The Phantom of the Opera (1925)


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


Laura, Otto Preminger (1944) [88 minutes]

The first time I watched Preminger’s Laura, I became a film fanatic.Watching this movie with my dad as a young girl is one of my favorite memories. Immediately after it was over, we re-watched the entire thing again, this time with the commentary. It turned this already interesting film into a completely fascinating experience. I loved learning all the detail that went into making this movie. The more I heard the more I wanted to know. After this, I practically devoured every movie I could find, especially film noirs, which quickly became my favorite genre.

The level of detail and the amount of subtlety in Laura is lost on a first time viewer. This is the type of film that you  must watch over and over and over again… But don’t be discouraged! It’s still very good the first time you watch it (what’s the point if it isn’t?).

The film starts off with Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), investigating the murder of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney). She was shot in the face with a double-barreled shotgun in the dead of night. He questions and investigates the myriad of characters that surrounded Laura in life. Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) is a wealthy writer who acts as her mentor. Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) is Laura’s bumbling, ladies man of a fiancĂ©e, who has been living off her aunt’s, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), fortune for quite some time. All these people divert and draw suspicion to themselves throughout the film. You never know who to trust. The film has some very shocking twists, yet the story is still believable. I abhor when I watch a movie and there is a twist out of nowhere that is “surprising”, but it’s pathetically nonsensical rather than being well-written (and Laura is certainly the latter).

Preminger shot this film in the “invisible camera” style, popular in Classic Hollywood era. In this style, audience doesn’t/shouldn’t  notice when or how the camera moves or any evidence of editing. The purpose is to fully focus the viewer on the story and have them ignore the mechanics behind it all, which tend to “destroy” the illusion. Achieving this style is not as simple as it sounds. The camera has to always be where it needs to be, largely keeping its distance from the characters allowing the audience to act like a detective who analyzes and observes the action. In addition, the camera zooms into closeup so rarely that when it does it adds weight to the moment.

This film is atmospheric. Like a dream, it is not a gritty detective story: fast and impatient. The film takes its time, showing us all the characters, their different stories and flaws. The amount of detail in the set designs is outstanding. Laura and all the suspects are very wealthy. Their homes contain a great amount of antiques, art and other expensive looking objects. Some of these things play a huge role in the narrative, almost becoming characters themselves.

The biggest factor in creating the dream-like mis-en-scene has to be the portrait of Laura [pictured above]. Located in her apartment, a large amount of the action happens around it. When I heard the commentary track, I found out some interesting things about the painting. Apparently, while they were filming the movie, they treated this object like it was another person in the frame. The way that it was lit, composed and positioned in relation to other actors was as if it where Gene Tierney herself. As the film progresses we see the detective become enamored with the murder victim. He becomes obsessed with the portrait; he gazes at the painting and it seems to look right back at him. There is one moment in the film, during one of the major twists, were the painting is very haunting and almost surreal in relation to its surroundings (sorry to be so vague! I just don’t want to spoil it, if you want more specifics ask in the comments bellow. Believe me you will love it!).

On the surface, this film appears simple. It is very short and it can seem like not a lot is happening (it takes a while to “get started”). Most of the scenes center around dialogue rather than action. The twists, however, are shocking and fun! I was just re-watching it with my brother before writing this review. He was having a great time trying to guess who the murderer was. I think you guys will like this film. It is not a big time commitment and you get much more than you would expect out of it.

[I was going to put a trailer here but all the ones I saw were either too long or full of spoilers!]

Musical Moment: Don’t worry, no one breaks out in song and dance (it would be a little out of place!). I just wanted to mention the film’s score, written by David Raskin. It’s the song playing throughout this trailer. It is so perfect for the film! Its one of those scores that elevates an already great movie to another level.

Special Features: The commentary tracks are very good. They are informative and entertaining!

Adaptations: I know that this is originally a book. I have it on my pile of books I have yet to read, which has been largely untouched throughout the school year. Have any of you who read the books think that this is a good adaptation? I’m curious to know.

How to watch: This one you can watch in English (I bet you thought I would never say that). I watched the DVD and the quality was pretty good, but not great. I looked on Amazon and I don’t see any Blu-ray options available, but we better get one very soon. Also, watch this on a stormy night, film noir always seems even better when its miserable out.

Who to watch with: There is a lot of dialogue in Laura. Make sure that you watch it attentively. Also, its pretty good for bookish kids, like I was. With all the dialogue and atmosphere it feels like a really great novel at times.

