Vissi d'arte

from lullaby to requiem

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Movie Review I

Andrew Lloyd Webber's

The Phantom of the Opera

Twisted every way what answer can I give?? It would be very easy to dismiss the film as just another stage musical translated into film, but the Phantom was not really just that. I mean, fine, the film was a bit dragging, especially to people who aren't familiar with the score. One of my classmates said she got bored, I wouldn't really disagree, but since I'm completely in love with the music, I got through the entire movie quite awake and with a bad case of LSS - twice. First, your run-of-the-mill synopsis: SPOILERS AHEAD!! Christine Daae is a young chorus girl in the Ballet of Paris’ Opera Populaire, managed by Monsieur Andre and Monsieur Firmin. The Phantom (no name given! Although in the original Le Fantome de l’Opera, Gaston Leroux names him Eric) haunts the opera house aided by his only ally, Mme. Giry, the ballet mistress (well, not really ally. Mme Giry brought the phantom to the opera house to live there when she frees him from an abusive circus). After terrorizing reigning diva Carlotta Guidicelli half to death (okay, so he cuts the lines holding up a backdrop and it falls on the diva! Hahaha!), the phantom drives La Carlotta from the theatre to make way for his protégé, Christine. So Christine is forced to take La Carlotta’s part, to the cheers and applause of Paris. After her performance, she meets up with childhood sweetheart Raoul, the Viscount of Chagny (Monsieur le Vicomte is what they use, but I think that’s French). So, they predictable fall in love, the phantom gets mad and goes on a killing spree! After four great ensembles (Notes, Prima Donna, Masquerade & Notes Again), the title track (The Phantom of the Opera), a soprano aria (Wishing You were Somehow here again), a love duet (All I ask of you), & a trio (Down Once More.. Track Down this Murderer) the entire opus ends with a single kiss. More then the story I think, I truly love the music and the scoring. Which is why I’m more keen on the original than the movie.

Some things I didn't like: some lines which were originally sung were spoken, and the dubbing was HORRID!! For example: Christine’s “Raoul I'm frightened, don't make me do this. Raoul, it scares me, don't put me through this ordeal by fire”.. etc. You can really, really, really tell which lines were meant to be sung (because of the wording), and which parts were dubbed. Another part, for the final trio (Christine, the Phantom, and Raoul) Christine reprises Angel of Music (sung at the start, just before The Phantom of the Opera, a duet with Meg) with different words – Angel of Music why this torment? When will you see reason? Angel of Music you deceived me, I gave my mind blindly. All lines were meant to be sung, and the last line (I gave my mind blindly) is a solo, with very little orchestration and both the Phantom and Raoul stopping. But the movie has Christine speaking “I gave my mind blindly” which I think cuts the momentum of the scene.

Another thing I didn’t like so much – they cut and rearranged some scenes. Like Mme Giry’s response to Raoul’s plan “to ensnare our clever friend”. You can actually see Miranda Richardson pulling her head up and preparing to belt out “Madness! This is madness! Monsieur believe me there is no way of turning the tides!” but that was so obviously edited out. The second Notes was also cut, and makes for a redundant greeting from the phantom after already introducing himself after the Masquerade. (the second Notes is the vehicle for Mme Giry’s “Madness! This is Madness!”). They put the Chandelier incident after the Phantom kills Piangi (the lead tenor, Carlotta’s boyfriend) instead of originally ending Act I (when Carlotta begins to croak – hihihi!)

