Phantom of the Opera (1925/29) Ultimate Edition (DVD-2003)
Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski
2-disc DVD set of the 1925 silent Phantom of the Opera has been released by Image
silent Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney is one of the most celebrated films
in all of cinema. It is to American films pretty much what the restored Metropolis is to German cinema. There are a number of other great
and arguably more important American silent films: D.W. Griffith’s monumental Intolerance
for example. Yet Phantom of the Opera has enjoyed unprecedented popularity for over three quarters of a century. More than ten different film versions have been made, and, when the Andrew Lloyd Webber Phantom musical is filmed, that will be yet another one.
the famous novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera is a grand tale (which
incorporates elements of Svengali and Beauty and the Beast) and which tells the story of the Erik, the so-called phantom or
opera-ghost--a disfigured, tortured soul who lurks in the dungeons beneath the Paris Opera; who terrorizes the opera-house
personnel in his search for love from Christine, the beautiful young diva..
portrayal of the opera-ghost marks the pinnacle of his career and it is one of the greatest performances in silent cinema.
Mr. Chaney himself designed the horrific Phantom makeup—achieving a ghastly look through a careful application of makeup,
appliances and lighting. The result of his labor, as seen in the unmasking scene,
is one of the classic images of world cinema, like Kong atop the Empire State Building, or the Odessa Steps in Potempkin, or
the giant Babylon set in Intolerance.
Studios executed a spectacular production for Phantom. The costly and elaborate sets even included a giant replica of the Paris Opera House. But the film has had an unusual history. When the film was
completed in January 1925, it was previewed to an advance audience. The audience
found the film to be especially intense. For some reason, this caused the studio
to panic. Instead of releasing the film, they largely rewrote it and reshot it. This revised edition, completed a few months later, contained extensive, unrelated
subplots and lengthy comic relief, and was an absolute disaster when it opened. The
studio withdrew the film and re-cut it yet again. This time, they went mainly
back to the original version that they had rejected the first time and kept only the new ending from the second version. When this final version opened in New York in September of 1925, it became the instant sensation and blockbuster hit that it has remained ever
is not the end of the story. With the advent of sound film in the late 1920’s
, Universal tinkered with Phantom, reshooting and re-editing parts of the existing
film yet again and even adding several bits of sound dialogue. This is the so-called sound version of 1929.
there were two versions of the same film: the 1925 silent version, and the 1929 semi-sound version. Unfortunately, during the 1940’s, before the era of film-preservation consciousness, the negative
for the 1925 silent version was destroyed when the studio decided to burn all of it’s old nitrate silent films. The 1929 reworked version survived only because it was mistaken for a sound film. This 1929 version, an altered version of the original film is the one with which most
viewers are familiar today even though it is no longer shown with its sound sequences.
The reason for its being so well known is simple: it is the only version which survived in decent print source material.
in the plot of The Phantom are thus more due to the fact that it is an altered
version of the original film than to a fault in the film itself. And even the
1929 version does not exist in a complete form.
miraculously, a single surviving nitrate print, damaged and already decomposing, of the original 1925 version, was hastily preserved some time ago before it was lost altogether.
Unfortunately, the print quality was not optimal. And that version too
was not fully complete.
why it has not been possible to restore The Phantom with the same degree of quality
that Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has recently enjoyed. A good deal of the Metropolis negative had survived and even that exhaustive worldwide restoration is still 25% incomplete. The film business may necessarily be in part about making money.
Yet the tragedy about lost film is that it is the loss of a visual record of a people--an artistic heritage of a culture.
most welcome, Image Entertainment has released on DVD what it calls the Ultimate Edition
of Phantom of the Opera. The first disc contains the most recently restored 1929 version coupled with a magnificent symphonic score
by Carl Davis which you have been hearing in the background. The film also includes
the stunningly complete restoration of the Two Strip Technicolor Masked Ball sequence.
And it includes frame by frame hand coloring of the Phantom’s cape atop the Apollo Statue on the roof of the
opera house—coloring not seen since the film’s premiere!
is more—you can also choose to see the film with another soundtrack—for the original 1929 music and sound tracks
which have been preserved. You can also hear as isolated supplementals, sound
from missing portions of the film.
second disc, for the first time ever on DVD, you can view the single surviving print of the original 1925 film, looking sharper
than it ever has. It is absolutely fascinating and rewarding to compare
the two versions, both of them classics. Numerous other extras include behind-the-scenes
shots, reconstructions of the various versions, a rare sound-interview with the film’s cinematographer as well as artwork,
designs and posters, and the theatrical trailers. And there is an excellent and
informative audio film commentary by historian Scott MacQueen
lost from Phantom of the Opera may possibly be lost forever. But the film prints and the material in this set will not disappoint you. They reconfirm the film’s greatness—and the set lives up to its title of being the Ultimate Edition of the great screen classic The Phantom of the Opera.