Director: Rupert Julian
Screenplay: Elliot Clawson and various, from Gaston Leroux
Cast: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Gibson Gowland
Producers: Carl Laemmle
Print Source: Cinémathèque québécoise
As a gala presentation, Fantasia presents a rare screening of a pristine 35mm print of the Rupert Julian/Lon Chaney 1925 (re-issued in 1929) silent masterpiece THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra performing an original score by Gabriel Thibaudeau at the prestigious Théâtre Maisonneuve concert hall at Place des Arts.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has achieved its status as a time-honoured classic due largely to the performance (and show-stopping, self-designed make-up) of Lon Chaney in the role of the ghostly Erik, a puppet master pulling the Opera House strings to serve his single driving obsession: the heart and career of young rising opera star Christine, whom Erik coaches and nurtures from afar with Svengali-like control. Chaney’s closely guarded make-up design for Erik remains one of the greatest in fantastic cinema. Horror scholar David J. Skal (The Monster Show) relates Chaney’s 1920s run of self-designed physically disfigured characters to contemporary photographs of physically deformed American and European veterans of World War I. As in Leroux’s novel, Chaney’s version is thematically richer because of the lack of a cause for his disfigurement, which opens his status up to such metaphorical readings.
The other “star” of this film is the outstanding Universal studio sets of the Paris Opera House, with its backstage and labyrinthine underground cellars, docks, chambers and stone staircases where Erik lives his nocturnal existence. The backstage and underground sets were designed by Paris-born Ben Carré. Although shot entirely on the Universal studio back lot, the sets were conditioned by novelist Gaston Leroux’s fortuitous visit of the Opera House underbelly and Ben Carré’s previous experience working at the Paris Opera House. When Christine is lured into Erik’s netherworld through a mirror, she enters an oneiric world of moving, lifelike shadows, Gothic arches and womb-like waterways and sinewy tunnels. In these scenes THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA achieves its defining atmosphere as a morbid, dark fantasy, influenced by such diverse literary works as Trilby (1894), Beauty and the Beast (first published in 1740), Faust and The Masque of the Red Death (1842). There have been countless colour and sound remakes of this classic tale, including the first Chinese horror film, SONG AT MIDNIGHT (1937), and takes by Arthur Lubin, Terence Fisher, Brian De Palma, Dario Argento and Ronny Yu, but none have surpassed the dark beauty of Carré’s sets and Chaney’s terrifying rendition of Erik, the tortured soul. An event not to be missed (or the faint-hearted!).
About Gabriel Thibaudeau
Composer, conductor, and pianist for la Cinémathèque québécoise
Gabriel Thibaudeau is ranked among the world’s great silent-film accompanists. Gabriel’s works have been commissioned by a variety of institutions and artists, including the Cineteca Bologna, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Octuor de France, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, the Musica Camerata Montréal chamber ensemble, and Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà. In 1998, the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Directors’ Fortnight commissioned an original score for Paul Leni’s THE MAN WHO LAUGHS. After the gala event at Cannes, Thibaudeau embarked on a world tour with the Octuor de France, performing in such major centres as Tokyo, New York, Bologna, Athens, Paris, Boston, Barcelona, Rome, Minsk and Montreal. In September 2005, he premiered his score for NANOOK OF THE NORTH for the Toronto International Film Festival. Featuring Inuit throat singing, a flute quartet, singers and percussion, the screening/concert was praised as “unforgettable” by the French daily l’Humanité. In 2010, Thibaudeau conducted his score for METROPOLIS, commisioned by Fantasia for the gala screening at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of Place des Arts, in front of 3,000 people.