These, however, are only minor things. Something’s that not quite so minor is the singing. I’ve been listening to the Original London Cast of the Phantom for more than 6 years now. Try listening to Sarah Brightman (the original Christine, whose voice inspired the musical), Michael Crawford (the Phantom), Steve Barton (Raoul), the late Mary Millar (Mme. Giry), Janet Devenish (Meg, Christine’s best friend and Mme. Giry’s daughter), and Rosemary Ashe (La Carlotta) for that long and see if you won’t memorize even the most minute details! I’ve seen it on Broadway (although not with Sarah Brightman & Co.) and the singing was almost like the original. This film version however was unashamedly changed to make the entire opus less operatic and more idiots-unfamiliar-with-opera friendly. (Sowi! I can’t help myself!!) The singing was, to some extent, dreadful! The only voice up on the screen worth listening to was Patrick Wilson’s Raoul! Minnie Driver gave a good enough performance, but her La Carlotta, I found too comical, and she wasn’t even singing with her own voice – she was lip syncing to this soprano (I forgot her name). The Phantom’s rough and husky voice (Gerard Butler) takes a toll on the listener (ME!!) after his aria (The Music of the Night). Miranda Richardson’s Mme. Giry (complete with French accent) was good, although she had a tendency to take the low route, and she whispers a lot! I did love her part in the Masquerade when she sings “And what a masquerade” (originally sung by M. Andre/Firmin) and covers her face with a fan! Hihi! Emmy Rossum as Christine offers a blander, safer alternative to Sarah Brightman’s original. She has a voice, she does, which she showcases in the last part of “Think of Me” but I’m not quite sure if she’s suited to the role of an opera chorus girl/ballerina! The entire play is set in the opera, and I didn’t quite expect to hear Christine sound so pop-ish! But for a general audience who aren’t used to operatic voices, the movie works!

The great scenes: The Overture, Masquerade, All I ask of You, and Prima Donna (in the order of my preference). The Overture – a showcase of the music of the entire opera (I use the term opera loosely – any play set to music) – was completely spell binding! I love the way they stuck to the original but made the scene, of course more cinematic. When the Overture begins with a strike of the organ, the Chandelier (a ruined and wrecked piece being auctioned off in 1919) is raised to the top of the house and as it is being raised, the entire opera house is transformed to its former glory. The way they used transformed the black & white screen to the brightly coloured reds and golds of the house was very eerie. Add to this the theme of the musical – an eerie remix of the song, The Phantom of the Opera, done completely in organs and drums. Of course in the movie, they extend the Overture to capture the arrival of Monsieur Le Vicomte and the new managers and the preparations backstage for the rehearsals of Hannibal.

The next scene I really liked was the Masquerade! It was really, really pretty, seeing all those people in those cute little black-and-white masks parading around the lobby of the Opera Populaire dancing (perfect choreography, by the way) and singing to the upbeat song. One thing though, the song had lyrics like Flash of Mauve, Splash of Puce, Fool & King, Green and Black, Queen & Priest, Trace of rouge, Face of Beast etc… but all the people were wearing identical masks – except the lead characters. (pointed our by Lanz Leviste, who writes a review column for YS). One more scene that I love – All I ask of You. I’ve never really taken to the song, perhaps because it’s a love duet & I’m not fond of love duets (well, not really). But when I saw the scene, ohhhhhhhhhhh it was soooooooooooo romantic!! And Raoul looked to gorgeous!!! And he sang so well…. I wanted to fall in love!! Hihihi!

And then there’s Prima Donna – the only ensemble sung by the cast (since they took out Notes again). Piangi is cut from the original, but in the movie he was added, to add more depth to the singing (I think). I just really love this ensemble, and the way it’s supposed to be sung. The scene is preceded by the first Notes, where the phantom sends all the leads a note: to M. Andre congratulating Christine and reprimanding the dancers, to Firmin reminding him of his salary, to Carlotta telling her to never sing at the opera again, to Raoul warning him to stay away from Christine, and to Mme. Giry explaining Christine’s return (the phantom took her to his lair).

There’s really no way to describe Prima Donna: The two managers (and Piangi) are coaxing the Prima Donna to sing again, Carlotta belts out Italian phrases like “No fortunato, non ancor abandonata!,” Mme. Giry and Meg duet in warning that the phantom will curse the next opera, and lovesick Raoul still trying to comprehend where Christine has gone and trying to think of ploys to stop the phantom. For the ending, they all take a deep gasp and belt out loudly “Once More!!” It looked really fun!! Hihihi! (By the way, the gasp wasn’t in the original – another addition to make La Carlotta more whimsical and comic)
As is obvious, I’m really fond of ensemble acts… In all the movie was pretty good. Some minor details were bugging, but that’s only because I’ve memorized the original – and I am sort of a purist, so there you go! =)