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AICN's NYer Mr. Sheldrake goes out on a phantom limb regarding PHANTOM OF THE OPERA!

Hey Folks, Harry here... Mr. Sheldrake here is AICN's new NY chief correspondent, and he's off to a helluva first start. Here he's lucky enough to give us the lowdown on the recent NY screening of Schumacher's filmic telling of Andrew Lloyd Webber's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Sounds... fantastic. Here ya go...



Living in New York City is in many ways a matter of learning to cope with world-class traffic, like when you're in the cheese line at Zabar's or playing Death Race 2000 on the Major Deegan Expressway. After 1988, when the Phantom of the Opera opened at the Majestic on West 44th Street, during certain hours that block, and several surrounding blocks, are lost to us, flooded as they are with 1600 theater goers at the front and back end of a two hour and thirty minute production. And, by the way, the Majestic is not the only theater on the block.

Just as New Yorkers rarely go to the Statue of Liberty, we usually don't go see shows that are really theme parks built for tourists. Ghosts haunting opera houses in Paris? Ok, but I'd rather go see Rent, a movie about evil landlords-now there's a plot that will draw the New York crowd, especially if there's handy advice for dealing with legal issues in the context of rent-stabilization laws. The advice in Phantom, typical of horror films, is all bad advice. That's a famous trope and I won't rehearse it for you here, but I confess to some impatience. I mean, clear out the opera house, get the police, find the nutjob, lock up the nutjob, fill the seats, get the show up on the boards. How hard is that? Isn't that what you learn in Impresario 101? If you read Phantom as a sort of period Handbook for Landlords, seems that back then they preferred to work out tenant issues over a long period of time. The more intransigent the tenant, the more time they gave him. If the tenant was insane, they paid him a salary.

Joel Schumacher's movie of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera exists only functionally in the realm of landlord-tenant conflict, of course, and mainly in the dark and imaginative space of a young girl's discovery of her sexuality. The joining of Monster and House is one that resonates strongly with young people, especially when they suffered abusive relationships with their parents, and one way the Phantom is played in this movie is the abusive and confusingly attractive Cool Teacher/Dad. Young Girl has to distinguish Man Love from Dad Love from Cool Teacher Love and get clear in her head that Daddy Not Equal Sex With Cool Teacher. Whoaaa, Nellie! Is the American audience ready for this? Well, they've been selling out the Broadway show for years now so maybe it is, Lois, maybe it is. Joel Schumacher's entertainingly debauched sensibility, which ill served him in the nipply Batman cod-stume piece, works well for this material because, folks, it's ALL ABOUT SEX. There's no sublimation! It's all right there! This is one low down horny deviant forbidden story disguised as musical high romanticism and I highly recommend that you approach that way -- as filthy taboo erotica--to extract maximum enjoyment.

I mean, come on: why do think this thing has been so successful? Andrew Lloyd Webber is the man who brings sex and rock to musicals. He brought Mary Magdalene to the Superstar, put a naked Cat on stage, and finally he's brought us Daddy's Little Girl. Emmy Rossum, who was sixteen, and turned seventeen, during the making of the film, is delicious as Christine Daae, the pale skinned, raven-haired innocent with the heaving bosom and the angelic voice, waiting to be half-willingly defiled. She's a young thing who's compassionate towards the monster, who believes that there's good in everyone. The Phantom is that he's the sort of man who attracts the sort of woman who believes it's her job to save that sort of man. One has to work hard to imagine what Christine Daae would think of as a 'bad date,' bad enough to disqualify him forever as Potential Husband material (thanks, Plum Sykes and Julie Bergdorf). She causes us to remember that in the old movies there was a part of the audience that attended the movie primarily because where there's a monster and a girl, there's gonna be a ripped dress and an exposed rack-a-rola somewhere in that story. There better be. Like all great horror tales, this baby girl is hot and some part of her is really tired of being so damned good all the time. The story is the tale of the choice she must make: to purify her own heart, side with the Ivory Snow Boy and raise an 100 99/100ths per cent pure family, or to sink into sensual pleasure with the French Gothic equivalent of Frank-N-Furter.

