The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

20120915-234304.jpg

The Phantom of the Opera, Rupert Julian (1925) [93 minutes]

This is my entry for the Universal Backlot Blogathon.Please click the link and check out my fellow bloggers’ posts! I’d also like to thank Kristen [Journeys in Classic Film] for hosting this fabulous blogathon! :)
 

Since I was around 12 I have been a huge fan of The Phantom of the Opera. It all began when I went to the theater with my grandparents. I saw it in the Spanish equivalent of Broadway. Since that day me and my little sister have been completely entranced by the story of the poor, damaged Phantom.We still pop in a DVD of the 2004 version whenever we need our fix (that movie is one of my top guilty pleasures :P). The other day I was browsing through Netflix and saw this version was available for Instant Streaming. Imagine my excitement! And believe me, it did not disappoint.

Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera is very different from the other, Andrey-Lloyd-Webber-y ones that I know and love. Firstly, it is not a musical (it’s a silent movie, that would be rather impossible). Also, it sticks closer to the novel than Webber’s version does. Even with the lack of singing and dancing, this version feels much more operatic than any of the ones I have seen before. It is high melodrama with extremely theatrical acting. The sets are wonderfully crafted and areas, like the phantom’s lair, are just as eerily beautiful as one would imagine them to be. The film is tinted different colors (amber, red, green) depending on the scene and the location. This only adds to this already atmospheric film.

I have yet to mention Lon Chaney’s performance as Erick, the Phantom. He is so great that I figured that he needed his own paragraph! He is so engaging while on screen; your eye cannot help but be drawn to him. There are moments in the film when he is shrouded in shadow or covered in cloaks and a mask, but he still manages to be such a presence on-screen. When he takes off his mask he only improves. Under pounds and pounds of makeup and wires, which Chaney would apply himself, he still manages to emote. Chaney makes this monster human. This movie is worth watching for him alone.

The Ending: SPOILERS ahead: The ending for this film has kind of a crazy history. Initially it was the same as the novel, where the Phantom lets Christine go and then dies of a broken heart. Apparently the audience at the time didn’t like it, so they filmed an alternate ending. This other ending is the one that you can see today. Sadly, the original appears to be lost! This makes me quite upset. The “new” ending just destroys the Phantom’s redemption arc, which is part of what makes him such an amazing character.

Quality: The quality of the film is pretty bad. I’m not sure if it’s just the one on Netflix, but it is very spotty and grainy. It is still watchable, but I just thought I should give you a heads up. If there is a better version out there please let me know!

How To Watch: Silent movies are tricky. You really have to pay attention, more than a sound movie, to really get everything out of it. So, I wouldn’t recommend watching it when you have a million things to do. This movie really needs to be watched in a dark room where you can just let yourself be transported into the opera house.

Who To Watch With: The Phantom is really very scary looking, so probably not the best for little kids. Other than that, I think anyone can enjoy this! Even if you hate the Webber version, give this a try. It is a very good film and everyone should give it a shot.

Final Verdict: This is an amazing, atmospheric, operatic film. Chaney is outstanding as the Phantom; and if anything else just watch it for him. I have yet to show this to my sister (my fellow Phantom enthusiast) and I cannot wait to see her reaction. It is really a wonderful film. Certain scenes are so beautifully rendered that they are likely to stay in your head long after you watch them.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D

Diabolique [Les Diaboliques]

Diabolique, Henri-Georges Clouzot (1955) 114 minutes

This is my entry in the The Best Hitchcock Movies (That Hitchcock Never Made) Blogathon. Please click on the link and check out the entries by my fellow bloggers! I would like to also thank Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci [Tales of the Easily Distracted] and Rebecca Barnes [ClassicBecky’s Brain Food] for putting this all together and letting me be a part of it :)

Alfred Hitchcock is the undisputed master of the thriller. He did it better, more often and more consistently than anyone else. Others have made excellent thrillers, but they are always compared back to the master. Hell, these films are even called “Hitchcockian Thrillers.”  This genre is the focus of this lovely, little blogathon. They are basically thrillers that are so freaking good, that could have been made by Hitchcock, himself. Clouzot’s Diabolique holds an interesting place amongst these films. Hitchcock almost made this film. Diabolique is based off a novel by Boileau and Narcejac. Hitchcock was actually looking for the rights to this, but Clouzot beat him to it! There were no hard feelings from Hitchcock, however. He later adapted another Boileau and Narcejac novel with Vertigo (which is one of my favorites). Also, he reportedly showed Diabolique to those who helped him make Vertigo and Pyscho as a great example of a thriller.

