The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most beloved and iconic silent films but, let’s face it, the home media releases have been a mixed bag. For every quality release, there have been several duds with faded, scratchy prints and unsuitable music.
The new edition on DVD and Blu-ray from Kino Lorber bills itself as definitive. Does it live up to that boast? We are about to find out!
(Thanks to Kino Lorber for the review copy.)
The Phantom of the Opera as it was released in 1925 no longer exists as a 35mm film. What you are seeing is the 1929 re-release, which was altered considerably but is in measurably better shape than the battered reduction print of the 1925 release. We’re going to be getting a bit geeky about this so just remember that there are two distinct cuts of this movie.
(This review is only going to cover the Kino Lorber release. If you want a review of the film itself, check out the one I wrote, she self-plugged shamelessly.)
The Film: The new transfer looks good, though there is still visible nitrate decay in some brief passages, particularly noticeable in the scene where Christine investigates the bedroom Erik prepared for her. In general, though, viewers should be pleased with what appears on the screen.
What is really interesting is that this release offers two different projection speeds. We have the option of seeing the picture at 24fps or 20fps. Speed is a very hotly debated topic but this disc should please most everyone.
The really fab extra is all the music! I am a huge fan of alternate scores, though I know the cost is prohibitive for more obscure titles. The Phantom of the Opera has one of the most generous collections I have ever seen in a silent film release.
For a more modern sound, the Alloy Orchestra offers an eerie soundscape of organ, synth, some harp and assorted creaks and groans.
Gaylord Carter’s classic organ score is the second option for this projection speed. If you’re looking for that silent movie sound, then Carter’s music is exactly what you want. He knew his onions.
This version features the popular orchestral score by Gabriel Thibaudeau. This is by far my favorite score for this film and I am delighted that it was included. It’s just so perfect! Operatic, dramatic, it hits the spot exactly.
The 20fps version also includes a commentary by silent film accompanist Jon Mirsalis. (His piano score for Waxworks is divine, by the way.)
So, as you can see we have classic, eerie and operatic. Something for everyone!
In addition, the disc includes the original 1925 cut. (Well, the one that was retinkered by Universal, anyway. Long story.) The print is in poor shape (no better one exists) and so it is not presented as the main event but it is fascinating for historical purposes as it includes many scenes cut from the re-release. It is accompanied by an energetic piano score from Frederick Hodges.
So, by the numbers, we have two cuts, three ways to watch, four scores representing the most popular silent film music options (orchestra, piano, organ, modern) and one commentary. Nice!
Extras: Once again, this release is extremely generous. It includes the original screenplay, vintage travel films of Paris, the original trailer and a 2004 interview with composer Gabriel Thibaudeau. (By the way, Thibaudeau comes across as a delightful person with much humor and a touch of mischief.)
The most exciting extra is probably the lengthy excerpt (54 minutes!) of the “talkie” re-release of the film. Basically, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry (Lon Chaney was both ill and at odds with Universal and did not return) and a supporting cast were called back to record talking sequences and the whole film was recut and scored. The actual footage of these talking sequences is lost except for one reel (which is included) but the soundtrack survives.
So, how do Kerry and Philbin do? Let’s just say that it’s no shock that they didn’t exactly set the talkie world on fire. Neither of them were particularly good in silents but with the new stage-trained talent flooding the movie industry, it’s no shock that they were swept aside.
The period music, as was typical during the talkie transition, is a little on the jaunty side and I didn’t care for it but it is very valuable to know what audiences of 1929/1930 enjoyed.
Buy? Oh yeah! This disc does indeed live up to its boast as the definitive version. It looks great, sounds great and is jammed with extras. After ages of uncertainty as to which home media release to recommend, I can say without hesitation that this is the one you have been waiting for.