July 12, 2013

DVD Review: The Phantom of the Opera - Unmasking the Masterpiece

Every movie fan has a list of shame. There are always some movies that we should have seen considering our chosen hobby, that we have for one reason or another not gotten around to. Among my yet to be seen shamefuls is the Lon Chaney, Sr. version of The Phantom of the Opera. As well as the Jimmy Cagney version, the Robert Englund version, the Dario Argento version..... You get the picture. I have seen it on broadway and the Gerard Butler/Emmy Rossum movie. Does that count for anything?

The Phantom of the Opera: Unmasking the Masterpiece is an informative documentary that takes a look at the history of the Gaston Leroux tale as a cinematic excursion. Now, I may not be the right person to analyze the film, but I suspect that I am a part of the target audience, at least in part.

Now, the documentary touches on pretty much all the filmed versions, but it's focus is primarily on the 1925/1929 versions and the genius that was Lon Chaney, Sr. The 100+ minute runtime is filled with interviews with historians, filmmakers, artists, and even an actress who appeared in the film, Carla Laemmle.

To be honest, I was not so much taken with the history of the various Phantom productions as I was with the description of the artistry that went into them. For example. there was the young artist who was involved in the building of the Phantom stage, the sculpture, the artwork, costumes, and make up. His name is escaping me, but the skill displayed was admirable.

The unbelievable talent that was Lon Chaney, Sr. is the real star of this documentary. The craft, care, skill, and desire that went into his character creation is amazing. The way he was able to find ways to adjust his presence, his advanced skills in makeup application to completely change his appearance. It is pretty mind blowing. It was particularly interesting listening to effects wizard Tom Savini talk about it, there was awe in his speech. It is fascinating watching someone of his considerable skill talk about his inspiration.

This is not the best documentary I have seen, but there is a definite energy and love that can be sensed throughout. It was written and directed by Cortlandt Hull, who clearly has an interest in the subject and put his heart into the effort.

The best I can say about this is if of have any interest in the history of Phantom or in Lon Chaney, Sr., this is a documentary to seen. Beyond that, this is a tale of cinematic history, just look at the way these people reminisce on what they have studied, what the have loved, and what they will likely do until they die. In this look at ow certain tale, there is love.


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