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Phantom coming to Westside Pavillion

Event Date & Time: Westside Pavillion Cinemas, 10800 Pico Blvd #310, West Los Angeles
In Person: Stephen Farber and guests (TBA)

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on Sunday about the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Unfortunately, the article was in some ways at least as interesting for what it did not say as for what it did say.

Basically, it’s not hard to read the article and get the first glimmering, unpleasant suspicion that the film might not be very good, yet reporter David Gritten at no point calls the filmmakers to task for some of their dubious decisions. Sadly, this is all too typical of “film journalism,” because reports need access to Hollywood insiders in order to ply their trade, and the fastest way to lose access is to speak an unpleasant truth.

In the case of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the biggest debacle (at least from the point of view of fans of the stage musical) is the casting. Neither Michael Crawford nor Sarah Brightman will be reprising the roles they played on the stage. The official reason for this hardly smacks of artistic integrity: Crawford (in his 60s) and Brightman (in her 40s) were deemed told to play the Phantom and Christine on the big screen.

Hollywood likes to put youthful actors on screen because they think it will sell tickets t the cherished youth demographic. In this regard, studio execs aided and abetted by PHANTOM director like Joel Schumacher, who is more than happy to churn out a company product geared to studio specifications. (On the set of BATMAN FOREVER I remember hearing Schumacher gush about how all his films feature “young, beautiful people” — as if that were some kind of great accomplishment, regardless of talent.)

In the case of PHANTOM, Schumacher tries to rationalize this casting of young unknowns by saying, “…it’s a very young love story, so the younger the characters, the more poignant and innocent the story would be.”

Maybe in the case of Christine and her lover Raoul, one could accept this argument. But the Phantom? He’s supposed to be a tormented character who has been hiding his disfigured features in the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera House for decades — not a handsome young hunk with an unfortunate skin blemish on half his face.

As if to balance out the uncritical coverage in Gritten’s piece, a Dana Parsons’ column (click here) on the LA Times website offers an interview with disappointed fan Diane Flogerzi, who lobbied long and hard (even taking out ads in Hollywood trade papes) to get Michael Crawford cast in the PHANTOM film. The adjective “long” is no exaggeration: adapting the musical to the screen has been in the works, off and on, for fifteen years, during which time names as divese as John Travolta and Antonio Banderas have been suggested for the title role.

Besides Flogerzi’s disappointment with the non-casting of Crawford, Parsons also mentions that initial reaction to the voices on the soundtrack has not been overwhelming. Time magazine called Emmy Rossum (Christine) “thin-voiced” and said that Gerard Butler didn’t have the “range or kick” necessary for the Phantom.

Back to Gritten’s piece on the PHANTOM: One of the unexplained mysteries of the movie is how Joel Schumacher landed the job as director. (Rather famously, the late Julia Phillips, in her book YOU’LL NEVER EAT LUNCH IN THIS TOWN AGAIN, opined that Schumacher was a “better dress designer than a director.”)

Gritten’s article about filming THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA simply says that composer Andrew Lloyd Webber decided Schumacher was the right man for the project after seeing Schumacher’s 1987 fright flick THE LOST BOYS. Exactly what about that combination of cheap jokes and cheap shocks appealed to the composer is never explained.

As if this were not perplexing enough, the article ends with Schumacher expressing gratitude that the film was not made when originally planned back in the late 1980s. “Thank god we didn’t make it back then,” Schumacher says. “I’ve made 14 films since THE LOST BOYS, so hopefully I’ve picked up some skills along the way.”

It’s hard to imagine how films like FLATLINERS, DYING YOUNG, BATMAN FOREVER, BATMAN AND ROBIN, 8MM, and PHONE BOOTH provided much training for directing a lavish combination of costume drama, musical, and horror film.

We can all see the results for ourselves when the film opens on Wednesday, December 22. For those who can’t wait, there will be a preview two days earlier at Westside Pavillion Cinemas in West Los Angeles.

This is part of the Reel Talk series hosted by critic Stephen Farber; special guests are supposed to discuss the film, although none have been announced yet.

You can purchase tickets for the event through Moviefone. For more information, call (310) 281-8223, or check out the Landmark Theatres website.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.