on October 1, 2003
Not to repeat another reviewer's long but precise review, I want to add my recommendation of this most recent version of what is arguably Chaney's best work. What many fans don't realize is that the great unmasking scene was also filmed in color and is now missing. Stills of the original 1925 B&W unmasking show it from a slighly different angle. Chaney rejected the color version because the hot lights made the adhesive between his forehead and headpiece start to separate. But, ironically, it is the B&W version of the color footage that survives in both the 1925 and 1929 editions. It is a pity that the missing footage wasn't found fot his restoration. Maybe someday we'll get the version with sound dubbed in (except for Chaney who had died as well as no longer being with Universal). This set could have given us more of that while using the beautifully clear 1929 print. All in all, an excellent effort. If you have the past ones, this is better just as Kino's recent "Metropolis" is the one to have. Now it's time to settle back and enjoy the restored "The Man Who Laughs."
on September 30, 2003
Although marred by static direction and stilted acting, the 1925 silent film THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is known primarily for the memorable contribution by Lon Chaney as an actor and makeup artist. His moving portrayal of the disfigured escaped convict who haunts Paris Opera House is perhaps the sole reason to watch this film. And his talent as a makeup artist helped create one of the most indelible images in film history: the skull-like head of the phantom that conveys sadness, anger, and horror at the same time. This Region-1-only 2-disc DVD set from The Milestone Company includes two versions of this classic film: the 1925 version that was premiered in New York, and the 1929 re-edited silent version that is most often seen today. The DVD also contains excellent supplements that give us a good overview of the film's rather remarkable history.
The rarely seen 1925 New York premiere version included on this DVD is untinted, runs 107 minutes, and was transferred from the only surviving 16mm reduction print. Its video quality is understandably poor; sharpness and clarity are never satisfactory, and blemishes abound. There are some notable differences between this version and the shorter, 93-min, 1929 re-edited version. In the 1925 version, actors are introduced via their own title cards. There is no "Carlotta's mother" character. Carlotta is played by Virginia Pearson in both the opera and the dramatic scenes. The chandelier sequence is edited more competently and thus played out a little more effectively. There are more scenes in Christine's dressing room, so adequate suspense is built up before she meets the phantom. There is also one crucial scene in a garden that explains why Christine is so enamored to the mysterious voice she hears. In my opinion, the 1925 version is the superior version; it seems more complete and satisfying narratively than the edited 1929 version.
The 1929 edited silent version included on this DVD was transferred from a restored, re-tinted print made by the renowned film restoration company Photoplay Productions. This is the best-looking version of PHANTOM to date. It also looks much sharper and cleaner than the 1997 Image DVD. Both DVDs offer the speed-corrected 1929 version, but the '97 Image DVD opens with a shot of a man holding a lantern walking past the camera, while the Milestone DVD, curiously, omits this so-called "lantern man" shot and opens at the opera house. On both DVDs, the "Bal Masque" scene is shown in two-strip Technicolor, with the color on the Milestone disc looking a little more realistic. Also, in order to duplicate the original film as much as possible, some of the color scenes on the Milestone disc were actually digitally colored (such as the phantom's red cape at the roof of the opera house), because there is no existing color footage for them. On the '97 Image DVD, no digital coloring was used.
There was a "talkie" version of PHANTOM made in 1929, but unfortunately the print of that version was lost. The dialogs and sound effects recorded for that version, however, survived. To give the viewer a taste of the sound version, the Milestone DVD offers something interesting to accompany the 1929 silent version: a soundtrack composed of fragments of existing recordings of the sound version pieced together to fit the silent version as much as possible. The result is still far from being a "talkie" track. It has plenty of sound effects and spoken dialogs, but it has almost no synchronized talking. Inter-titles are still present (because this is still the silent version). There is, however, one opera sequence where the singing of actress Mary Fabian (who did her own singing) is perfectly synchronized with the picture, which is a wonder to watch. The DVD also includes audio-only supplements of recorded dialogs, which give us further glimpses of the talkie version -- and of its rather incompetent voice acting.
Also accompanying the 1929 version is a superb audio commentary by PHANTOM expert Scott MacQueen. He provides a wealth of information about the production history, the backgrounds of the cast and crew, the various versions of the film, the use of color, and the use of sound. He deplores the incompetence of director Rupert Julian, and emphasizes that the true auteurs of the film were Chaney and set designer Ben Carré. He points out that contemporary reviews indicate that the 1925 version contains Technicolor sequences in not only the Bal Masque scene, but also the opera sequences and the auditorium scenes (the extensive use of color must have been quite a spectacle for a silent film back then). He recounts in great details (while speaking at a pretty fast pace) how the various versions of PHANTOM survived over the years -- the existing 1925 version originated from the so-called "Show-at-home" 16mm versions which Universal made for private collectors in the 1930s, while the surviving 1929 version was obtained by a Jim Card at Universal in the 1950s, and the Technicolor sequences was obtained from a 1930 dye transfer copy by restorationist David Shepherd.