Now close your eyes and let's change everything.


Joel Schumacher's movie of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera is a faithful recreation of the stage play. Far more a romance than a horror story, this Phantom, trapped in the night and in the mind, struggles towards daylight and a healing that only one woman's love is equipped to help him achieve. Raoul, the Viscount who is the Opera's chief patron, enters the operatic community just as the young soprano, Christine Daae, rises to a leading role in the performances, but Raoul soon discovers that the innocent Christine is caught in a strange dark relationship with her never-seen music teacher, a figure identified only in his acts of vengeance and in the enforcement of his will --The Phantom of the Opera. As Raoul and Christine's love for each other grows and deepens, her guilt and fear at abandoning her teacher, who loves her obsessively, overwhelms her and forces her to choose between one good man, and one man with a twist in his soul that will destroy anyone who comes to close to it.

This story, like all great classics, asks questions that are deeply personal: are we capable of empathy? Do we truly believe in transcendence and healing, or do we prefer to make gestures towards healing only from the comfort of our own secure lives and relationships -- when we are safe? Will we take risks with our compassion, or will fear rule us? Then there's what I think of as the Raoul question: is there a kind of mental healthiness, so-called, that fears and despises the damaged soul so much that it condemns that soul to a future with no hope of help? Raoul is in the story primarily to interfere with Christine's absorption into the life of the Phantom, but you wonder if it would been so bad -or even better- for Christine and the Phantom if Raoul had just let them alone and let nature, even malformed nature, take its course. The story is an eternal one and as you leave the theater you feel nothing was truly resolved, that this is the story of a struggle between gods or archtypes and that it will never truly be over.

As directed by Joel Schumacher and photographed by John Mathieson (Gladiator, Hannibal) this is truly a gorgeous motion picture, painterly, designed and wonderfully lit, spilling over with lights, costumes, bosoms, staircases, and the chandelier; dancers and singers and dwarves, Viscounts, monsters and the bourgeoise. The set design and rich colors of the production bear up under the weight of the operatic emotions. Schumacher's camera work is active and dynamic, and he is always on the search for a new shot or angle to give us some fresh take on the Opera House and the many worlds it contains.

The music is familiar to anyone who's seen the play or heard the soundtrack, and for those who haven't heard it, the recording is clear and the vocal phrasings are well articulated, at least when the leads sing, so that you'll miss nothing. The group recordings, on the other hand, are muddied and confused and sometimes overwhelmed by the orchestrations and you'll have to strain to get the words, as I did. But there's so much to look at during those group numbers that you may not notice.

As a regular opera goer, it's a little strange to go to a movie about the opera -- and and hear no real no opera music. That said, there are a few numbers that borrow riffs from the standard repertoire of arias, the standout piece being one of the first, which directly quotes the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's Magic Flute. This theatrical warhorse has been up in lights every night for so long, I'm sure someone has written a dissertation analyzing Phantom's musical influences. (I didn't find one, but this link about the influences on another work of his is telling:

I think one question that would have to be on everyone's mind who's seen the play would have to be: is there enough new material that it's worth it for me to see the movie? I think so. For one thing, Emmy Rossum's performance is really something to behold, for she gives herself over to it in a way that only a young person can, with her whole heart, and that comes across on screen. And oh. my. God. she is beautiful. The two male leads, Gerry Butler and Patrick Wilson, also deliver effective performances, especially Butler's tortured Phantom, who is believably handsome and frightening and brilliant at the same time. Minnie Driver's Carlotta the Diva is very funny. Also, Schumacher's set designs are entirely original and sumptuous, and his deep understanding of the camera's vocabulary and the ways it can open up a stage story to a movie audience deliver new visual riches to an eye that knows the stage sets. Finally, the characters are given histories by showing their stories on screen in a way that gives you a new understanding of what drives them, and what binds them.

Now you have two reviews.

Choose, Christine. Choose.

