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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

André Castaigne’s Phantom of the Opera

castaigne1.jpg

Frontispiece.

My recent film viewing has included two early adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera, the superb Lon Chaney version from 1925, directed by Rupert Julian, and the not-so-superb 1943 version with Claude Rains as the Phantom. I’d not seen the latter before but it was included in a blu-ray collection of Universal horror films; Rains is wasted in the title role but in its favour the film has Technicolor photography and huge sets, some of which were being reused from the 1925 film. The Chaney version is one of my favourite silent films so it was good to see again after a lengthy absence. It also sent me to Gaston Leroux’s novel at long last, and this in turn led me to the illustrations by André Castaigne for the first edition.

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“She staggered swooning.”

The Phantom of the Opera was published in 1911, and while it hasn’t been subjected to the overexposure sustained by Dracula and Frankenstein it’s still one of those stories where the adaptations now dominate the popular imagination. I’d not seen Castaigne’s illustrations before so I was surprised by how closely the 1925 film followed their details, especially the depiction of the Phantom’s appearance as the Red Death at the bal masque. The same goes for the ghostly head of fire which Raoul and the Persian encounter in the cellars beneath the opera. In the film this is an inexplicable moment but one which would no doubt have been familiar to the novel’s readers. Finally, there’s Lon Chaney’s incredible makeup which turns out to be very close to the glimpses of the Phantom’s skull-like face in these pictures. I often used to wonder about this, how much of Chaney’s appearance was merely an attempt to look as horrifying as possible. (In the 1943 film, and the 1962 Hammer adaptation with Herbert Lom, both Phantoms have been disfigured by acid scarring.)

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“They sat like that for a moment in silence.”

By coincidence, a new illustrated edition of The Phantom of the Opera was published this month by the Folio Society, with a splendid set of illustrations by Taylor Dolan. As for the Lon Chaney film, the restored blu-ray print is the one to look for, with tinted scenes, the bal masque in two-strip Technicolor, and an excellent orchestral score by Carl Davis.

(Note: With the exception of the frontispiece, all the illustrations here were printed over two pages, hence the fold across each picture.)

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“A head of fire came toward them.”

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“Talking of death, I must sing.”

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford

 


 

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