To add even more value to an already superb package, the Milestone DVD also includes still-frame reconstructions of the Los Angeles and San Francisco premiere versions of PHANTOM. These were the very first public showings of the film. The Los Angeles version ended not with a chase scene as in later versions, but with the phantom dying alone at his piano.
on September 26, 2003
The IMAGE entertainment restoration of the 1929 "Phantom of the Opera" starring Lon Chaney is a bit hit. The two-disk set is definately the definitive choice to own by all serious collectors. The clarity is better than any version I've seen to date, and for the first time, the correct running speed has been instituted here. The tradeoff however, is that the motion is somewhat choppy from too few frames. The characters move in proper real-time, and for the first time, you can see naturalistic movement in such scenes as the opening ballet sequence.
True fans need look no further than this two-disk Masterpiece Collection set from IMAGE. This is definately the one to own! The film is tinted and comes in a selection of three seperate sound tracks to choose from: a terrific new orchestrated score, the original sound score from the 30s, and a voice-over commentary track, which is insightful.
The second disk contains the original 1925 film, which few people have ever seen today. The quality is poor, but there are many scenes that are different from the version that we're all familiar with. It's worth watching.
But you cannot beat the restoration of the 1929 version on disk one of this set. It isn't quite the job that KINO put into Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" last year, but is terrific nonetheless. Thank you IMAGE. Great DVD!
on September 22, 2003
... THE ULTIMATE EDITION 2 DISC SET (Image/Milestone): WOW! I remember watching the restored Metropolis and wondered when someone would ever restore Phantom and Nosferatu as beautifully. Well, they're coming close. This isn't quite the restoration job of Metropolis, but damn, it's gotta be the absolute best that's available. As far as the three DVD's reviewed here, this by far is the best in clarity and dare I say, it's a gorgeous restoration worthy of the most jaded film buff's archive (all that's missing is MAGICIMAGE's Filmbook on the film as a companion piece). The film is tinted throughout, with the addition of the Handschiegl color process during the Apollo scene which I'd never seen before being a nice touch. Steve MacQueen's commentary provided some great insight into the movie's background. The optional score from the 1930 sound release was a welcome bonus track, being reedited to fit this "remix" of a film. Thusly, was the best viewing of this movie that I've ever had. The original 1925 version of the film is on disc two and is a bit murky, along the lines of the usual worn out print, but hell, you take what you can get and in this case I'll take it, having never seen THIS version of Phantom before. On my copy, despite the overall clarity of the restored movie ('29), I still noticed those trailing/blurred action lines thingies when a character was moving quickly. It may be a defect in my disc it may not, but everything else in the scenes (and this occured throught), stayed pretty clear, save for the fast movement. Someone told me that was part of the restoration, which I thought odd, but who knows,I don't see it occuring in the other copies. Hmmm. Outside of that, this is quite the package. If you are serious about having this classic in your film library, this is the best bet. Until someone manages to come up with ALL of the versions, New York, LA, SF Reissue etc all together, then this truly has got to be the ULTIMATE EDITION!
on September 21, 2003
I have loved this movie for 20 years or more. It is my second favorite silent film. I cannot explain my astonishment of seeing this beautiful version on DVD. I have at least 2 other versions of this film on DVD and this is hands down the winner. First off, both the original 1925 version is here, plus the 1929 reissue is here as well. The reissue is far superior than all other versions. Almost pristine except for a couple of minor scratches. Even the scene with Mary Philbin in the custom made bedroom in the phantoms lair, which in all other versions looked like it was on the verge of deterioration is fixed up the best it could be here. Now for the audio. The good news is there are some of the original dialogue segments here on the original 1929 sountrack (though none with Lon Chaney) but they sound a little distorted so you have to listen carefully. They are essential however. Also The Bal Masque scene is the best resoration I have ever seen. Chaneys red cape looks fantastic. Too bad they couldn't locate any additional technicolor scenes (there were other scenes filmed that way, but they seem to be lost). The original 1925 version is here and it is complete but it does however not appear in the best of conditions. But better than nothing. Other than just a couple of seconds, there is no additional Chaney scenes. All in all a must have for your DVD collection.
on September 13, 2003
I recently became obsessed with "The Phantom of the Opera." I don't know why. I read the libretto and listened to the soundtrack for the Andrew Lloyd Webber version. Then, I read the Gaston Leroux novel and loved it. One day, while in the library, I picked out a copy of the original silent film. I watched it as soon as I got home.
