (Mary Philbin) to force his love upon her, leaving her to be saved by her one true love (Norman Kerry). You would be hard pressed to find a story which asks less mental activity from the viewer.
But, while this holds true, the direction of the piece contains a mode of art which is not readily apparent with a surface viewing. Yes, Chaney’s camp flailing adorned, as he is in mask and cape, is thrilling and more than a little humorous, but his eerily understated presence in the colour tinted masked-ball scene shows a much deeper understanding of the form. Likewise do the unexplained plot leaps and shocking make-up close-ups point to a schlock sensibility while at the same time the expressionist shadows creeping along the claustrophobic corridors of the Phantom’s lair make a viewer think of the works of Murnau or Lang.
The Phantom Of the Opera presents itself as the most intelligent of nonsense films or, contrariwise, as the stupidest of artistic visions simultaneously, and this, I believe, is one of the reasons that this movie remains so interesting today. I mean, plenty of silent horror films were made during this period (many of them, like Phantom, made by Universal Studios), but for some reason this is the one that has gone down through history and ingrained itself into the popular consciousness. The question mus be asked, “why is this? Why do I know this movie so well instead of others?” and it is the artistic flair mixed in with the highest camp of the horror genre that provides the answer.
One instinctively rolls their metaphorical eyes at the ludicrousness of the japes and capers taking place before them, but their eyes cannot help but be drawn into the immense beauty and skill that has gone into each and every shot. It is aesthetically thrilling and intriguing as it is daft and hammy, and this is what makes the films as a whole so incredibly interesting.
I suppose this may be a mere symptom of becoming too deeply entrenched in film studies and that my mind is just being drawn towards unnecessary dissection, but I would argue against this. Either way I would highly recommend seeing The Phantom Of The Opera in order to make up your own mind about its value artistic or otherwise.
SIDENOTE: The Phantom Of The Opera is listed at #26 on the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
SCHLOCK METER: 56%
- Horror On The Lens: The Phantom of the Opera (dir by Rupert Julian) (unobtainium13.com)
- The Phantom of the Opera (1925) (journeysinclassicfilm.com)
- Phantom of the Opera (1925) (chyrondave.wordpress.com)
- Halloween Special = Lon Chaney and “The Phantom of the Opera” (krusty1960historysstory.wordpress.com)
- Watch: Phantom of The Opera (’25) – dir. Rupert Julian (seminalcinemaoutfit.com)
- The Icons of Fright and the House That Spawned Them (Column) (popmatters.com)