Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • If you go to the auditorium of the Palais Garnier in Paris, France, you'll notice that there's this giant

  • chandelier hanging right over the middle of the orchestra section. So on May 20th, 1896,

  • during a performance a counterweight to this giant chandelier fell right through the ceiling and killed a concierge during a performance on

  • on her first day work. Yeah.

  • Some odd years later a journalist turned novelist named Gaston Leroux took this incident and went "Hey, what if there was some nefarious

  • being behind this whole chandelier thing. What if it wasn't a counterweight? What if it was the entire chandelier that fell?

  • What would motivate such a nefarious being. I'm gonna do all this research and write this ballin' mystery novel and it's gonna be great!

  • It's gonna be a classic of modern literature and it..."

  • was not at all. It's not. It's not great literature; but! it certainly merits discussion.

  • 'Phantom of the Opera' is no 'Les Miserables'. It was not a sensation in its day and yet it has spawned countless

  • movies, musicals, comic books, children's books, TV shows, ice-capades,

  • re-imaginings including but not limited to 'Phantom of the Megaplex',

  • 'Phantom of the Ritz', 'The Phantom of Hollywood', 'Phantom of the Mall', 'Phantom of the Paradise', Phantom on Ice'!

  • Stage versions that are not the Andrew Lloyd-Webber version, dozens of novel spin-offs, children's books, graphic novels...

  • For such a nothing little book

  • it's had a lot of adaptations.

  • But the character of the Phantom varies a lot from really, genuinely engaging

  • to the most boring thing that's ever dried your brain to a fine powder. He's evil. He's sympathetic.

  • He's the villain. He's the antihero. Sometimes he's even the hero and

  • owing to my long history of

  • "Phantom fandom" I could probably do a twenty-six part Ken Burns-style epic on all of the many facets of this book and its

  • adaptations and who influenced what and what now, but, difficult as it is for me not to go on?

  • or even tangents this episode is about the character of Erik,

  • and I'm not going to lie and say a lot of my criticisms don't stem from a nerd rage standpoint -

  • they totally do - but here we go; instead of a comprehensive

  • 30 hour dissection, which I could totally do, we're going to keep it to two parts

  • Erik, The Phantom of the Opera before the musical

  • and after.

  • The original novel is...

  • pulpy.

  • It's told from Leroux's point of view as a man who's trying to piece together this mystery that happened thirty years after the fact and

  • though you - the modern reader - know from cultural osmosis that, yes,

  • there is a Phantom, the first half of this book is basically a mystery with a tonne of red herrings that are actually pretty tedious

  • from a storytelling standpoint.

  • Who could the Phantom be?

  • Is it the stagehand? Is it the rat catcher?

  • Is it this Persian fellow who's sneaking about all the time? And about halfway through the book we find out that yes,

  • there is indeed a dude who calls himself the Opera Ghost and that it's his basically full-time job.

  • Literally, he even extorts the opera managers to the tune of about 20,000 francs a month.

  • Mr. Phantom goes by the name of Erik;

  • no surname. He's like Madonna.

  • Erik is described as having the ugliest face of any person who's ever lived.

  • He basically looks like a death's head; sort of a living corpse. He compensates for this by being an amazing

  • genius at everything he's a master musician. He's a ventriloquist. He can throw his voice. He's a genius architect.

  • He's a master assassin, and he has the most beautiful voice of any man who's ever lived. What can't he do? Well, turns out

  • he's not so good to the ladies, and is a huge drama queen like "Oh my mama didn't love me,

  • I sleep in a casket, I have a literal torture chamber in my house for some reason. Hey, young girl

  • I'm gonna kidnap you and force you to live in my lair until you fall in love with me; that seems reasonable."

  • 'The Phantom of the Opera' is a 'Beauty and the Beast' tale, but it has more in common with the myth of Hades and Persephone

  • Erik is frequently compared to death-like things in the novel,

  • and he quite literally lives in an underworld and he absconds with this innocent young girl, a novice singer in the Opera named Christine.

  • Speaking to her from behind her mirrors in her dressing room he tells her "Hey,

  • I'm a literal angel sent to you by your dead father to train you to sing,"

  • which she, being super religious, is like "Okay, that sounds legit."

  • So she's pretty disappointed to find out that

  • he's actually kind of like a crazy deformed person.

  • But Erik is also super-jealous of Christine's childhood sweetheart,

  • the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, and the novel comes to a head when Raoul and the Persian descend into the Phantom's underworld to rescue Christine

  • only immediately to get oopsy-daisy caught in Erik's torture chamber, which he has!

  • And Erik thinks this is great! More to blackmail Christine with, he's like

  • "Hey, girl, either you marry me or I'm gonna kill these two and blow up the entire opera and both of us."

  • What a prize.

  • So let's talk about Erik's character arc,

  • which is the most important aspect of the story to me and the thing that most of the adaptations screw the pooch on.

