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Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: January 26, 2005 | Publication: Bangkok Post | Author: ALONGKORN PARIVUDHIPHONGS

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Director Joel Schumacher reveals why it took so long to bring the acclaimed `Phantom of the Opera' musical to movie screens

`Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind'' with the story of the journey from stage to long-awaited screen debut of the musical, The Phantom of the Opera.

The jewel in the crown of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the musical opened at Her Majesty's Theatre on October 9, 1986, with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in the leading roles. Since then, the enduringly popular musical has reached an estimated audience of 80 million people. More than 65,000 performances have been staged for theatre-goers in 18 countries. In August of 2003, the show marked its 7,000th performance. It has been honoured with 50 major awards, including three Olivier Awards, seven Tony Awards, seven Drama Desk Awards and three Outer Critic's Circle Awards.

So why has it taken over 18 years to make the musical into a celluloid version?

``Well I don't know. That you would have to ask Andrew,'' said director Joel Schumacher, 65, smiling. Schumacher was in Bangkok last week with his lead actors to promote the movie and also accept his Career Achievement Award at the Bangkok International Film Festival 2005.

He explained that the journey of the musical from stage to screen was even more labyrinthine than the passage of the Phantom to his hideout underneath the opera house.

After taking Phantom to Broadway in 1988, Lloyd Webber approached Schumacher about helming a feature-film version of the musical. Lloyd Webber said he had been impressed by Schumacher's blockbuster vampire thriller, The Lost Boys.

``I thought he had made a mistake because I was just starting out and he was already a legend,'' Schumacher recalled. ``But Andrew said he loved my movie. He claimed that after watching only 10 minutes he thought, `This is the guy who should do Phantom; he understands how the music drives the story.'''

So Schumacher and Lloyd Webber prepared to do the movie starring the original leads, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, who was Lloyd Webber's wife at the time and who served as his muse during the creation of the musical. They wrote the screenplay in the south of France in 1989, and the completed script felt much more than just a record of the stage show. They planned to shoot the film in Munich and Prague in 1990.

But when Lloyd Webber and Brightman divorced in 1990, the composer decided to postpone production of the film.

``For personal and professional reasons, Andrew had to cancel it. But we stayed friends,'' Schumacher said.

At various points in the years that followed, Lloyd Webber asked Schumacher to collaborate on the adaptation; however, the director was unavailable, busy heading a diverse array of films including Dying Young (1991), Batman Forever (1995) and A Time To Kill (1996).

``The thing about this career is, you don't know if you are going have one. Unexpectedly, my career took off [after Flatliners in 1990], so I couldn't do it [Phantom] then.''

Fate and good timing finally collided in December 2002, when the old friends met for dinner in London. Lloyd Webber proposed they join forces to launch the long-awaited production. ``I had just done a series of gritty, more experimental films than the mainstream blockbusters I'd been associated with in the past,'' Schumacher said, referring to 8mm (1999), Flawless (1999), Tigerland (2000), Phone Booth (2002) and Veronica Guerin (2003). ``I'd done so many different genres, but never a musical. It seemed like a huge challenge, and I like that.''

Schumacher said it was the Phantom characters that initially attracted him to the cinematic project in 1988 and drew him back once again in 2002.

``Andrew's wife [Madeleine Gurdon] is very, very persuasive. She got me to think about it all over again. And I had a sleepless night. It's much more frightening, challenging and interesting than other movies I could have done last year.''

He believes that one of the the reasons that this tragic love story has been part of our culture since Gaston Leroux wrote the novel is because we can all identify with the Phantom.

``The Phantom is a physical manifestation of whatever human beings feel is unlovable about themselves. He is a heart-breaking character much like the hunchback of Notre Dame and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.''

Originally published in 1911, Leroux's novel has inspired numerous film and television versions of the bewitching tale, which tells of a disfigured musical genius who haunts the catacombs of Paris's preeminent opera house and finds himself transfixed by Christine, his beguiling young muse.

