#26. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Props for having some of the most beautiful poster art of the era

I watched The Phantom of the Opera at Starbucks this morning in sort of a bad mood on account of I got into something like an argument with my dad last night about what I’m doing with my life (he doesn’t like that I’m gonna have two jobs) but also I was kinda sour because I’ve been coming to this Starbucks almost every day for three weeks now to drink my drink and watch movies, make notes, but there’s this one barista who doesn’t seem to like me. Mine is the only drink whose completion he doesn’t seem to announce. He brews my espresso and then lets it sit at the end of the bar so that it gets as cold and inedible as possible before I go up to fetch it. Meanwhile he’s shouting all varieties of names and concoctions out for everybody else. And this isn’t even my normal Starbucks. It’s way outta my way. I only come here because they have armchairs, proper ones, as opposed to the Starbucks near my house with their thinly-padded high-backed Victorian nonsense. Anyway. It’s apparently super important to me that baristas think I’m cool, so I guess I need to brainstorm a resolution for this.

The Phantom of the Opera, though, is a so-so movie that, like Nosferatu before it, seems to be lauded today mostly for its historical influence rather than for being a particularly good or interesting movie. I think it’s definitely more entertaining than Nosferatu, but so is a typical bowel movement, and I of course give props to Phantom’s innovation at being the first movie on the List to showcase some color.

Surprised that this color scene at the ball isn’t as iconic as the unmasking, or the scenes in the cellar.

Reds and greens for a single scene (and there’s a pretty stunning rooftop shot in that scene, the phantom’s cape billowing). Lon Chaney’s performance as the Phantom is skillfully odious and decidedly unlikable – which (and I know this is ridiculous) kinda bothered me. I realize at this point in life that there are legit human monsters who are one-dimensional and simply enjoy making other people suffer. I actually kinda resent the effort, in some stories, to pathologize or explain the villain. But I feel like there was a real opportunity here to give this “monster” some more dimension – as Chaney’s son, Lon Jr., would be given as the Wolf Man sixteen years later. Or Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. Chaney’s Phantom is clearly tormented by his ugliness, which makes some headway toward humanizing him, and his mangled face appears to be the result of some torture he endured down in the opera house’s various cellars. But he comes off as a flat character to me.

The unmasking scene has kinda lost its power at this point, ninety years on, but it’s kinda fun to notice how well-timed it is, how confrontational, and what a horrorshow it must’ve been to audiences of the time.

I think the directors (there were four! Chaney, Rupert Julian, Edward Sedgwick, and Ernst Laemmle) missed an opportunity to give the phantom a little more texture. Or maybe there’s already plenty of texture and I’m too dense to see it? Wouldn’t be the first time.

Whatever. I was bored.


  • I don’t know if Starbucks is the best venue to watch old movies. Kinda too busy a place for me. When I lived in Shanghai my wife and I would go to Starbucks every day in the winter because it was the only place that was heated. And for the comfy chairs.

    Lon Chaney was famous for his monstrous appearances and I figure this was a vehicle for his shtick.


    • The idea of hanging out in a Starbucks in Shanghai feels…like the exact thing I’d be doing if I visited Shanghai. Interesting to know that the temperature and comfy chairs serve as their allure all over the globe. Down here in Miami, at the moment, it “feels like” 100+ degrees, and it’s never much cooler than that, so I tend to go into Starbucks for the comfy chairs and cold air.

      And now that you mention it, I think you’re right about this just being a Chaney vehicle. By merit of the thing’s age, especially when I was starting the Project, I ennobled everything and figured all these movies were born of high lofty artful ideas and intentions. But no, there were definitely cash-grabs too. And I think this might definitely have been one of them.


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