'Phantom of the Opera' 18 years coming for Joel Schumacher

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 29, 2004 | Publication: Japan Today | Author: Chris Betros
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TOKYO Filmmaker Joel Schumacher believes the best choices are always the scariest or riskiest ones. "The comfort zone is a bad place," says the 65-year-old director whose latest film, "Phantom of the Opera" his first musical is certainly a big gamble.

Although Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel has been filmed many times before, Schumacher's work is not another remake but a film version of the smash stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber a project 18 years in the making.

Webber first approached Schumacher in 1987 while he was making "The Lost Boys." The director was already committed to "Flatliners" next and by the time he had completed that, Lloyd Webber put the project on the backburner after his 1990 divorce from "Phantom" stage star Sarah Brightman, whom he had wanted to star in the film version.

By the time Webber's interest had been rekindled, Schumacher's career had taken off with films such as "Falling Down," "The Client," two Batman films, "A Time to Kill," "8mm," "Tigerland" and "Veronica Guerin." As he was finishing "Phone Booth" in late 2002, Webber asked him again and put up $85 million of his own money to finance the film.

The story remains basically the same. A disfigured musical genius who lives beneath the Paris Opera House in the late 1800s falls in love with Christine, a young member of the opera company. As a disembodied voice, the Phantom teaches Christine to sing. She assumes he is an angel sent by her deceased father. The Phantom then terrorizes the opera house's new owners into putting her on stage as the star. As she starts to fall in love with her patron and prospective suitor Raoul, the Phantom's jealous passion starts to boil.

Features relatively unknown cast

"Phantom" features a largely unknown cast, including Emmy Rossum ("Day After Tomorrow") as Christine, Gerard Butler as the Phantom and Patrick Wilson as Raoul. "I wanted to have three young and sexy stars who could do their own singing," says Schumacher. "The music, sets and costumes are romantic and opulent, but at the heart of it is this really tragic love story."

Schumacher thinks the enduring appeal of the story on stage or film is that audiences can relate to the person who is rejected, who is the outsider, namely the Phantom. As such, this film includes a sequence showing how the Phantom came to be the way he is. "Many people have feelings of being disconnected and start to express themselves creatively as a way of connecting. The Phantom stands for that. I think his physical handicap is a manifestation of what any of us feel is unlovable. Like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or the Beast in 'Beauty and the Beast.'"

Another reason Schumacher wanted to make the film was because so many people have heard about the musical, but have not been able to see it. "They can't afford the tickets or they are not in a region where the theater is. I thought of all the great movie musicals. How many have seen 'Sound of Music' on the stage compared to the film? Or 'West Side Story' or 'My Fair Lady?'"

Born and raised in New York, Schumacher always hung out at the cinema when he was growing up. "My father died when I was four; my mother was working 6 days a week and three nights a week. I was a wild kid on the street. Sitting in a dark movie theater was an escape for me," he recalls.

After graduating from college, Schumacher worked as a window dresser for Bendel's department store in New York, then joined Revlon for awhile, before starting in films as a costume designer on some of Woody Allen's films. He made his directorial debut in 1980 with "The Incredible Shrinking Woman." Throughout his career, he has constantly been drawn to dark themes.

"I've been like that my whole life," he says. "Some of our most interesting stories are the dark ones. When I was growing up, some of the greatest movies had ironic dark endings. We seem to be living in a time where if something doesn't have a happy ending, it's a considered a dark film."

Japan has always been a goldmine for Schumacher's films. "I first came here for 'Flatliners,' when I was still relatively unknown," he recalls. "I was overwhelmed to see all these fans of 'St Elmo's Fire' standing outside in the snow to meet me. That film must have touched their lives in some way and that is really thrilling for me."

December 29, 2004