Diabolique is about a wealthy, kindly woman, Christina Delassale (Vera Clouzot (the director’s wife)) who is tormented and abused by her gold-digging husband, Michel Delassale (Paul Meurisse). They run a boarding school for little boys. Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) is a teacher at the school and also Michel’s not-so-secret mistress. Michel is quickly characterized as the villain in the film. He is horrible to his wife and mistress both. He buys rotten food for the children of the school and hands out outrageous punishments for the slightest offenses. Nicole, surprisingly, is Christina’s friend. They have struck up an odd partnership and are out to get rid of Michel. While Nicole pushes for action to be taken against this horrible man, Christina is much more hesitant. These two women are set up as diametric opposites. Nicole is a taller, more masculine blonde. She is anything but passive. Christina is much more sensitive and hesitant to act. Her appearance is much more fragile and feminine than Nicole. She is also  a foreigner and a devout Catholic with heart issues (apparently she’s sickly and doesn’t deal with stress well). There are also a number of smaller characters who serve to add some humor to this dark film.

I’m not going to get into much more of the plot or characterization. If you have never seen Diabolique, you really should avoid spoilers like the plague. It is jam-packed with shocks, twists and turns. If you are watching it for the second, third or tenth time, you will see many little hints and clues scattered throughout the film. Also, the cinematography and lighting for this film are absolutely stellar. There is a lot of play with shadows, especially in the most “important” moments in the movie. This film can hold its own with any Hitchcock movie and is considered one of the greatest French thriller of all time.

Creepy Credits:. The words are projected on a filthy pool of water, which is constantly rippling. The music starts off as a standard, pretty creepy score. Then the voices of young boys are introduced into the music. After that an organ starts to play the theme (this is were I was getting pretty weirded out). Finally the original theme comes into this mix even louder with the organ and the choir continuing to play/sing (unmistakably the score to a very scary movie!).

How to Watch: Do yourself a favor and watch this at night in a dark room. I’ve watched in the middle of the afternoon and its not just not the same.

Who to Watch This With: Probably not the best for young children. I don’t want to say much more (for fear of getting into spoilers), but there are some rather disturbing images, which may lead to nightmares… and not only for the little ones!

Final Verdict: Diabolique is a wonderful example of a suspenseful, intelligent and nuanced thriller. It is beautifully shot and the plot is masterfully crafted.  Whether it’s the setting or the characters, this movie is unmistakably French. And to give credit where credit is due: Clouzot, himself, is a wonderful director, who shines in this film. Its totally like Hitchcock, but not really… Maybe thats a bit of a cop-out from me, but I don’t mean it to be. Just give it a shot and you’ll see what I mean.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D

Updates: 2 Blogathons and a Contest.

Hey lovely readers! Here are some things that I will be taking a part of over the next few months!

This blogathon starts today! Be sure and click on the picture above and check out everyone’s submissions. The posts are spread out over about a week. My contribution will be posted by next Tuesday (7/10), so make sure and check back then!

I am also participating in a writing contest about classical film. This should be very fun (I love a good competition :P).

Kristen over at Journeys in Classic Film is hosting her own blogathon! I will be taking part, but I still have no idea which film I’ll be doing. If you are interested in joining in there is plenty of time. Just head over there and contact her.

On-Flight Entertainment: The Big Year, 2011

The Big Year, David Frankel (2011) [100 minutes]

Hey there, guys! I have been traveling so much this summer. Whether it’s bus, car, plane, zeppelin, or whatever I have had a crazy but completely awesome time! That’s why it has been so quiet on here the last few weeks, but now that will be rectified.

I have seen a incredible amount of horrible movies on planes (most of them involving Jennifer Anniston or some wannabe, I’m not sure which is worse). So, when I put on my headphones on the airplane I was preparing for the worst. I had never heard of this movie they were showing, The Big Year, and I went into it rather begrudgingly. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Big Year is a movie about an annual birding competition, in which birders, or bird watchers, have one year to travel across the United States and see as many species of birds as possible. The film takes place over a year. These men, pictured above, compete for the title of best birder. The plot, I’ll admit, sounds a little silly. I knew nothing about birding. I mean, I had no idea a competition like that even existed! But I found it all really interesting. I acquired some interesting knowledge that I’ll probably never use again, but you never know. :P

The birding competition makes the movie more interesting and unique, but this is really a story about three men. Owen Wilson plays the reigning champion of birding. He is an antagonist of sorts, but the film really succeeds in humanizing him. He is the best of the best, but we see the price he pays to keep that up. Steve Martin is a very successful business man who only wants to retire and enjoy a big year before it’s too late. He struggles with leaving behind his job and his family, fearing he is too old for this dream. Jack Black plays our hero. A man who is really down on his luck, he has failed at most everything in life. Birding is what he’s great at and what he really wants to do. He struggles immensely throughout the film, but never gives up. Honestly, I found the portrayals of these characters refreshing. They are not unfamiliar tropes, but the way they are approached is without any sort of prejudice. The film does not judge any of its characters. Their faults and strengths are laid out for the viewer to see, without glorifying or degrading anyone in the process.