One final story about Phantom of the Opera, the original silent movie with Lon Chaney. My friend Cassie Chan, a mystery writer (whose new book The Young Widow: a Philip Bethancourt Mystery will be out in August 2005, St. Martin's Press) was told by her father all the while he was growing up about this movie. Her father, Ed Chan, an illustrator, loved the movie and told Cassie and her mother, Doe, about the movie's hero, a poor misunderstood man whose art redeemed him. Years later, Cassie caught the movie on PBS and began watching it -and couldn't believe her eyes. "Poor misunderstood artist my foot!" was Cassie's reaction. "What was my father thinking? The Phantom is a monster."

and for those of you who want the source material here's the Gaston Leroux novel:

Click Here

and an interview with Joel on the night the movie was shown at the DGA in New York.

Alison McClean (Jesus' Son) interviews Joel Schumacher

November 18 2004

Dialog remembered, not recorded, but it's damn close

MCCLEAN: How did you come across this material originally?

SCHUMACHER: Well, you know, I'd just done my fourth film, LOST BOYS, and it was 1988. And Phantom had already been a hit in London and it had opened in New York. And Andrew Lloyd Webber had seen them and I was shooting in Vancouver and ALW contacted me. And I thought he'd made a mistake, you know, that my name looked like someone else?s and he'd seen someone else's movie or something, because I was new.

Anyway, we were going to do it in 1990. I was preparing for it all through shooting Flatliners, and we were going to shoot it in Munich and Prague, and then we couldn't because ALW was having problems, some of them business and some personal. And so it went by the boards and my career suddenly took off and I wasn't thinking about it. I had too much to do and I thought, you know, that was it. It was over.

Anyway, during Christmas 2002 it came up again. A friend of mine said to me that if the passion was there I should still do it, and I spent a long night thinking about it and analyzing that. And I said I'll do it on two conditions: the woman has to be girl, she has to be really very young, because that's the only way the story works for me. It has to be her first love, she still has to be dealing with her father's love, pulling away from it, and she has to be confused. And it had to be dark and passionate and sexual.

And the other condition was that they had to sing their own roles.

MCCLEAN: Was it a challenge to find your Christine, a girl that age who could handle the role, singing and acting.

SCHUMACHER: Oh, well! We had everyone else cast, you know, we had our boys, Gerry and Patrick, and we had Jenny Ellison, her best friend and Miranda Richardson. Finally, we had about six actresses coming in and the first five came in, some famous and some not, and everyone was just great. And Emmy Rossum was the last one.

And she barely made it there, and she was nervous because she's sixteen and really wanted the role and really didn't want the rejection. And finally, we saw her. She was on her way out to a family reunion in Las Vegas, a relative had been organizing the reunion forEVer. And she came to my house and when she walked through the door. I mean, she's beautiful. That face and figure. And she's been performing at the Metropolitan Opera since she was SEVEN! I just looked up and said, "Thank you, God!" It was as if I'd ordered her.

MCCLEAN: It's your first musical.

SCHUMACHER: I try to do something different each time, because I think that's the only way you can evolve. And in this case, you know, ALW handled the music and he's the only person I've ever met who didn't know more about movies than someone who makes them. Music is what he does: so he handled that and I handled the filming and it worked out really well.

MCCLEAN: Did you two see eye to eye on how to adapt the story for the film?

SCHUMACHER: Well on stage it was very romantic, and that was what the story was. You know in the old stills it shows Christine shielding her eyes and the horror story is what matters. But this is a deeply romantic story and I didn't want it done as horror. And Emmy approaches the part with such compassion for the Phantom, who's given her music, and it gives her character this wonderful integrity. You know, it's a really a tragedy, because he had needed a compassion the world couldn't give him, but she of all people might have been able to, to bring him back from the darkness. But he's become twisted inside, and when he murders someone he's gone and there's nothing she can do to bring him back.

MCCLEAN: Were the there more spoken scenes in the film than on stage:

SCHUMACHER: Well, rather, I tried to show more. The Viscount, Raoul, he's much more fleshed out. Onstage was a figure who just sort of came on when you need him, and I try to show more. I try to show the Phantom's story with the crowd attacking. There was so much to show. We did all this research. Now the real Paris Opera House is very municipal and cold, but we created the Opera Populare, as in the book, as onstage, and we tried to give it a personality. And we made it a beautiful voluptuous woman, not just architecture, and made it very beautiful and that's why all the statues of naked women from the period. You know, at the time when the story takes place there were 750 people living in the opera house has well and it gave me the chance to tell an Upstairs/Downstairs sort of story.

