Tuesday, October 4, 2011


When we first see the Phantom of the Paris Opera House, we see his shadow in brief glimpses. He dashes just out of eyesight of the dancers and musicians and box office workers. Always there, always lurking, always enigmatic. Is he a true phantom--a ghost haunting the backstage and trapdoors of the playhouse?

Upon kidnapping Christine, he reveals himself in part to the object of his affection, lust and obsession. His mask is as creepy in it's own way as the face that lies beneath. With cartoon eyes and a veil for the mouth, it is a disturbing vision for at once it is a mockery of a normal human face and it also hints at the tragic true visage below.

This mask allows Lon Chaney to show the sincerity of the love his character, Erik, feels for Christine. It is still disturbing in it's blankness, it's static artificiality.

After Christine discovers his true face and is horrified, the Phantom is truly revealed to her. In a world where ugly equals evil, a world where it is easy to accept this simple equation, the formula holds true here. The Phantom's selfish fixation on Christine goes beyond mere admirer to his compulsion to POSESS her and hide her away for his own.

He reveals himself, dramatically to the company and audience of the Opera as The Red Death, appropriately, in a stunning restored scene in color. The contrast of that color after all those shadows really leaves an impression.

But back to our focus here: the face of the Phantom. As you probably know, Lon Chaney isn't known as "the man of a thousand faces" for nothing. He developed the skill to create unique and powerful looks for his characters on the vaudeville stage and put it to stunning use throughout his career in film.

The man's genius make-up often overshadows his performances, which are intense if one considers how hard it must be to push one's emotions through all that grease paint and spirit gum and beyond the ability to use one's voice to lend, well, voice to a character.

Sure, the Phantom had a face only a mother could love, but it was a face that we could all relate to and that is a great credit to Chaney Sr.

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