On First Viewing The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Phantom

The Phantom of the Opera is one of those tales that perennially lends itself to new adaptations, new re-imaginings — and yet, in spite of having read Gaston Leroux’s novel a number of years ago and having spent several sessions studying Phantom in a middle school music class, I’ve never actually seen either the stage musical or any film version of the story in its entirety*. While I know that we watched clips from some production or another in that music class, I can’t pin them down at this point — except one. At some point, our teacher showed us the scene from the 1925 Rupert Julian-directed silent adaptation in which the Phantom’s face is revealed, a sight that we were told had shocked and terrified moviegoers at the time; we, sophisticated thirteen-year-olds that we were, found it hilarious, a view encouraged by the teacher. This was the same class in which we (or the vast majority of us, myself included) first encountered West Side Story, another classic that we regarded as a object of mockery (though it, at least, wasn’t presented to us as such). Having grown to love West Side Story in the intervening years, it only seemed fair that I should give the 1925 Phantom of the Opera another chance, to put that unmasking in its proper context and re-evaluate its impact, and The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon struck me as the perfect opportunity to do just that.

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Parts of a Machine for Destruction: The Spy in Black (1939)

Window

“What right have you to look down on me? I obey my orders as you obey yours. We don’t choose the jobs that are given us or the means of carrying them out. You and I are only parts of a machine for destruction, like it or not.”

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Bitter Spirits: Immortal Love (1961)

Sadako Heibei

Any viewer who goes into Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1961 film Immortal Love expecting the grand, sweeping romance suggested by the title is bound to be disappointed. The original Japanese title, Eien no hito (永遠の人), can be translated as “forever one,” which is a bit closer to the mark, as the focus is on a marriage — if something so ugly and venomous can truly be regarded as a marriage. Perhaps the other English name given to the film is the most appropriate of all: Bitter Spirit.

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Twenty Thousand Yen: An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

Money

A particular amount of money — twenty thousand yen, to be precise — shows up twice in Yasujirô Ozu’s 1962 film An Autumn Afternoon. In one instance, it’s a gift collected to help a struggling old man; in the other, it’s the price of a set of golf clubs coveted by a young man. Coincidence, or something more deliberate? The two episodes are connected only tenuously, through a third character — former student of the older man, father of the younger and benefactor to both. Taken together, however, these sums and the circumstances surrounding them encapsulate the issues, the uncertainties, the fears and the sorrows at the heart of Ozu’s swan song.

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Just a Game?: Lo Scopone Scientifico (1972)

Game

“We live in a squatter’s shack that’s overrun with rats. Every time it rains, the firemen must take us away by boat. Your dad was injured during the war. He can’t work any more than he does; otherwise, he’d be a hard worker … You must understand that our only hope is winning some money from that old lady.”

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A Foreign Country: The Go-Between (1971)

Marian Hammock

Upon arriving at Brandham Hall at the start of Joseph Losey’s 1971 film The Go-Between, Leo Colston (Dominic Guard as a child, Michael Redgrave as an adult) finds much to impress and even overwhelm him: the size and grandeur of the house itself, the paintings covering its walls, the shining silver arrayed in perfect neatness on its tables. He’s particularly struck, however, by two living things. The first is Marian Maudsley (Julie Christie), clad in white and half-hidden by a white parasol as she lounges in a hammock; the second is a deadly nightshade growing on the property. “Atropa belladonna,” Leo explains to his friend Marcus (Richard Gibson), Marian’s younger brother. “It’s poisonous. Every part of it is poisonous.” Beauty masking poison — a symbol, it will turn out, not simply of Marian herself, but of Brandham and upper-class English society as a whole.

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Family Portrait: Still Walking (2008)

Family Portrait

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2008 film Still Walking takes place in the space of about twenty-four hours, save for a brief epilogue set several years after the main action. Perhaps “action” isn’t quite the right word; after all, not much happens in the way of major events during that twenty-four-hour period. It’s a film of cooking and eating and bathing, of children at play, of conversations and reminiscences and disagreements — and yet, even in that brief window, through both the ordinary and the more extraordinary, it manages to paint a rich portrait of a family’s life in all its complexities.

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Ordinary People: This Happy Breed (1944)

Frank Ethel

Upon discovering that a David Lean movie spans twenty years, the word “epic” is apt to spring to mind. It’s only natural; after all, Lean was the director behind such grandiose films as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965). However, in actuality, 1944’s This Happy Breed is something entirely different from those later, better known works. There are no battle scenes with seas of extras, no larger than life figures. Instead, the film — based on Noël Coward’s play of the same name — not only focuses on an ordinary middle-class English family but emphasizes its very ordinariness.

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Christmas with Rohmer: My Night at Maud’s (1969)

Church

“That Monday, December 21st, I suddenly knew, without a doubt, that Françoise would be my wife,” protagonist Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) declares in voiceover near the beginning of Éric Rohmer’s 1969 film My Night at Maud’s. Unlike the preceding entries in the director’s Six Moral Tales series, My Night at Maud’s — officially the third tale, though it was shot and released fourth due to scheduling conflicts — eschews narration almost entirely, rendering this statement all the more noteworthy. It’s also quite surprising, in that he doesn’t actually know Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault).

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