By the stars in the film you would think that this movie is sidesplittingly hilarious, but that isn’t case. It is funny, don’t get me wrong, but that isn’t the point. It’s really a feel-good, inspirational and simply adorable film. It probably won’t change your life (I mean who knows maybe you’ll want to take up birding), but it is a very way enjoyable to spend 100 minutes.

Hey! I Know That Guy: There are many little cameos throughout the movie. I always like seeing people randomly pop up out of their usual context.

Low Scores:  This movie has surprisingly low scores from critics. I was not expecting 10/10, but it is really judged way too harshly. I think most of the problem lies with people going in a expecting a comedy à la The Hangover. It is most certainly not that.

How to Watch: However you like! It’s a great film to just play one night that you are needing a cute, feel-good movie.

Who to Watch With: Anyone really can watch this. If you know someone who is a nature enthusiast or loves birds, then obviously it’s is perfect for them.

Final Verdict: I am not going to list this amongst my top films of all time, but I really found it such a lovely experience. It just felt so sincere and unpretentious. The actors do a wonderful job and the scenery is lovely. The Big Year is completely different than the movies I usually write about, its not old, foreign or too odd or out there. I wanted to review it because I really think you guys will like it. I mean I really enjoyed it, so please give it a shot!

 

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D 

And the Oscar Goes to… The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai, David Lean (1957) [161 minutes]

{This is the first post in a new series I’m doing on the Oscars. This will cover all the Oscar winners since the inception of this prestigious award. Not in chronological order, however, it is simply random (as this post shows). Of course, not all of these movies are worthy winners or even good films, but that’s what makes it fun :P }
 

After I published the post about my favorite year in movies [here it is, if you haven't seen it], many expressed complete incredulity at how I could write a post about my favorite films of 1957 without including The Bridge on the River Kwai. The answer is really very simple: I had never seen the movie before.  Many of the comments told me that I must rectify this. Even if it’s not going on my top list, I should watch it. This along with my dad constantly lamenting that he raised daughter who has never seen this film, led me to watch it. Honestly, it was well worth it. Writing this review was quite a hurdle for me, though. Since I haven’t watched many war movies, I don’t have much to compare it to. I have to judge The Bridge on the River Kwai on its merits as a cinematic experience. I don’t know much about what actually happened on the river Kwai (all I know is that its nothing like the movie), but I do know a little something about great movies.

This is a World War II movie, probably one of the most famous ever filmed, but we are never in the heat of the battle. It’s a film about British soldiers who are prisoners of war in Japanese occupied Burma. They are instructed to build a bridge for their captors. Their leader, played masterfully by Sir Alec Guinness,is extremely honorable and proud. He’ll break before he bends. He is horrified that the Japanese are not abiding by the Geneva Convention. Commanding officers are forced into physical labor, which is a major faux-pas (the Convention mentions that specifically as a bad thing).

The highlight of this film has to be the characters. It is a psychological study of the effects of war on different personalities. These men are thrown into horrible situations and are faced with difficult decisions. I find it completely fascinating, and I have to admit I was not expecting that at all. The whole film is also entrenched in irony (especially the fantastic ending).The men lose sight of the bigger picture. In order to prove the superiority of the British soldier, they end up helping the Japanese.

You leave the film with a wonderful mix of satisfaction and disappointment, which is an extremely difficult balance to achieve. Traditionally it is a happy ending, but the way that the story is crafted it comes across as bitter-sweet.

All the trailers I found were awful. This famous scene is a better introduction to the film than anything else:

Some Good Old-Fashioned Scene Analysis: The scene above is one of the most famous in cinematic history. It is our introduction to the British soldiers and damn do they make an impact! They march into camp, as prisoners, with their heads held high, whistling and marching in perfect time. Their shoes are broken and they are filthy, but their spirits are not broken. The men in the camp look at them in utter confusion. The Japanese officers look more befuddled than anyone. Here comes a group of captives, but they seem prouder than the men imprisoning them.

Why Hadn’t You Watched It Before?: I am not too big on war movies, never have been. I don’t hate them, but sometimes they bore me. They tend to be really long, which means that I really have to purposefully sit down one afternoon/evening and watch it… and that kind of foresight and planning isn’t really my thing. I’m more likely to do it for the genres I love, but for war, not so much.

