THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
(Il Fantasma dellOpera)
Dario Argento adapts the story with the help of Roman Polanskis regular co-writing partner Gerard Brach. They make a noble attempt to wring new themes from an old story, although the dialogue occasionally comes out as pretentious: I was abandoned at birth on the river of time and space, The Phantom tells Christine in a romantic moment. Argento certainly mounts a beautiful production. He emphasises the historical realism of the period, unlike any other version. The costumes have a sumptuousness not the fantastical lavishness of other versions but more a lush realism. The historical detail is aided by Ronnie Taylors gorgeous photography, which blurs the colour tones until the film almost looks as though it is shot in sepia tone just like a Victorian photograph.
On the other hand, this is not the classic that filmmakers have failed to mount since the authoritative Lon Chaney version, The Phantom of the Opera (1925). The problem here is the films characterisation of The Phantom. This is an aspect that one thought Dario Argento would have had a field day with, his body of work demonstrating he would have more affinity for the mind of a tortured, deformed madman than most. Instead Argentos Phantom is disappointingly ordinary he is not masked or deformed, he is not even a composer. Cast as The Phantom, Julian Sands gives another of his wretched, cowering performances, which is totally wrong for the part. It makes the character too weak and wimpy where instead The Phantom should have shone with twisted genius and obsession. All this Phantom is is a man living in the caverns who likes rats. He even gets an opening origin that is filched from The Penguins origin in Batman Returns (1992). Argentos daughter Asia projects all the requisite innocent vulnerability and indecision as Christine, but in the end never leaves us moved to great romantic heights. Asia is a talented actress, as films like New Rose Hotel (1998) and B. Monkey (1999) have shown, but always seems constrained when working under her father.
Other versions of the story are: Phantom of the Opera (1943) starring Claude Rains; The Phantom of the Opera (1962), the Hammer version starring Herbert Lom; Phantom of the Opera (1983), a tv movie starring Maximillian Schell; The Phantom of the Opera (1989), a slasher film starring Robert Englund; The Phantom of the Opera (1990), a tv mini-series starring Charles Dance; and The Phantom of the Opera (2004), the adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical starring Gerard Butler. Other variations on the story are The Phantom of the Paradise (1974), a satirical version that sets the story to rock music; a pornographic version Phantom (1998); Angel of Music (2008) about a modern reporter conducting an investigation into the truth of the story; Phantom of the Theatre (2016), a Chinese version that conducts some radically different takes on the story; and modernisations like The Phantom of Hollywood (tv movie, 1974), The Phantom of the Ritz (1988), Phantom of the Mall: Erics Revenge (1989) and a Disney Channel childrens tv movie The Phantom of the Megaplex (2000), which had the Phantom haunting respectively a movie studio, a movie theatre, a mall and a cinema multiplex.
Dario Argentos other films are: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat ONine Tails (1971), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Deep Red (1976), Suspiria (1977), Inferno (1980), Tenebrae/Unsane (1982), Phenomena/Creepers (1985), Opera/Terror at the Opera (1987), Two Evil Eyes (1990), Trauma (1993), The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), Sleepless (2001), The Card Player (2004), Mother of Tears: The Third Mother (2007), Giallo (2009) and Dracula (2012).
(Nominee for Best Cinematography at this sites Best of 1998 Awards).
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