  • Christine says "Okay, I'll marry you," which obviously she really does not want to do,

  • but will do this incredibly selfless thing if it means saving other people's lives.

  • But the fact that she does this kind of does him in, and

  • she even kisses him because she really does feel sorry for him.

  • And so Erik - surprised and completely done in by her selflessness - lets her Raoul and the Persian go.

  • She marries Raoul and Eric dies alone, and the book ends with the author contending that

  • despite his deeds

  • Erik was not an inherently bad

  • person and could have been a great person if the world hadn't been so shitty to him and that he did not deserve to be

  • demonised but there were many circumstances,

  • some within his control, but many not, that made him the way he was;

  • that he wasn't a monster, but a flawed human.

  • So that's actually pretty sophisticated

  • moral for a turn-of-the-century pulp horror novel.

  • Let's see what Hollywood does with that.

  • When you think of Universal Monsters and 'Phantom of the Opera', this is that version.

  • In fact as far as "monster Phantom" goes - the Lloyd-Webber musical he's misunderstood sex god

  • so we're not counting that - Lon Chaney's is the definitive version.

  • This was actually not the first film version. There was one in 1916,

  • but, as is the case with about 90% of all of silent films, this one was lost

  • and we don't really know all that much about it.

  • So for the purposes of this little YouTube video

  • 1925 is the first movie.

  • Like Book Erik, Cheney's Erik is highly emotional and really just...

  • a little too upfront with his feelings.

  • Oh, good that's... that's really appealing and she then immediately runs on in the casket he sleeps in and he's like:

  • "Yep. It is what it is baby."

  • This movie isn't just important as an adaptation of 'Phantom of the Opera',

  • but is also a seminal piece of pop culture and Hollywood history in the horror genre,

  • not to mention a landmark in makeup and effects work, and well worth checking out.

  • The scene where Christine first unmasks Erik

  • and then he comes at her - critics at the time reported hearing screams

  • in the screening and some patrons even fainted or left the theatre because they were so horrified by Lon Chaney's makeup.

  • Although that weird little cloth thing on his mask does, er, detract from his menace a bit.

  • I would call it the best of the movie adaptations

  • except for that ending.

  • Early in the novel the corpse of a stagehand named Bouquet who'd been garroted is found in the cellar.

  • In the movie Bouquet's got a brother and there's an obviously hastily added in:

  • "Hey, this guy killed my brother and I found out where he lives off screen somewhere" ending.

  • Like in the novel Christine's like "Please let them go, I'll do whatever."

  • And Erik's like "Okay."

  • And he does let them go,

  • and then when Christine's patting on Raoul and Erik's over here kinda grumpy and then busts in the angry mob and...

  • Suddenly there's a chase scene.

  • And we're on a wild carriage ride; dang!

  • So obviously in the book Erik is a lot more sympathetic.

  • But his rival Raoul is a lot less so;

  • he is a whiny self-centred little baby.

  • In the movie Raoul is more of a conventional, dashing straightforward movie hero,

  • and Erik is a monster.

  • Both of them become less complex and that element in the original novel that contemplates on Erik's

  • humanity and what made him into a monster...

  • "Eh, screw that."

  • But even so there's a great case to make for Lon Chaney's Erik as pure and simple the best performance.

  • He walks this great fine line of sympathetic, terrifying, childlike eccentric and all through facial expression and body language.

  • He's really genuinely horrifying and yet he's so expressive.

  • Except for this stupid ending.

  • "'kay guys, I've got a grenade. Yeah. I'm just kidding. Haha. Hey, we have fun...

  • Arghh..."

  • It was also originally going to end like the book and Lon Chaney himself was purportedly not wild about this change

  • but, you know, it's early Hollywood and villainous characters aren't allowed to have like, you know,

  • redemption arcs or growth, or depth, so -

  • bye Erik.

  • Next.

  • SHAN: [*speaking Mandarin*]

  • This movie is considered one of the greats of early Chinese cinema.

  • It was lost to the ages during the Cultural Revolution and was only found again in 1998.

  • This one is a first in the trend of the phantom getting disfigured after the fact rather than from birth

  • which I take slight umbrage with but we'll get to that.

  • The Phantom in this one is a dude named Song Danping and

  • Christine in this version appears to be a dude?

  • His name is Sung, and promises to train him so that he can sing to Song's

  • lady love who has been driven mad because she thinks Song is dead.

  • So Song teaches Sung to sing.

  • I swear I'm not making this up.

  • This movie has a big subplot about a leftist revolutionary movement

  • and most of the romance story-line is told in flashbacks.

  • Song's lady love is not a singer. Instead she's in what appears to be a madhouse.

  • Song is also a lot more sympathetic than the Chaney version - or even the book version for that matter - as it really plays up the

  • romance angle and his tragic fall.

  • "Hey, the Phantom was hot at one point."

  • Although, true to form, our Phantom is a huge drama queen.

