FilmMusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

FILMusic: The Phantom of the Opera – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

The Phantom of the Opera is now best known as a blockbuster musical, but Gaston Leroux’s novel was first brought to a wider public by the 1925 film, directed by (among others) Rupert Julian and starring, memorably and uniquely, Lon Chaney in make-up so hideous the studio kept it under wraps until the film’s release.

This was the version brought to the Howard Assembly Room, with the occasional cut, on the night before Halloween, with an original accompaniment by Darius Battiwalla.

The film stands up splendidly to the passage of nearly a century. One begins to understand why some apologists for silent film bemoaned the loss of artistic standards with the coming of “talkies”. The sets are incredible, from the auditorium of the Paris Opera to the cavernous realms below where the Phantom set up his own little kingdom in his love for the young opera singer, Christine. The bal masque, with the Phantom appearing as the Red Death, benefits from meticulous hand painting of individual frames. The scenes atop the Opera, with the Phantom on a statue overhearing the conversation of Christine and her lover, are uncanny. The marshalling of hundreds of extras is oddly reminiscent of the early Eisenstein films.

The rapt attention which the film commanded was, in part, due to Darius Battiwalla’s accompaniment. He began on piano, projecting joy and happiness, the occasional echo of Gounod’s Faust slipped in, the menace of the Phantom indicated by menacing low notes, the complacent enjoyment of the Opera-goers suggested by 19th century salon music. At the moment when the Phantom first appears playing the organ, Battiwalla switched to organ, playing his part in possibly the most chilling moment of the film: the removal of the mask.

Thereafter it was the organ that underpinned the film’s dramatic rush to its climax, backing the rapid cross-cutting between the various parties seeking the Phantom’s lair and the Phantom and Christine, then later between the Phantom’s flight in his rival’s barouche with Christine an unwilling passenger and the murderous mob pursuing him. The Gothic menace of the music was a perfect complement to the film’s visual style.

Despite some comedy early on The Phantom of the Opera is a deeply serious film that, backed by a sympathetic score, still enthrals.

Reviewed on 30th October 2022.

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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