André Castaigne’s Phantom of the Opera

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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

Weekend links 188

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The Baron in the Trees (2011), a book-cut sculpture by Su Blackwell.

Kurt Andersen at Vanity Fair examines the latest claims that Vermeer used a combination of lenses and mirrors to aid the creation of his remarkable paintings. David Hockney caused a considerable fuss in 2006 when he made similar assertions. Andersen recounts how Tim Jenison (who isn’t an artist) decided to test the hypothesis by building a replica of the room from Vermeer’s The Music Lesson (1662–65) which he then painted with the assistance of a lens-and-mirror apparatus. I’m agnostic on this issue, and don’t regard it as a devaluing of the work of Vermeer (or any other artist) if some special apparatus was used to help create the paintings; artists for centuries have been using whatever technology was available.

One point which isn’t mentioned in the article: lens optics were being developed to a high standard in the Netherlands during Vermeer’s time. One of the developers of the microscope, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, was a contemporary of Vermeer’s in Delft, and is even alleged to be portrayed in some of the artist’s paintings.

• Before Alfred Hitchcock’s film and Daphne Du Maurier’s short story, The Birds was an “eerie yet satirical and rather metaphysical novel” by Frank Baker, inspired in part by Arthur Machen. Michael Dirda reviews a new edition. Related: “The Day of the Claw: A Synoptic Account of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds“, an essay by Ken Mogg examining avian menace through the ages.

Kevin Brownlow and Carl Davis on how they brought Abel Gance’s 270-minute silent masterwork, Napoleon (1927), back to the screen.

Finally, he was asked about the growth of surveillance and the militarization of the police.

“The phenomenon itself shouldn’t be surprising—the scale was surprising—but the phenomenon itself is as American as apple pie,” Chomsky said. “You can be confident that any system of power is going to use technology against its enemy: the population. Power systems seek short-term domination and control, not security.”

Matthew Robare on “American Anarchist” Noam Chomsky in (of all places) The American Conservative.

• “Why the hell wouldn’t I?” Evan J. Peterson on reading/performing his poetry in public, and his new book, The Midnight Channel.

The adversaria of Google Books: captured mark of the hand and digitization as rephotography.

• No surprise that the rabies-haunted town of Scarfolk is soon to have its history fixed in print.

Mazzy Star made a rare TV appearance last week, playing a song from their recent album.

The Sorcerer Blog is obsessively devoted to William Friedkin’s cult film.

• Unexpected Artefacts: Pushing the envelope with Bristol’s Emptyset.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 097 by Lee Gamble.

• At PingMag: Ryokudo—Tokyo’s Green Roads.

Norman Records’ Top 50 albums of 2013.

Birds Of Fire (1973) by Mahavishnu Orchestra | Attack Of The Killer Birds (2006) by Émilie Simon | One Thousand Birds (2012) by Six Organs of Admittance