The film sticks very close to the original novel, which I thought was good. Lon Chaney's performance as the Phantom is remarkable. When Christine Daae yanks the mask off of his face in that famous scene, it is so frightening! It is perhaps the most frightening moment ever shown on screen.
There is a technicolor scene, which was restored in the 1929 version. The color change happens during the Masquerade scene, which I thought was a very neat scene. Lon Chaney's costume in that scene as Red Death is wonderful.
The end of the film is probably the best part. It is very fast. One moment, The Phantom is riding in a carriage with Christine, being chased by a mob, the next, he is being thrown into a lake. The film ends.
You are sure to love this film, no matter what. It's a classic, just as much as Boris Karloff's "Frankenstein" or Bela Lugoisa's "Dracula." It is probably mush better than some movies that have recently comne out. All in all, Lon Chaney in "The Phantom of the Opera" is a remarkable film, silent: but deadly.
on December 20, 2002
There's a couple reviews on here that slam Image Entertainment for its DVD presentation of this Lon Chaney classic, particularly a harsh review entitled "I hate this Image DVD." I believe the reviewers who gave it a thumbs down must actually be the producers of inferior DVD/VHSeditions because the special collector's version I now own is spectacuar. Allow me to rebut the negative criticisms.1. I like the tints. Ths IS the way the movie was originally exhibited and it certainly enhances the film.2. The Thibaudoux score doesn't stop at all like some reviewers would make you believe. It is continuous throughtout the film and most deinitely increases the suspense. It's a wonderful composition and works great with the movie.3. One reviewer complained that the black bars on each side of the screen makes him feel like he's watching the movie through a saloon door. Not the case for me. After the first minute, I didn't even realize the bars were there. Just like when I watch a widescreen movie, the black bars in this case don't bother me at all. At least I know I'm seeing the complete image.4. The action flows smoothly and DOES NOT "ooze" aross the screen like molasses in January. I think they person who said that ought to stick with Keystone Kops flicks if that's what he or she is looking for.Overall, I enjoyed this DVD presentation of Phantom tremendously and highly recommend it. The Image version is, by far, the best on the market.
on November 13, 2002
This is the best version of "The phantom of the opera" period. First this is the complete version of the 1929 reissue version. It runs 94 minutes and is played at the correct running speed. The version on IMAGE runs 79 minutes, and also has little tidbits cut out. When I want to see a film, muchless a "Classic" film I want it complete! Second this film is shown in B+W. NO TINTS! This movie was filmed in Black and White and that is the way that it should be shown. NO greens,reds, blues, or purples. This DVD also includes the "ORIGINAL" technicolor Bal Masque sequence. Third off,no box presentation. Unlike the IMAGE DVD where the film is shown in a boxlike fasion (little bars on all 4 sides of the screen). This version covers the complete screen. There are (unfortunately) no bonus materials included and itwould have been nice to include the original 1925 version which has different footage than the 1929 reissue version which is included here. The price (...) however overcompensates for these little drawbacks. I am so happy to finally get one of my favorite films is this correct and respectful version. Bravo to Alpha Video for getting it right.
on October 24, 2002
(Five stars for the film itself, though.)
When I was a kid I had a VHS copy of this film put out by "Goodtimes Video", one of those cheapjack public domain knock-off operations. There was no tinting, no technicolor, no score... but I loved it. Every Halloween I'd watch Dracula, Frankenstein, and Phantom before I went trick-or-treating. So I was eager to see what Image had done in this restored version.
In the opinion of this reviewer, it's bad news all around.
First of all, the Thibaudoux score is far from inspired. It's generically spooky and has little to do dramatically with what's happening on screen. There are a few gimmicky exceptions, which can cause much head scratching if you let them. We can hear the soprano singing, but why not the audience screaming? We can hear the Phantom playing his organ, but why not characters talking? Do you see what an aesthetic can of worms this opens up? And where's Carl Davis when you need him?
The score isn't continuous either. It seems to have been recorded in hunks and pieces, so every now and then the music just stops - I guess for the orchestra members to toss back a shot of something to help get them through the recording session - and we're left with twenty or thirty seconds of complete silence, oftentimes in the middle of a tense sequence.
Compare this to the score for The Unknown that TCM uses and realize what might have been.
