Thursday, 5 April 2012

A-Z Challenge: E is for...Erik, The Phantom

E is for...Erik, The Phantom!
A figure of Lon Chaney Sr. as Erik, in the 1925 silent film
'The Phantom of the Opera'
E is for Erik, the disfigured antagonist of the 1910 Gaston Leroux novel, 'Le Fantôme de l'Opéra' ('The Phantom of the Opera'). I've chosen to concentrate this entry on the first portrayal of Erik on film, Lon Chaney in the 1925 silent movie version. For those of you wondering why the above photo shows Erik sitting at a modern keyboard instead of an organ, I should explain that it's a photo of a figure of Lon Chaney as Erik, sitting at my keyboard. That taken care of, on with the post...

Erik (Lon Chaney) and Christine (Mary Philbin)
Image Source: A Muchness of Me
In the novel, Leroux often describes Erik / The Phantom as an ominous and frightening character who sleeps in a coffin and has an unmasked visage resembling a rotting corpse or a skull. Chaney's portrayal of Erik is more faithful to this than many later versions, but this is largely due to the 1925 film's focus on horror rather than the more romantic elements, as is the case in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation.  Obviously, Erik is still in love with Christine, but he's never viewed in a romantic light. Indeed, when the 1925 version was originally released, some cinemas were told to keep smelling salts nearby to wake terrified women that had fainted in shock during the unmasking scene!

Erik and Christine
Image Source: Classic Movie Monsters
However, many of the details about Erik's life before he lived under the opera house in Paris are glossed over or simply omitted completely. Unfortunately, it's those details, together with the complexity of his personality, that make Erik a much more sympathetic and mysterious man than the film allows for. Still, given that Erik is positioned as a figure of fright through much of the film, Chaney's method acting and special effects make-up expertise help him to portray the The Phantom excellently, without even speaking a word.

This post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.


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