``Andrew's version presents the Phantom as more of a tragic lover and a sensitive romantic, not just a creature of horror to be feared,'' Schumacher observes. ``He also made the Phantom's relationship with Christine much more of a love affair than it is in the original story.''

In analysing the story, Schumacher envisioned the film as a sexy young love story and set out to cast fresh new actors in the principal roles. This was especially vital in casting Christine, a naive, orphaned teenager who believes the Phantom's voice calling her from the shadows of the opera house is the ``Angel of Music'' that her dying father promised to send her.

``Part of the beauty of the character is her innocence, her attachment to her father and her belief that the Phantom might actually be a representation of him from beyond the grave,'' said Schumacher.

He realised that Christine must be very young, which meant the Phantom and Raoul, her childhood sweetheart, had to be relatively young, as well.

``She is a ballerina, like those we see in Degas paintings. They're young. And she must be so innocent to believe in the angel, the spirit of her dead father, and easily drawn by romance.

``I wanted her relationship with Raoul to be the first romantic love she ever has. And her relationship with the Phantom should be much darker, obsessive, passionate and sensual,'' explained Schumacher.

So Schumacher went to Lloyd Webber and said, ``I will direct the movie, but Christine has to be very young. And Raoul and the Phantom have to be relatively young. It's a young tragic love story.

``He said `No problem, but they have to do their own singing.' Fair enough.''

Then, Schumacher passed the point of no return. He dusted off their old script and was impressed by how ready it was to shoot with only minor tweaking. They added more rich detail and interpretation to the major characters.

``I think it was important that you understood how the Phantom came to live at the Opera House, what his childhood was like. We came to understand his strange connection with Madame Giry, who Christine and Raoul are and what forces in their lives bring them all together,'' he explained.

Over a six month period, dozens of actors were considered and auditioned. Patrick Wilson, who starred in the leading role of the revival of Oklahoma and the TV miniseries Angels in America, was the first to be cast as the dashing Raoul. Lloyd Webber was thrilled with his lyrical tenor voice. Gerard Butler got the director's attention for his ability to convey loneliness, while Lloyd Webber loved the coarser, almost rock 'n' roll timbre of his voice.

Many, many young women, both known and unknown, vied for the role of Christine.

``Emmy Rossom came in at the last second, and her beauty, acting talent and superb singing voice left no doubt in our minds that she was the one and only Christine Daae,'' said the director.

Schumacher attributes his rewarding collaboration with Lloyd Webber to a mutual trust and respect developed over the course of their 15-year friendship. ``We have a very good marriage creatively because I take care of the filming and he takes care of the music,'' Schumacher explained. ``Like a lot of very intelligent people, Andrew doesn't pretend to know about things he doesn't. He's an expert on music, so he focused his brilliant talent on the musical aspects of the film, and he gave me an enormous amount of freedom and his full support to create what I thought should be done with the material.''

The fact that millions of people have seen the show all over the world will inevitably result in comparisons between stage and screen versions. Is Schumacher worried about criticism?

``I hope if they choose to see the film they will enjoy our version. But, I also made Phantom for people who've never seen the show. Andrew asked me to follow my vision and to use my instincts in putting his `most personal work' on film. My role was to be true to the story and the legendary music, and I deeply hope that what we've all worked so hard to put on the screen will sweep you all away to a Paris of long, long ago _ a world of candlelight and shadow, of beautiful women, romance and tragedy.''

He noted that many wanted him to change the ending, making it more romantic with Christine and The Phantom getting together.

``I'll tell you what,'' Schumacher joked. ``The reason she did not want the Phantom is not only because he becomes a murderer, but also because she had to blow out those candles every night and light them up every morning. Too much trouble. So she goes with the rich man.''

The movie `The Phantom of the Opera' is set for general release in Bangkok tomorrow. Its distributor, Sahamongkol Film, has three sets of aromatherapy burners and 10 Phantom mask tealight candles to distribute among 13 lucky winners who can answer the following question: What were the two musicals composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber that have been made into motion pictures prior to `The Phantom of the Opera'?

Email your answer to and include your full name and address details and telephone number. Winners will be mailed their prize. Deadline for entries is February 6.


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