DVD: Phantom of the Opera (1925) – Roy Budd score

September 30, 2014 | By


POTO1925_MishkaDVD_sFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Good

Label: Mishka Productions

Region: 0 (PAL)

Released:  2014

Genre:  Silent / Horror

Synopsis: A mad composer makes it possible for a rising opera singer to headline her first big opera, and expects some emotional remuneration and fidelity for his efforts.

Special Features:  2013 Interview with “Get Carter” writer-director Mike Hodges (27:27) / Excerpt of Roy Budd performing “The Girl from Ipanema” at The 1983 Royal Gala Evening (5:25).




Gaston Leroux’s oft-filmed novel about a brilliant yet demented composer living in the sewers of Paris below the city’s famous opera house has never lost its attraction as the ultimate tale of mad love, mostly because the Phantom remains so sympathetic; he’s the oddball, the unhandsome one who just wants a little devotion but has no idea how to handle it when it finally emerges in the form of singer Christine Dae.

The scale of the setting – the grand Paris Opera House – coupled with forbidden love, dance, music, a grand ball, and a mob rule chase at the end ensure POTO had the right elements for Universal to produce a super jewel production, spending a fortune building elaborate sets, costumes, and offering the directorial chores to the right director.

Strangely, the decision to hire Rupert Julian – a hack – still befuddles film fans, and the consensus from the assorted writings and commentary tracks that have accompanied various home video editions seems to be one of associations: Julian may have gotten the job through contacts, chutzpah, and having a few prominent successes under his belt, but his grasp of visual scope, montage, and pacing may not have been as proficient as hoped by Universal.

POTO’s production history may also rank as one of the most troubled, if not the most stubborn example of a studio determined to spend more to fix problems and update their investment to maximize their chances at recouping costs and saving face.

The film began as a silent, was extensively reshot with new actors after disastrous sneaks and aborted premieres, then released in 1925, and later re-edited with newly shot 2-strip Technicolor footage and sync sound bits in 1929. What remains and what POTO’s restorationists have managed to assemble on home video are a B&W silent version, and the silent version of the sync sound edit with colour sequences and / or tinted scenes.

Several scores were written over the years, using the film’s silence as a canvas to inspire various idiomatic approaches, and the results are often quite fascinating, if not subjectively successful. From classical to stock music, original cues to full original orchestral, organ, and rock scores, POTO’s sound changed significantly in the 1990s, as though some voguish trend mandated a need to revisit the film with a fresh approach, not unlike the assorted scores assembled or composed for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1922). [A detailed tally of scores is available in my 2011 Rue Morgue blog.]

Even with these changes, POTO manages to retain its hold on audiences, which is remarkable in light of the glossy film and TV versions that appeared in 1943, 1960, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, two in 1991, 1998, the 2004 film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, and so on

Lon Chaney also set such a high standard as the Phantom – his ability to extract pathos from behind a veil is especially touching – and his makeup for the ultimate in ugliness impressed many makeup artists who sought to capture that same balance of horror and sympathy for a tormented soul. Madman that he was, the Phantom remained a sad figure right to the very end, pulling off one more illusion of power before the mob finished him off in one bloody mass killing.

It’s an incredibly dark tale where beauty and horror co-exists within characters, the settings of the opera house and the Phantom’s civilized lair, and the torture rooms in which beauty Christine must watch her love Raoul be ravaged by extreme heat, and later water.

That combination of madness and beauty may have been the seed which inspired many composers, and the release of Roy Budd’s long unheard score adds another majestic interpretation of this warped emotional union.

Emphasizing romance with a gorgeous main theme, Budd’s music benefits from a huge orchestra and superb engineering which showcase his gift for melody, but it’s arguably Budd’s knack for keeping an eye on pacing which makes his POTO score such a rewarding experience. On edited CD, the music flows naturally, twisting through the oft-repeated love theme and shades of the Phantom theme using organ or select applications of Craig Huxley’s blaster beam which was used proficiently in Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1978).

Budd’s writing, both in the lyricism of the strings and aspects of the brass, are reminiscent of Goldsmith, but there are a few slight homages to Bernard Herrmann which seems appropriate given Budd, a gifted jazz pianist, eased into film scoring by tackling the kind of kinetic action and dark emotional terrain scored by these iconic composers.

In terms of action music, the score’s centerpiece is the tumbling chandelier which Budd colours with a great mix of brass and percussion, saving his twisting sonics for the carnage as hundreds of opera fans stream out of the building as patrons lie wounded and dying under the ruined chandelier. There’s extra momentum in the mob chase at the end, but Budd repeatedly works in his thematic material to ensure the Phantom is consistently perceived as a tormented soul. (In fact we know there are tiny bits of goodness within, because he saves Christine’s lover and the interloping detective from a flooding sub-chamber, and feel sympathy for the wretch when her agreement to remain with the Phantom is instantly tossed into the dumpster when she’s reunited with Raoul.)

Budd’s score evolves into an increasingly perfect marriage of classical film scoring with modern touches with each viewing, and while it may be a rare occurrence to experience the score + film in a live setting, the DVD (released as a single layer Region 0 PAL disc in Britain) is the next best thing, offering a clean presentation of the score with a transfer of a film print originally purchased by Budd.

While there’s no perfect source of the film, it’s a good print with stable Technicolor colours in the grand ball sequence, and the expected scratches and mis-frames are less severe, thanks to some cleaning up. (A Blu-ray edition would’ve been the ideal, if only to ensure no signs of MPEG compression, and offering a fully uncompressed music track.)

Mishka Productions have also included a short extract of Budd performing “The Girl from Ipanema” at a live Royal Gala with an intro from Bob Hope. Although his jazz work exists on LP and CD, it’s rare to see any footage of Budd performing at the piano, and it’s a clever performance where Budd starts off in a straight lounge jazz style and gradually moves to some great counterpoint, with fast hand motions on the keys.

Also on the DVD is an interview with writer / director Mike Hodges who discusses his own entry into film with Get Carter (1971) and hiring Budd to score the film. As Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme and Herrmann’s Psycho theme remain their signature tunes, respectively, Budd’s Get Carter is also one of the greatest crime themes ever written. It’s simple, melancholy, groovy, and within the film appears in some lovely guises, as well as short eerie riffs.

Hodges does meander a bit – the first 2/3’s of the talking head interview has the director starting & stopping a bit, focusing exclusively on the film’s production, but later on there are some affectionate thoughts on Budd, whose career was established with Get Carter, and enabled the composer to move onto dramas and action films sporting a variety of jazz, orchestral, and fusion styles.

Had Budd lived into genuine old age – he died in 1993 at the age of 46 from a brain hemorrhage – he undoubtedly would’ve enjoyed tackling further large canvas projects in other silent films; although he managed to create just one masterwork before his death, it’s fitting that close to POTO’s 90th’s anniversary, his score is finally rescued from oblivion, thanks to his widow, Sylvia Budd.

The ideal tribute to the film would be live performances of the film + Budd’s score in 2015 in major international cities (like Toronto!), allowing fans of the film to hear one of the best interpretations of this demented and eternal tale of mad love.

An interview with Sylvia Budd  is also available at my Rue Morgue blog.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album  — Composer Filmography
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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