MCCLEAN: Your career has been so diverse - how do you feel you've evolved as a director, working on the set.

SCHUMACHER: Well, that's interesting. I'm sure I was very different when I was a new director, when I started doing it. Now I've done nineteen films, a play, a lot of public service stuff, commercials. And now I listen to my collaborators and the actors and young people who are always so smart. Emmy Rossum is so much wiser than I am. Listening to her helped me so much.

You know I worked on sets and costumes with Woody Allen, from Sleeper in 1973 to Interiors, that was the last one. I used to hear him on 8th street between Fifth and Sixth at this nightclub Bon Soir, I was a busboy in the Village and he'd be on a bill with Streisand. And later I went to work on his movies. And Woody's set was like a high school play, in that it was loose and everyone was asked to contribute. The three others I worked for before Woody were more autocratic. On Woody's set, one woman would sit there and when a scene was shot she'd say, "that's not funny. Is that funny? Do you think that's funny?" And he'd ignore her and when he'd reshoot she'd say, "Now THAT's funny." And he'd not be listening to her but he'd be taking everything in. On the other sets, my God, she would have been fired. But you know, Kubrick said my secret is I steal from everyone else on the set. And I always tell everyone, don't go home and tell your significant other the best thought you had today about what I should be doing. Tell me that thought. And I probably won't do it but I want to hear about it. It's so important to maintain that creativity - not to ever shoot anyone down.

MCCLEAN: Emmy Rossum was so good in this

SCHUMACHER. Oh wasn't she? And to be able to carry that off. She turned seventeen while we made the film and now she's turning eighteen. And to do Christine - I mean, she's been through a lot by the end of this story.

MCCLEAN: What were the visual sources for the film, it's so beautifully stylized.

SCHUMACHER: Well, we had our research but I looked too at great period pictures. Greta Garbo in CAMILLE. Vincent Minelli's MADAME BOVARY. Visconti, THE LEOPARD. No one does period like Visconti. Because you don't want to just copy the period, you want to let the designers create something new for the movie.

MCCLEAN: The Phantom's lair, the depiction is hyper-realistic, isn't it, sometimes in Christine's imagination:

SCHUMACHER: Well I wanted to give you three worlds. The first time Emmy goes through the mirror, then her best friends finds it and it's just a sliding mirror. I wanted to show that Emmy was in this sort delirium. You know, like, when you're in LOVE at this restaurant and all woozy. Then you go back to the restaurant later and it looks, well, like just a restaurant. It's not the same. I wanted that. I tried to create three worlds: 1919 in black and white when an old man is dying and remembering love and youth and anything was possible; then what's he remembering, the color and sweep and circus of that world; and then the Phantom's world, which was very dark. The story has three sources, really, I think the book, Gaston Lareux does: Beauty and the Beast, Svengali and Trilby and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Mr. Sheldrake

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 20, 2004, 4:13 a.m. CST

    The Phantom Rocks

    by theoneofblood

    Too bad this movie will most likely suck, thanks to Joel "rape franchise" S.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 5:08 a.m. CST

    Don't get me wrong...

    by Jumpstart

    ...I like "Phantom." Do I think it belongs on the big screen, complete with Andrew Lloyd Webber music? No. The reason is because ALW is, by all accounts, an over-the-top composer. The songs for "Phantom" are exaggerated enough to fill a theater...but too big for a movie theater. Not to mention, Hollywood has problems with adaptations. I mean, this is an industry who can't handle comic book movies correctly (don't get me wrong there, either. I dig comic book stories--however NOBODY should EVER make an adaptation of an Alan Moore book again EVER, did I say EVER? EVER EVER EVER (The old adage is "Food me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me)--so I don't mean to cheapen them in any's just Hollywood has a distorted vision of what a story is instead of what it should be, with so little exception that the only things stopping me from giving up on new movies altogether are Pixar, Charlie Kaufman, and the fact that my ass is too excessively lazy to read a book.)