Final Verdict: Maybe I’m a little bias, I mean I really love this movie. I’ve loved it for so long and I adore re-watching it. It is smart, stylish, suspenseful, mysterious, dreamy and overall wonderful. If it can inspire this much passion in me, you really must give it a try.

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

No Longer Cinema’s Ugly Little Brother: The Golden Age of TV

Now, you guys all know that I love the movies (I mean I have a blog about it, for god’s sake). But, I have to admit that I do “cheat” sometimes with my television shows. I can go months and months without watching any movies in theaters, but if I miss a single episode of Mad Men on Sunday night, and some loser spoils it for me, I completely flip. Within the past few years there has been talk of how that TV has gotten better than the movies. Television shows develop characters better, their plot lines are more nuanced, and they take more chances and risks. It seems that TV is in the midst of a creative Golden Era, and the movies stand no chance. Is this true? Part of me feels like it might certainly be the case.

When looking at different posts about this topic, I have run into a variety of opinions (like one always finds on the internet). Some lean more to the “movies are still way more awesome” side of the spectrum while others say that “TV runs circles around your dumb movies.” Out of all these posts, though, no one lies entirely on one end or the other. Everyone is hovering around the midpoint , tilting slightly to their respective sides.

Let’s have a look at what some of these befuddled bloggers and jaded journalists have to say:

Oliver Lyttelton’s post starts off with a quote that says it all: “Super-producer Scott Rudin (“The Social Network”) perhaps summed up the feelings of many when he told GQ that ‘For all those people who spent years trying to get movies made at all the companies that are now gone, there’s now one place to work where you can get respectfully treated and fairly judged. It’s HBO.'”

Many of the greats, whether they be directors, writers or actors, are now finding homes in television (particularly the aforementioned HBO, AMC, and Showtime). Here these artists/creators can really tell the stories they want. They have arguably more freedom at HBO than they would at a Hollywood movie studio. If you’re on paid-cable you don’t have to worry about appease in MPAA. Also, because TV shows have so much airtime, they can compose intricate, detailed plots with realistic, multidimensional characters and play these stories out in a patient, detailed way. No movie has the 50+ hours The Wire has to tell its story.

Lyttelon and Steven Axelrod, both speak extensively on how TV is the writer’s world. Directors are there, but they are exponentially more revered in cinema. The director may change from episode to episode and the audience can’t even tell. Lately, it is very “in” to have a famous movie director make the pilot, but after that they never appear again. Like the Boardwalk Empire premiere was filmed by Scorsese, which was amazing, but he hasn’t done one since.   The writers room is what stays consistent.

Television is a narrative based medium. The plot is what gets people talking, debating and passionate about the show. Cinematography and other visual elements aren’t as important as they are in the movies. Shows are made so quickly. Creators generally rely on set group of shots and setups in order to get it done in time. You usually don’t talk to your friends about how lovely that tracking shot in the restaurant was, but rather how the drunk character failed to realize that he cost himself a new job and how “mad” you are about it. These moments can fuel debates and discussions for months or weeks, it is hard to find a film that does the same.

We have all either witnessed or been a part of a TV show’s fanatical base. I know that I am all the time! A.O. Scott in the New York Times asks is it is possible for a movie to create the level of devotion, which comes easily to a great tv show, such as Lost or Firefly. Lost was a phenomenon in and of itself. Everyone was talking about it. They were all wondering what will happen/what the hell was going on. Whether it be at work, school, or the internet, you could not escape it. When Firefly was unjustly, cruelly cancelled (I’m not very being impartial here, am I?) its fans were so devoted that they managed to get a movie released to conclude the series. When was the last time a film inspired such action or passion in their audience?

Now, all three of these articles stated that they feel that cinema still holds a very important place in our culture. There is just something about the movies that still puts them a step above the rest. However, sometimes it feels that it is much easier to get access to good TV (legally). Good movies are selectively released in big cities or just play in festivals. What we see in most cities, is a bunch of 3D re-releases and remakes of movies that were awful to begin with. In comparison, we’re starting to look at TV as a serious medium of artistic expression. It is fresh and new. Perhaps TV is going through a Golden Era, while they movies are going through a rough patch.

Cinema is trying to define its place in the 21st century. This isn’t new. It went through a similar problem in the mid 20th century. TVs were popping up in houses all over America. Movie theater attendance went way down. Studios and producers started to use things like 3D and other gimmicks to get people to come out (sound familiar?). After some time cinema managed to bounce back.

Ultimately, I have faith that the movies will figure something out again, but the high quality programming on TV is here to stay. Films may never have that kind of dominance again,  but competition doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Hopefully this situation will frighten movie makers out of complacency and inspire some really brilliant films.