The film is also projected too slow. Now, I realize that projection speed is a matter of fiery controversy. If you want to see a real bench-clearing brawl, just walk into a room full of silent film fans and shout "Metropolis should be played at 18!", then sit back and watch the carnage as they tear each other to pieces. But the much vaunted 20 frames a second on this DVD is way too slow for Phantom. People don't move, they just sort of ooze across the screen like chilled molasses. Frightened women don't peer around corners, they peeeeeeeerrrr arooouuuund coorrrrneeerrrs. The unmasking scene has you looking at your watch, when it should be violent. The ballet is slow, the chandelier takes forever to fall; it's just all wrong. (The final chase seems faster than the rest of the film, thank heaven.)
Silent films were usually projected faster than they were filmed. Look at the stuff with Snitz Edwards and the ballerinas. This is silent slapstick, and as Walter Kerr points out in his book The Silent Clowns, silent slapstick absolutely demands the abstractness that sped-up projection imparts. It requires that the performers be ultra-quick, ultra-light on their feet, and more real than reality. Sort of comic supermen. Otherwise their actions don't seem funny, they just seem odd. And that's just the way it is in this version of Phantom: a bunch of completely ordinary people behaving very strangely. Imagine Chaplin moving like a normal person and you begin to get the idea of what we've lost here.
And I don't think this is merely a matter of my personal taste. Back in my editing days I was told that the rule for showing text on the screen was to hold it there long enough that a normal reader can get through it twice. In Phantom a number of letters from the Phantom to Christine are held up for the viewer to read. On my old 24 fps tape I could read through the text twice, then just start on a third; on the image version I could read them FOUR TIMES. This is just too darn long and too darn slow.
Now here's the real kicker. Image decided in its wisdom to put black bands on all four sides of the screen.
So we get a little postage-stamp-sized picture in the middle of a field of black. It's like watching the action through the door of a speakeasy.
Again, I realize the frames of silents were a bit more square than a TV, but really, how much picture would we lose if it were full-screen? A hair-thin strip along the top and bottom? I wouldn't complain, believe me. If Image gave you an option to view it full-screen, it would be alright, but I can't find this option anywhere in their bare-bones menu.
If the chug along score and tar-like pacing isn't enough to distance you from the action and keep you from getting emotionally involved, this masking should finish the job.
So what I'm saying is I'm disappointed. Once again purism has diminished a great movie in order to "save" it. If the cheap eighties knock-off is more entertaining than the twenty dollar high-brow edition, there's a problem.
NOTE: Some have said the transfer is out of focus...not so. There are few times when it is SUPPOSED to be out of focus - the point of view shots of the terrified Christine during the unmasking scene, for instance - but the image is sharp elsewhere. Occasionally there are hairs and junk at the edge of the frame. The technicolor is kind of faded compared to the pristine Ben Hur, but it's better than nothing.
on June 5, 2002
Lon Chaney's 1925 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has always been more of a popular than a critical favorite, and this may account for the fact that it has never really been restored and preserved as well as one might hope. Over the years dozens of companies have released versions of the film on VHS and DVD to the home market, and some have been quite bizarre. I have encountered more than one video tape release without any score at all; a visually impressive 1993 video release by Video Treasures had an incredibly unsuitable pseudo-rock score by Rick Wakeman of the band Yes; the usually expert Kino actually includes a number of superfluious scenes added in 1929 for a semi-sound re-release. So any purchase of this film is a very hit or miss affair, and I recommend that you borrow, rent, and seek the advice of friends before you actually purchase any particular copy.
That said, the silent version of THE PHANTOM is very much in the "grand manner"--which is precisely why audiences love it and critics tend to dismiss it. Everything about the film is larger than life just a bit campy. The sets are enormous and frequently bizarre, the costumes are outrageous, and the entire cast plays in a very grand manner: Chaney is very, very broad here, and his make-up is justly famous; Mary Philbin totters improbably with horror in virtually every scene; Arthur Edmund Carewe has some of the weirdest eye make-up you'll ever see on screen. Chandeliers crash, ballerinas twirl in terror, mirrors open, lakes drain, audiences panic, horses run away with carriages, peasants riot in the street, and there's even (in a good print) a very early color photography sequence.
It is all a TREMENDOUS amount of fun, and while I wouldn't class it with the truly great Chaney films (such as X--THE UNKNOWN, to name but one) it is still the best film version of the famous story to date. Of all the films made of the Leroux novel, this one is easily the best--and, interestingly, is really closer to the novel's spirit than later adaptations, which tend to romanticize the Phantom. A must have for any fan of silent film, and well worth the hunt for a really good print.