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 6:20 a.m. CST

    You liked Rent?

    by The Jailer

    So Mike is AICN's new NY chief correspondent. God help us. I hated this review. Too much irrelevant crap. I wish he would stick to reviewing the movie. Not that I care. He actually enjoyed 'Rent', the only show I ever walked out on (along with many other audience members).

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 7:38 a.m. CST

    PHANTOM will make $150 million

    by Spacesheik

    This film is a blockbuster.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 9:16 a.m. CST

    Back when the show started I'd notice certain types wearing the

    by Some Dude

    Girls would come in either of these two categories: obese or severely non-hot goth. Males would come in these two categories: gay or latently gay. I didn't ever see anyone else with a sence of fanhood about the thing, though the show was a huge hit. I guess since there are still plenty of fat chicks in the world (maybe even more these days), with a sprinking of non-hot goths and gay guys, the movie will be a hit as well. A shame, when they could have tried an inventive new adaptation of the source material.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 9:32 a.m. CST

    Rent won the Pulitzer

    by thartsell

    If you want to talk about theater, please know something about theater. I just saw Rent on Broadway again. It played to an enthusiastic, packed crowd. I'm sorry that it didn't cater to your apparent Disney idea of theater. After all, there can only be so many Lion Kings and Beauty and the Beast productions.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 11:25 a.m. CST

    Pulitzer doesn't mean anything...

    by HomerGator

    Just because a show wins an award doesn't grant it credibility. If you want to look at a Pulitzer Prize winning musical that is fun and has something to say, How To Succeed In Business WIthout Really Trying, or L'il Abner are much better than the pulling at heart strings, over the top, "Everyone has AIDS" toe tapping numbers of RENT. So, while you claim that other individual doens't know his musicals, I do. Urinetown, Avenue Q, The Producers, Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum, ALL of them are new, better shows than Rent. Rent is simply another case of The Emperor's New Clothes...critics couldn't slam it because...::GASP:: people in it have A.I.D.S.!!!! And high school girls and latent homosexuals just couldn't stop tapping their feet to the "ultra hip" indy filmmaker and the bitchy drag queen. La Boheme it is NOT.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 11:34 a.m. CST

    I may not know theater but ...

    by The Jailer

    I also saw it on Broadway recently and it was NOT enthusiatically received. Maybe the cast were having a bad night. I joined the 100+ people who abandoned it half way through. The theater was a dump. The sound was terrible and I watched rodents running up the aisles!

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 11:41 a.m. CST


    by Constance Reader

    Has anyone else noticed that Schumacher's Phantom is: 1) So unbearably tall, dark, sexy & handsome that nothing under that mask could be so hideous as to turn a woman off? Hell, most women would tell to keep the mask on, it's so sexy. Give me one good reason why a man this gorgeous is living in the Paris catacombs. 2) No more than ten years older than Christine, even though the accident that disfigured him was supposed to have occurred long before during the construction of L'Opera, and thus everyone still at L'Opera should know exactly who he is? Especially since you can still SEE HIS FACE?!

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 1:05 p.m. CST

    Attention all future AICN review writers.

    by ExcaliburFfolkes

    Stop making yourselves the stars of your own reviews. It's extraordinarily annoying and juvinile. We the readers couldn't care less about your private lives or what you did in the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, or decades before you saw the film in question. It's nothing personal, but we only want to hear about the movie, not a human interest story. A straight review, with a few details, maybe a couple of spoilers, and a judgement on whether it's good or bad. That's all we ask. That's all we want. That's why we come here. Only Harry K. can get away with the rambling personal stuff in his reviews because this is his website and he started that trend here, so we're kind of forgiving with his self-indulgance. But for the rest of you - forget about, knock it off, and don't ever ever ever ever ever ever ever do it again. Thank you. This has been a public service announcement.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 1:06 p.m. CST

    So it figures...

    by Strabo

    So, last year I decided to swear I would never see another movie from the craptastic trio...Jan DeBont, Joel Schumacher, and Worthless Shit Anderson. Now Schumacher has made a movie that actually looks like it MIGHT, MAYBE, be GOOD. Arg. So, what's the concensus? Should I break my resolve?

