So, I usually don't qualify my reviews, but this movie is sort of special, and the comments I've read are from all over the map so I feel I should give some idea of where I'm coming from too.
I've been an playwrite, actor, and director for years, with work of mine have been doing both domestically and internationally, and having appeared in plays both amateur and professional and every level in between, including a professional opera and many a musical: whenever I watch anything, I approach it on three levels: artist, critic and audience. Also, I grew up seeing shows on Broadway, both mega-musicals and little indy plays in the Village, and while generally speaking my tastes lean more towards "arty and indy", I do have a broader pallet and it would be more accurate to say that my real interest is piqued by anything that is genuinely good at being what it is- which is one way of describing "Phantom of the Opera." Because yes, it's not as complec and intelligent as the work of Sondheim, or Kander and Ebb, but for what it sets out to be, an enthralling and absorbing Gothic romance (a genre that is rarely done well on stage, let alone as a musical), it achieves on every level: the score (which is soaring and crashing and large, just like the emotions of the characters who sing it), the design (ornate and overwhelming and grand guigol to the hilt), the story (which is totally ridiculous on some level, but since gothicism and romance are both genres which celebrate the extremes of our minds and imaginations, this is totally appropriate). "Phantom" is a brilliant example of art where the content and the style of the rendering of that content fit each other to a tea, and while it may not be YOUR cup of tea I sort of feel that anyone who thinks it's crap has basically missed the point or is just sour grapes because the thing is so damn popular and so damn good at being what it is (and lets face it, it's hard not to resent a success sometimes). Genius is often ridiculed, especially genius of an unusual nature or in a somewhat unconventional field (and Gothic romance, be it novel, film or musical, is looked down on in general, usually for the very qualities that make it interesting) and Webber's work is genius, because "Phantom" is, for all its faults, tightly written, a brilliant balance of camp, melodrama, satire and fairy tale, and while the style of music might not work for each listener, it effectively illuminates the story and conveys what is most important about the characters: their titantic (albeit, somewhat simple-minded) emotions, desires, fears and obsessions.
The movie, in my opinion, takes what is best about the play and does it even better. Though some of my favorite bits from the stage show (the rehearsal of Don Jaun where the piano plays itself, Raoul's part in "Wondering Child") are gone, they have been dropped in favor of brilliant improvements, namely having the chandelier crash at the conclusion of the film (it really brings the whole thing full circle), and allowing more glimpses of Paris 1917, finally explaining why it is Raoul returns, what happens to the Phantom, etc. Other good bits that we see now but never saw onstage: an affectionate moment between Meg and Madame Giry, some history of the Phantom, a deeper sense of what Meg may know or not know about the Phantom's presence, the stalking of Josephe Bouquet, the life of the underclass of the opera house, the Hall of Mirrors from the book, etc. Also, the music has been beautifully re-orchestrated, and never sounded better. I'll take orchestra over canned synths, any day, thank you.
The cinematography is beautiful and the "opera" moments are well done- complete with the cornball, almost intrusive dancing and vibrant but totally unrealistic sets and costumes that characterized "grand opera" at the time. The sense of constant claustrophobia back stage is great, and adds to that sense of what it was like to live and work in this tiny world where everyone is a performer and half your wardrobe comes from the costume department (did anyone else catch that moment where Christine takes her dress from the wardrobe?), adding to the central question at "Phantom's" core- what (who) is real, and what (who) is an illusion- and is real preferable to illusion, or vice-vera? The bleedingly bright colors and deep shadows of the movie help echo all of this- reminding us always, this story is not real, hero on white charger and all, but we don't want it to be: it's a legend, it's a fairy tale, it's a farce... it's a masquerade. It's, as the Auctioneer says, "a strange affair." "Phantom" told and acted realistically, totally wouldn't work, so don't ask it to, or judge it that way.
The best thing about this movie is the performances, and the director has done a wonderful thing by moving AWAY from Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, both of whom gave role defining performances, neither of which are any more "correct" than any other. The question isn't, are Butler and Rossum as good as their predecessors, but rather do their versions of the characters work, and the answer is: yes. Return to "Phantom" as a text, not as a show with a history, and you'll see that Christine is supposed to be dreamy, lost, emotionally unstable and young, just as Rossum plays and sings the role. Butler, with his harsher singing and deeper range, is much more believable as a madman who is sometimes pathetic and pitable, but still ultimately a deranged egomaniac who lives underground and makes wax statues of the woman he loves. The rest of the cast is equally good, with Minnie Driver giving a heroically hysterical performance, Jennifer Ellison combining strength and curiosity with innocence and a certain grounded quality (I've always believed the audience is ultimately supposed to identify with Meg, who is the only character who never panics and maintains a healthy sense of "reality) that contrasts nicely with Rossum's morbid dreaminess, and Patrick Wilson doing much more with Raoul than any of the actors I've seen on stage. I wish Simon Callow had had more to do, but such is life- at least he was there. Miranda Richardson continues to prove she can play anything, and conveying more with a look than most actresses can with a full script of dialogue. Her accent is totally brilliant: it sets her apart, makes her glamorous and mysterious, and at the same time, is another sly tongue in cheek reminder that what we are watching should only be believed to a point: it is, after all, just another version of beauty and the beast.
The Phantom of the Opera
Drama / Musical / Romance / Thriller
The Phantom of the Opera
Drama / Musical / Romance / Thriller
Begins when an opera ghost terrorizes the cast and crew of the French Opera House while tutoring a chorus girl. He finally drives the lead soprano crazy so she and her friend leave. The girl is able to sing lead one night but the soprano doesn't want her show stolen so she comes back. The ghost demands they keep giving his protégé lead roles. Meanwhile, His pupil falls in love with the Vicomte de Chagny, but the Phantom is in love with Christine, his student. The Phantom is outraged by their love and kidnaps Christine to be his eternal bride. Will Raoul, the Vicomte, be able to stop this dastardly plan?
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June 12, 2013 at 04:40 PM