  • MENGHE: [*speaking Mandarin*]

  • And I know this is pretty much par for the course as far as acting in early Chinese cinema goes but, heh,

  • I'm just saying it works where the Phantom is concerned.

  • MENGHE: [*speaking Mandarin*]

  • Feelings! But even with our more sympathetic Phantom, the movie still ends like the fucking Lon Chaney movie.

  • And the Christine analogue ends up with Sung.

  • But it doesn't matter now, nothing matters except you me, Christine.

  • Now you'll sing all you want.

  • But only for me.

  • LINDSAY: This was Universal's big, lavish, big-budgeted remake of the 1925 version.

  • But like its rewrite-addled predecessor...

  • You can kind of see the cracks.

  • Claude Rains plays Erique Claudin, who's a retiring star violinist at the Opera.

  • In the original screenplay

  • he was gonna be Christine's father, and that's why rather than teaching her to sing himself

  • he spends his life savings on singing lessons for her. Knowing this makes the movie make more sense,

  • but they cut out the father angle, so instead

  • he's just this like weird, old guy

  • who's oddly fixated on this one girl with no real context as to why.

  • RAINS: You weren't ill, were you?

  • You're not in any trouble?"

  • But this Phantom also has a tragic life and he has a super sympathetic backstory,

  • up until he up and murders a guy over a misunderstanding.

  • And then we get the acid in the face and hot-damn with the crazy.

  • I suppose the implication was that in this version

  • he was always kind of on the edge and then here was the snapping point.

  • So when, towards the end, he gets Christine down in his lair. It's like:

  • RAINS: I warned them. I told them there'd be death and destruction if they didn't let you sing.

  • LINDSAY: Well, that escalated quickly.

  • But then the focus shifts entirely. After the acid sploosh Erik isn't in the movie much at all,

  • and for the most part we follow the not one,

  • but two Raoul's trying to figure out what's going on.

  • Why is he so obsessed with this girl he's had basically no contact with? Hmm?

  • There's a lot of reading between the lines with this Phantom's motivation.

  • If he is her dad, then why is he not in her life? If not, what's his deal?

  • Does he just think she's cute?

  • What made him snap and kill that guy over basically nothing?

  • Does he have a history of stuff like this?

  • And that's why he lives alone and tries to stay out of Christine's life.

  • In the end, the movie just ends abruptly with 'death by falling rocks' and everyone just kind of shrugs and moves on.

  • In the end, I'm left wondering what the filmmakers were even going for.

  • Next.

  • LOM: I shall teach you. When you sing

  • it will be only for me.

  • LINDSAY: This version is trying to be scary and it's... Err...

  • It's boring. It's really boring.

  • There's the theft of his music during / after his disfigurement, which - yep, once again

  • Only where in the 1943 version

  • it was a perceived theft, this time it is a

  • legit theft by the Opera.

  • Also, like in the '43 version we get not one

  • but two Raouls only this time one of the Raouls is a bad guy.

  • One's the dashing yet boring love interest;

  • the other is just kind of, you know: rapey.

  • And I guess he's there to make the Phantom look more sympathetic by comparison.

  • See, the Phantom may be a total jerk-wad

  • but at least he's not an attempted rapist like this guy so...

  • LOM: You are dining with Ambrose D'Arcy tonight.

  • Be warned. He's a vile and vicious man.

  • LINDSAY: "Don't let him be creepy and possessive.

  • Let me be creepy and possessive."

  • This is also the only version where the chandelier fall is an accident and rather than causing it.

  • He pushes Christine to safety, sacrificing himself, and that's how the movie ends.

  • So it's interesting to note that of the ones we've covered,

  • the American versions all have a monstrous villainous Erik getting punished at the end

  • and the non American ones have a more sympathetic complex version;

  • this one is British.

  • That's not to say a more complex take

  • isn't doable by American filmmakers, but maybe it just needs to be done outside of the studio system.

  • FINLEY: Never sing my music again. Not here, not anywhere. Do you understand? Never again.

  • 'Phantom of the Paradise' takes place in a sort of surreal alternate universe, at a club called The Paradise.

  • It's one of Brian De Palma's earliest movies.

  • It's a musical and it's probably the best of all of the Phantom movies.

  • And it's also probably my favorite De Palma; easy.

  • Say what you want about 'Phantom of the Paradise', it knows what it's about.

  • This movie is in for a penny, in for a pound.

  • FINLEY: Swan stole my music and framed me!

  • In a way, it's more of an adaptation of 'Faust' than 'Phantom of the Opera'.

  • 'Faust' being the opera in the original novel that Christine makes her debut in.

  • Like the 1943 and 1962 versions this one has the theft of my beautiful music, and then I got disfigured thing going on.

  • Unlike in those versions

  • there's also a selling my soul to Satan thing going on.

  • And yes, this is another fucking version where he becomes disfigured during the plot.

  • His name is Winslow.

  • He's basically if Elton John and Leonard Cohen had a kid. It's debatable whether there is a Raoul in this version.

  • Let's, let's go with... no.