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 2:19 p.m. CST

    Substandard singing

    by Melian

    It's really bad. Seriously. They haven't even bothered to digitally correct the numerous off-pitch notes.No person with any musical ability could sit through the soundtrack of this film.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 2:32 p.m. CST

    yeah but....

    by maceodkat

    will joel but nipples on the phantom is what i wanna know.....

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 3:22 p.m. CST

    This review sucks.

    by Durendal

    We don't need reviews that talk all about the eternal struggle between good and evil and talk about the implications of a well-known story. We want to hear about the MOVIE ITSELF, dammit! There are only a few paragraphs that really deal with the film. The rest is unnecessary fluff. Give us a REAL review. Oh yeah, and from the previews, Butler just doesn't have the voice for the part of the Phantom.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 3:53 p.m. CST

    yes, Durendal

    by Melian

    I agree. I didn't learn alot about the film from this review, but I kind of warmed to the reviewer. Also, I agree that Butler doesn't sound great, having heard the soundtrack. Rossum is not the best singer I've ever heard either (although, I have heard worse on occasions, too).

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 5:35 p.m. CST

    Unusually literate reviews...

    by Wesley Snipes

    .. though the first guy comes off as a smug ass.

  • Nov. 20, 2004, 6:20 p.m. CST

    Phantom's deformity.

    by PatriciaRD

    Two things,Constance Reader: 1) What was disgusting on the 1880's might not not be as bad for this day and age. Also, you must remember he had been exposed as a circus freak for years so that help shape the Phantom's conception of himself. 2) About the accident that disfigured him: You're referring to the wrong version. The ALW musical, like the original Leroux novel, explain that the Phantom was born that way. Unless you're referring to the accident of his birth...

  • Nov. 21, 2004, 10:41 a.m. CST


    by thartsell

    While what you say about awards truly not meaning anything, the thought that critics can't slam something because the people in it have AIDS is absurd. While I appreciate that you enjoy theater, please don't let your apparent disdain for homosexuals and those with AIDS taint your opinions. The message of Rent has nothing to do with tapping your toes about homosexuality or having AIDS. Instead, it drives home a point of No Day But Today. Let nothing pass you by, for you may never have this chance again. The plays you mention liking are all fine plays, but things such as Avenue Q owe a nod to Rent. Like it or not, it helped to usher in a new era on Broadway. An era when issues beyond the love of a deformed Phantom can be addressed.

  • Nov. 22, 2004, 5:47 a.m. CST

    I've never seen RENT, but I saw TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE...

    by Triumph poops!

    ...and the over the top rendition of "Everyone has AIDS" in that film (which I knew was a takeoff on RENT) had me laughing my ass off so hard that now I don't think I could even sit through RENT without laughing out loud as I pictured puppets singing in my head. In fact, as far as a solid, funny, actually GOOD musical -- after the SOUTH PARK movie and TEAM AMERICA -- it suddenly strikes me that Trey Parker and Matt Stone should do a Broadway show since in both cases they really delivered.

  • Nov. 22, 2004, 10:43 a.m. CST

    I don't know about the movie, but..

    by Lizzybeth

    ..the review was sure entertaining. Nice.

  • Nov. 22, 2004, 1:33 p.m. CST

    Yes, Joel Schumacher HAS made a few good movies.....

    by Jimmy Jazz

    The Lost Boys was good (although it is a bit dated and cheesy today). Tigerland was great, even if the homoeroticism was a bit more than some people could take. Phone Booth was also quite good. Yes, Batman and Robin was horrid, but that was more Akiva ("Lost In Space", enough said) Goldsman script than anything else. I doubt ANY director could have done anything with that magnificent piece of hackwork. Despite his legendary status as our time's Ed Wood. He seems a competant journeyman who is only as good as the scrupt he is working on, like most directors who aren't Scorsese or Michael Mann.