The Beauty in the Beast

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: maryp
Article Date: February 11, 2007 | Publication: | Author: TONI RUBERTO
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Tales of the deformed and unloved are some of the most romantic ever told

Forget, for a moment, that beauty killed the beast.
It may have tragically ended that way in "King Kong," but that doesn't mean other beauty and the beast tales can't end on a more positive note. That's one reason why the idea has survived to be retold and reinterpreted since it was first published in the 18th century.

It's on screen now in the horror romance, "Blood and Chocolate," where a lovely werewolf falls in a love with a handsome human. That film is brought to us by the same folks who gave us "Underworld," another movie where a lovely beast (vampire) falls for a handsome guy who, luckily for her and, as it turns out, the human race, ultimately turns into a beast.

On Tuesday, just in time for Valentine's Day, one of the most romantic retellings of the tale arrives on DVD in the enchanting television series "Beauty and the Beast" ($50.99, Paramount Home Video). An unlikely premise for a television series, "Beauty and the Beast" ran for three seasons on CBS. It was so unabashedly romantic in its poetic storytelling, vulnerable characters and lovely string-laden musical score that you either sunk right into the show every week or found its sentimentality too syrupy to go down.

Opening with, "Once upon a time in the city of New York," the series was a modern fairy tale about the love between the beautiful lawyer Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton) and the deformed Vincent (Ron Perlman).

Catherine is attacked by thugs who severely cut her face and leave her to die in Central Park. She is rescued by Vincent, who takes her deep into the bowels of the city where an entire city of people live. As the soft-spoken Vincent nurses Catherine back to health, they forge an unbreakable bond that can't even be shattered by the sight of the kindly man-beast. (The makeup was created by the Oscar-winning artist Rick Baker.)

Though Catherine returns above ground, she is always looked after by Vincent, who, with a Force-like telepathy, feels her emotions especially when she's in danger. Their impossible love continues to grow, no matter what obstacles the "real" world puts in their way.

This six-disc, 22-episode set includes one of the most joyous and poignant episodes from the series, "Masques," where, on Halloween night, the two can finally walk among people.

As lovely as this television series was, it certainly draws influences from the exquisite 1946 Jean Cocteau film, "Beauty and the Beast." It may be 60 years old, but it remains a staple of movie festivals and film classes and has inspired such modern films as Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula."

Cocteau's story is set in a fairy tale-like world from a long time ago. The lovely Belle is treated like a servant by everyone in her family but her adoring father. One night, her father becomes lost in the forest and stumbles upon a beautiful garden where he picks a rose for Belle. This incites the fury of the castle's owner, a half-man, half-beast who sentences the merchant to death unless he gives up one his daughters. The loving Belle, of course, willingly sacrifices herself for her father.

At the beast's castle, Belle finds a magical world where disembodied hands hold candelabras to light her way, doors automatically open and statues come to life. Though she is initially afraid of the beast, she is able to see through his ugliness to his kind and noble heart. "Love can make a man a beast, love can beautify ugliness," the Beast tells Belle.

Cocteau's film is poetry in motion; a sumptuous visual feast that brought a fantasy world to life with a surreal and exquisite touch. One of its most memorable scenes has Belle's loving tears turn to diamonds, a breathtaking moment that Coppola borrowed for his "Dracula" movie.

In some stories, the beast takes on a human form but is nonetheless still monstrous.

"The Phantom of the Opera" is the well-known Gaston Leroux novel about a deformed genius with an unquenchable love for a young opera singer. It has been adapted to stage and screen so many times that you can take your pick depending on your tastes. For those open-minded enough to watch a silent film, nothing beats the famous cadaverish makeup and pained portrayal of the Phantom by Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1925 masterpiece. Claude Raines and Herbert Lom also played the title character in later movies, although they weren't as frightening. If gore is more your style, there's always old Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund, playing a variation on the Phantom theme.

But it's Valentine's Day and we're looking for romance. No version of "Phantom of the Opera" can touch the opulent, tragic romance of the 2005 big-screen adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Scottish actor Gerard Butler was the handsome, sensual Phantom of women's dreams. He was so irresistible, however, that instead of rooting for good-guy Raoul (played by Patrick Wilson), many of us were hoping that just for once, the Phantom would end up with Christine (Emmy Rossum).

A man doesn't need to be deformed or have the hideous look of a fanged creature to be a beast. Sometimes, what is on the inside is equally frightening.

One of the greatest love stories ever written is Emily Bronte's gothic romance, "Wuthering Heights." Bronte's immortal Heathcliff, the man who loved his wild Cathy in life and death, has been canonized by hopeless romantics (including myself) as a handsome, brooding hero who was sorely mistreated in his life.

If we look honestly at Heathcliff, he's actually a nasty guy. His vile actions, albeit in the name of love, are beastly. The fact that he could only find peace and love in the afterlife speaks to the ugliness in his soul. Bronte clearly saw the demon in him, describing his eyes as "the clouded windows of hell."

This story was also filmed many times. Heathcliff as beast, however, was best personified with a wild and feral quality by Timothy Dalton in a 1970 film (30 years before he played 007) and with a malicious streak by Ralph Fiennes in 1992. Both men were able to portray the dual nature of Heathcliff - the romantic icon and wicked, scorned lover.

In "Meet Joe Black," the beast is someone we all fear. OK, so you're looking at the glamorous photo of the equally beautiful Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani, and wondering if I'm crazy to say that this film is another example of beauty and the beast. But if I said death is the ultimate beast, would you agree? Exactly.

In one of the most inventive interpretations of the beauty and the beast story, Death takes a human form to learn why people are so frightened of him. He appears to a dying millionaire businessman Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) and grants him a few extra days if he'll act as his guide on earth.

Luckily for us, Death chooses the ultimate male body to inhabit, one that looks like Brad Pitt. It takes little time before Death experiences human emotions of passion, love, pain and longing (with some peanut butter thrown in) - and has his own difficult time leaving Earth.

"Meet Joe Black" is one of those gushy romances filled with close-ups of people looking longingly at each other; a lush piano and violin score that swells and swoons appropriately (for lovely background music, buy this score by Thomas Newman) and plenty of reasons to bawl your eyes out. (The film is not only about the love between a "man" and woman, but also that of a father and his daughters.) It is, in effect, one big, long sigh.

"Meet Joe Black" is a remake of the successful 1934 movie, "Death Takes a Holiday," itself an adaptation of the play by Alberto Casella. Frederick March starred as the title character in a film that, although it is dated today, is still very romantic. How can you resist a film described by Time magazine as "delicately morbid?"

The DVD "Meet Joe Black: The Ultimate Edition" was nice enough to include both of these movies, so sit back for the double feature. And while you're at it, pull out any version of "King Kong." Beauty and the beast tales, after all, don't get much more epic than that.