• Will Davenport

Phantom of the Opera, Barbican Film 2018

Whilst Lon Chaney’s 1925 classic horror flick The Phantom of the Opera was shot in black and white, it oozes colourful melodrama, humour and tension; it was a delight to produce a new underscore for.

Watching this film for the first time without music was an important but deeply eerie experience for me. When you watch a film without music you become highly conscious of its process – the break between shots, the frame rate and the existence of the camera. On top of this, when you are confronted with the actors, silently gliding across the shot and reproducing a theatrical gesture on demand, you can’t help but remember that they are long gone, like spectres performing a daily routine. Thus, we need music to fill in the cracks between each frame, and between us – the camera – and them. Only then can we be completely integrated into the dream of film, once the dream has come to us. And thus, the music had to retain a sense of operatic harmony, more specifically the music of Gounod, with a mixture of wind, brass and electronics, to mark the foundations of the dream.

[From hidden places beyond the walls a melodious voice, like the voice of an angel, spoke to her.]

‘Christine, tonight I placed the world at your feet!

‘To you I have imparted the full measure of my art. You will triumph – all Paris will worship you!’

‘But I warn you, you must forget all worldly things and think only of your career – and your Master!’

‘Soon, Christine, this spirit will take form and command your love!’

Christine’s Bambi eyes seductively glint around her bedroom whilst the Phantom talks of triumph, worship and command. One can’t help but think that the fantasises of Chaney, the Phantom and all of the screenwriters were addressed within this scene in one foul swoop of eroticism. Consequently, the theme of this music cue was temptation. In order to create a sense of the divine, I chose a harmonic progression that seems to constantly ascend, musically mirroring Christine’s musing of ascension of her career.

‘Christine, I have come for you’

‘I am ready Master – waiting!’

‘Walk to your mirror my dear – have no fear!’

This is, perhaps, the most important part of the movie, the point in which Christine gives in to her temptation and enters the Phantom’s realm. The cue continues the theme of ascension, with melodramatic flourishes to resemble Christine stepping through the mirror and into the Phantom’s fantasy. This cue ends just before the Phantom Is revealed to Christine.

[A black lake, hidden from man and the sun, leading to the Phantom’s rendezvous.]

This scene was the most difficult to score as it is a long, slow scene in which the Phantom leads Christine to his underground lair. Throughout the progression of the scene the Phantom leads Christine, half willingly – half unwillingly (in a kind of sexy-Hollywood-walking-comatose kind of way) down some stairs, onto a horse and then onto a boat in an incredibly drawn out fashion. From a more modern standard, one would feel obliged to speed the scene up with some fast, tense and dramatic music, but I decided against that and instead capitalised the lolling tension of the scene through the use of a relentless ostinato bassline that grows in texture. You know she’s is doomed, she knows she’s doomed, so the music relentlessly reinforces this.

I have brought you here – five cellars underground –‘

‘- because I love you!’

‘For long weary months I have awaited this hour!’

‘So that which is good within me, aroused by your purity, might plead for your love’

I used this short cue as an opportunity to present the Phantom’s side of the situation. He has a crush on Christine, and is extremely lonely, but she finds him utterly repulsive and a bit of a pathetic creep. His feelings are hurt, especially when she runs off and finds his bed: a coffin. As a first date, I’d give it a 2 out of 10.

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