Music Is The Food Of Love

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 23, 2004 | Publication: Malta Star | Author: Vince Camilleri
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“The Phantom Of The Opera”

Cast: Gerard Butler The Phantom
Emmy Rossum Christine Daae
Patrick Wilson Raoul de Chagny
Miranda Richardson Madame Giry
Minnie Driver Carlotta

Directed by Joel Schumacher
Running time 142 minutes

William Shakespeare opened his “Twelfth Night” with the immortal line “If music be the food of love, play on” Music and love are the themes of the Gaston Leroux novel “The Phantom of The Opera”, published in 1911. This novel that tells the story of the love of a disfigured musical genius, living in the vaults of the Paris Opera, for a young soprano was first translated to screen in 1925 with Lon Chaney in the title role. This was to be followed by four silent remakes with the first talkie version appearing in 1943. Andrew Lloyd Webber set the Phantom’s story to music with lyrics by Charles Hart and the musical made its debut in London’s West End at Her Majesty’s Theatre on October 9 1986. Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of The Opera” became the largest grossing stage or screen production in the world with receipts over the $3.2 billion mark from an estimated world-wide audience of 80 million people. After taking the musical to Broadway in 1988, Lloyd Webber, who considers “Phantom” as a very personal piece in his career – he wrote it for his then wife and lead singer Sarah Brightman - approached Joel Schumacher about directing a film version. The project was put on hold for 14 years after Lloyd Webber and Brightman divorced but it took off again two years ago when Lloyd Webber met Schumacher in London and agreed to work together on the film version.

Joel Schumacher’s “Phantom” opens with monochrome shots in the auditorium of a dilapidated Paris Opera Populaire, a fictitous theatre. The year is 1919 and an auctioneer is selling off theatre memorabilia. Vicompte Raul de Chagny, a distinguished old nobleman, buys a mechanical toy monkey and leaves the theatre clutching the toy like a precious treasure. Cinema magic takes over when the auctioneer opens the bidding for the once magnificent chandelier now lying semi-destroyed on the floor. A breeze enters the theatre and gently blows away the dust and the cobwebs to reveal the Paris Opera in its pristine splendor and magnificent colour with the impressive Lloyd Weber overture roaring in the background. We are taken back 49 years, in 1870, when a new Opera Populaire company is staging “Hannibal”, starring Carlotta, a fiery and tantrum prone soprano played by Minnie Driver, sporting a weird Italian accent. Carlotta’s behaviour irritates the Phantom (Gerard Butler), a caped mysterious man with a large white patch to cover a badly scarred face who lives secretly in the theatre cellars. He lets loose a heavy backcloth hanging above the stage that misses Carlotta by inches. In a fury the diva leaves the production and Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum), a young chorus girl who could sing Carlotta’s part, is proposed to stand in by Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson), a ballet mistress who knows the Phantom’s story since his childhood. With threats of more serious mishaps, The Phantom demands that Christine be given the part. He had fallen in love with the young girl when he heard her sing “Think of Me”. The Phantom lures the young soprano to his dark and lavish subterranean quarters and introduces her to his “Music of the Night”. Enter Raoul (Patrick Wilson) the wealthy Vicompte de Chagny, patron of the theatre and Christine’s love since childhood and the Phantom’s quest for a requited love is shattered. Love’s ugly sisters, jealousy, revenge and tragedy, now take center stage.

Joel Schumacher describes the Phantom as a physical manifestation of whatever human beings feel is unlovable about themselves “he is a heartbreaking character – much like the hunchback of Notre Dame and the Beast in Beauty and The Beast” The director works out the Phantom’s anguish in a tragic love triangle using all the tools that give cinema an edge on theatre. There is nothing like sitting in a theatre, seeing and hearing music played live but the technical and financial means at cinema’s disposal enable it to create a far more lavish spectacle. The haunting Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart songs are staged on magnificent sets showing the luxurious theatre life and the Phantom’s subterranean domain, built by production designer Anthony Pratt on eight sound stages in Pinewood Studios. These sets, coupled with Alexandra Bryne’s elaborate period costumes, evoke the famous 1870’s ballet paintings by Edgar Degas and give Schumacher’s film a good dose of realism. Schumakcher’s direction and the screenplay he co-wrote with Andrew Lloyd Weber do not allow the sumptuous sets - watch out for “The Masquerade” sequence - to overwhelm the touching story of the Phantom’s lifelong pain. This is told by Madame Giry, played by Miranda Richardson with a marked French accent, who, as a child, witnessed his arrival at the Opera Populaire. We see her freeing a young boy performing with a group of entertaining gypsies who was badly scarred by a brutal beating and help him to hide in the theatre’s vaults where he spent the rest of his life. The human drama peaks in a climatic scene when Christine gives the Phantom the kiss he had been yearning for as they sing the heart rending “All I Ask of You”- an emotionally charged sequence very likely to see romantics wiping a tear or two. We also get to know why the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, also deeply in love with Christine, carried home the toy monkey like a prized trophy.

“The Phantom of The Opera” consolidates the happy revival of the musical genre in film. It follows with honour the huge success of “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago” The Phantom music is superb, the production is just great and if this high standard is kept in future musicals I dare add, with apologies to The Bard, not just play on, but give me excess of it.

With acknowledgements to KRS Film Distributors Ltd