When I die I’m gonna haunt a few different places, I refuse to go quietly into the night!
Adaptation By: Elliott J. Clawson, & Raymond L. Schrock
Directed By: Lon Chaney, Rupert Julian, Ernst Laemmle, & Edward Sedgwick
I can’t recall whether it was Iron Man or X-O Manowar, but I recall one of those comics dealing heavily with the concept of the mask versus the man. The idea is a simple one, does the mask make the man or does the man make the mask? The Phantom Of The Opera operates under this principle, and it does so in splendid fashion. In this case though there are two masks at play. The Phantom has two masks, his face and the mask he uses to cover his face. At one point he removes the mask that covers his face, a great moment in the film. That does something I wasn’t expecting, it draws into question where evil comes from and the masks that people put on to hide the evil within them.
The face of the Phantom is terribly scarred. That does not make him a monster, what makes him a monster are his actions. He thinks that his face is what makes him horrific and that by hiding his scarred face behind his mask his monstrous side will be trapped within. He’s partially right, the mask he applies beats down the monstrous tendencies that are inside of him. Yet, in his body language and in the way he corresponds with people his true self is revealed. The monster is still present, because the mask is not making the man. In The Phantom Of The Opera the man is making the mask, and the man is making the mask that is his scarred face hideous. The Phantom could have been accepted, he could have been taken in by society, maybe. There’s no guarantee of that, but instead of giving society a chance the Phantom gives into the demon within and becomes the monster he imagines everyone believes him to be.
Gothic trappings surround the tale of the Phantom. Trappings is the important word there, because while the various directors do impart a Gothic spin to the visuals and atmosphere of the film they don’t suffocate the film in drab darkness. This isn’t a Tim Burton film, there is life at play to boost the Gothic trappings. I was struck by the way the film used color to highlight in the background. There are often shades of green and blue in the background, and they are oddly applied as the use of color had not yet been mastered. The oddness of the color only helps to add to the eeriness and the visual sumptuousness of The Phantom Of The Opera.
The end of The Phantom Of The Opera is the lone sour point in the film. The wonderful performance of a damaged man that has been delivered by Lon Chaney is shucked to the side in favor of an all too conventional chase scene. The filmmaking leading up to the ending had been nuanced and full of wonderful little bits. The chase that is the end of the film is plain, too plain and forthcoming for a film that is about what hides in the shadows and the horror of the human soul. I’m not sure how the film should have ended, I’m not creative in that way. But, I know that the ending that the audience is given pales next to everything that came before.
The torture of the human existence is a topic I always find interesting in film. What I find even more interesting is when that torture is melded with the responsibility of being human. The Phantom Of The Opera is classic horror, it’s not about the monster we see but the monster who is hiding underneath. An excellent performance from Mr. Chaney and the terrific filmmaking in the first three quarters of the film help to keep this a great experience in spite of the conventional ending.