Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Serious Sidebar:

Family Video has done me quite a favor this time around.

I rented The Phantom of the Opera. The one with Gerard Butler. I should have watched it years ago.

Why didn't I? Lots of reasons. Sometimes, musicals don't turn out well on film. Sometimes, modern musicals don't stand up to classic ones. Plus, the Phantom has never been on my list of favorites. I never watched any stage version or anything, though I've watched tons of other stuff.

I think I've always liked Les Miserables better, though I admit it's because I saw it performed live on stage and, yeah, it struck a chord down there somewhere that's never stopped thrumming.

But the Phantom? No. Christine pisses me off. The Phantom gets totally shafted. I never liked Raoul. The music's great -- we did a sort of pastiche of it one year for the ol' high school's Memories program (sort of a spring concert) -- but I just never got the feel for the show itself.

That grave oversight has been rectified.

I'm sure there are those who'll scoff and tell me the film craps all over the stage version. What could I be thinking? Those poser film actors could never bring it to life like Broadway can. They may be right.

All I can say in response is that Butler's Phantom brings me to my knees.

I can't explain it. He simply steals every scene he's in. I can't take my eyes off him, and I can't bear it when he stops singing. Who the hell knew he was that amazing a singer? I mean, obviously millions of people do now, but hey. I'm behind the curve. Still haven't read a Harry Potter novel. Sosumi.

He hits every note with his heart. I can't explain it better than that. Whether he's spitting curses or whispering lyrics of love or projecting pure seduction, his voice is pure power. The loud high notes are hard enough, but the light, searching ones? They require such incredible control, such careful pitch.

I'm just so impressed. He sounds like he's trained his whole life, but it turns out not so much. People can train since childhood and never sound as incredible as he does in this movie. Amazing.

Now, don't get me wrong. He's not the only draw. I absolutely adore Minnie Driver's La Carlotta. She's just AWFUL, and I love her. I also get a kick outta the managers and their helpless groveling to protect their investment. It's not just Butler who endears me, though he gets the lion's share of the credit.

The musical numbers are spectacular, however often they're remixed. That scene where the Phantom holds Raoul hostage for Christine's decision and they're all singing different melodies at each other? I could listen to that all day.

But... oh... the Music of the Night....

And the Point of No Return....

I have enjoyed Gerard Butler in every movie of his I've seen, but he's never made me want to cry until now. And the Ice Queen does not cry. But his Phantom's despair, his agonizing loneliness, his impossible longings for kindness in a world that so clearly values perfection of appearance instead of in person....

He hits every single level on which the Phantom should perform. He can be commanding. He can be terrifying. He can be tender. He can be loving. He can weep for what he doesn't understand and never will because he was never given simple compassion.

They might have found someone else to play the Phantom. This hypothetical other person might have sang well. Might have coaxed more than high notes and streaming tears from Emmy Rossum. Might have made it through both the songs and the fight scenes intact. Yadda yadda.

But I can honestly say that if it hadn't been Mr. Butler, I wouldn't have enjoyed it half as much. His Phantom will haunt me, and I truly don't mean that as a pun.

...Though it is a little punny. Heh.

Anyway, I couldn't not write a bit on this one. I can see why it's held my beloved sister willing hostage for so many years. Why my nieces will sit and watch it when they'd rather pull their own teeth than be quiet, otherwise. I've had it two days and have watched it five times.

No, I'm not kidding. I never expected it to grab me so hard.

I think it's at the end, where he's listening to his little music monkey's tinkling song and barely whisper-singing "Masquerade... paper faces on parade... masquerade... hide your face... so the world will never find you...."

The look on his face just cuts my heart out. And I don't even have a heart to cut. You can see how much he just wants to disappear, how he's worn a mask his whole life, even with Christine, how he has no idea what he is without that mask and doesn't dare try to find out. For him, in that moment, his life is over, and it's all over him.

And when he looks up and she's there, the naked, aching expression as he whisper-sings, "Christine, I lo...ove you...."

The catch in his voice... the way he seems to be clinging to one last, desperate hope that she might stay with him, love him, teach him to be a human being....

Oh, God, it almost makes me wish I had a heart, just so I can feel it break for him.

Thank you so much, Mr. Butler. I know you're not the only one who brought this beauty forth, but as I said before: from me, you get the lion's share of credit.

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