How to Watch: This movie needs that big screen experience, but more than that it needs great sound. The sound for this movie, whether diagetic or not, is probably among the best I’ve seen. That clip above is a wonderful example. You hear the men’s boots, their clear whistles and then the orchestra seamlessly blends in. It gives me goosebumps.

Who to Watch With: Anyone can watch this. There is nothing crude or graphic. It’s great for people who aren’t into war movies, too (like me!).

Final Verdict: There is a reason this is so famous. The characterization is amazing, as is that super catchy whistling tune. It’s worth it.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D

The Rules of the Game [La Règle du Jeu]

The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir (1939) [110 minutes]

Renoir’s The Rules of the Game is the prototypical example of the critical darling. This film has a tumultuous history. It went from being hated (and when I say hated, I’m not kidding), to being seen as one of the greatest films ever made. Whenever such a big change in public opinion occurs, it always leaves me curious. Why did all those people hate it? Why did people then love it? And most importantly: Will I/my lovely readers enjoy it?

The Rules of the Game is a tragic comedy-of-manners set in France. There is a large ensemble of characters, which on a first viewing are difficult to keep track of. The plot revolves around a series of romantic entanglements that come to light while this group is on a hunting trip to the French countryside. There are several plots involving the upstairs crowd (the wealthy couples) and the downstairs one (the servants and groundsmen). If you’re a fan of those kinds of dual, complementary tales (à la Downton Abbey), this movie is definitely worth a shot.

For me the key to understanding this film was to really pay attention. I know that sounds pretty basic, but believe me it’s trickier than it sounds. Renoir has so much stuff happening in a single shot, the audience really has to know where to look (and sometimes it’s at like 3 places at once!). He uses deep depth of field, or deep focus, to show different characters/objects in the foreground and background simultaneously. You will have two men arguing over a woman in the foreground; while in the background, she is sneaking off into an empty bedroom with another.

The mis-en-scene is also very “cluttered.” I use quotes here because I don’t mean to use that term pejoratively. The rooms are filled to the brim with antiques and opulence,  it serves to further highlight the outrageous lifestyle of the characters. The movie is a farce, rather than a true-to-life depiction of 1930’s France. This satire underscores the fact that their world is barely being held together by a set of rules. These rules must be followed, by both the wealthy and their servants, to avoid chaos. Of course, once the rules are ignored we are left to watch the delicious disaster that ensues.

Man of Many Hats: Jean Renoir is the director, writer, producer and actor in this film. He plays a the role of the bumbling jester for this elite crowd. He is in the picture at the top of the post, holding onto Christine (the only woman in the still).

Firey Reception: So, you remember how earlier I said that people really hated this film when it was released? I meant it. At the premiere, which Renoir attended, people were extremely angry. There was yelling and throwing things at the screen. The worst offender was this one man who was sitting in the theater with a newspaper. At some point he calmly unfolded his paper, stood up, took out some matches, set the paper on fire and attempted to burn the theater to the ground! That’s a pretty extreme reaction… watching it today it’s hard to see what in the film would warrant such desperation, but if you put it in context it is a little easier (not really, but we can try :P). This was released right before WWII broke out, so tensions were very high. Also, this film is a pointed critique of the stupidity and vanity of french society’s rules, of all social/financial levels, so maybe it felt a bit to truthful for them to handle.

General Tip about French Films: These kinds of movies start off REALLY slow. It feels like nothing at all is happening. They tend to pickup the pace at about the 30 minute mark, and then all the crazy, intense stuff happens. Most people who say “all French movies are so friggin’ boring,” in my opinion, don’t make it past those first 30 minutes. Which is really their loss!

How to Watch: Just pay attention. On a first viewing, you won’t get every nuance and detail, but it’s still very funny and a good time. This film is perfect for repeat viewings, every time you watch The Rules of the Game it just gets better and better.

Who to Watch This With: This film isn’t for kids. It’s very dialogue heavy and there are many confusing love triangles, hexagons, and so on. Also, there is a rather intense hunting scene. It is a very famous scene, one of the most famous in cinema history, but it is hard to watch. 

Final Verdict: The Rules of the Game is a very intimidating film to watch. It is so heavily praised, loved and revered, but remember it’s just a comedy. It’s okay to laugh! Sometimes I feel that when we watch a fancy-sounding, famous, french film, we forget that these films are supposed to be fun.  This film is silly. There is slap-stick and silly jokes, as well as drama and wit. This was made for the general public, like you and me, not an elite group of academics. So, have fun while you watch. Just because it’s old and french doesn’t mean it’s going to put you to sleep! So, sit back with some popcorn (or maybe a baguette or a nice pain au chocolat?) and enjoy.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D