The Undergrounds of the Phantom of the Opera (2002)
by Jerrold E. Hogle
This review has possibly taken longer to write than any other one ever. If you were reading this book, however, I know you'd forgive me.
Somehow, there doesn't seem to be as much demand for a deeply analytical Freudian analysis of Leroux's work as you might think, so this book has eluded me for a while by being expensive and rare. Of course, the second I found it I dived into it in an undignified cannonball... which has led to me losing the last month or so of my life.
Do not get me wrong; this is not in an uninteresting book. It is, in fact, an extremely intelligent book and one worth a look if you have any interest in the weird niche subject it pertains to. But it is also just as sexist, ableist, and generally nasty as you would expect a Freudian analysis to be, not to mention denser than osmium and a longer read than War & Peace, so I'm just saying that you should probably be prepared and maybe bring a dedicated expedition team with you.
Several of Hogle's main theses and questions are very similar to mine, which makes reading the book all the more of an adventure. In particular, the question of what "cultural work" the Phantom story does that keeps us retelling it over time, and the idea that it's a story about culture itself and thus every culture that tells it reshapes it for their own needs, are particularly familiar and poignant.
There is no possible way to cover all the ground that this book covers in a review; I'm going to have to skip whole huge swaths of discussion and ideas because I just don't have enough hours in the day to try to talk about them all. Assuming you have already laid in a suitable store of provisions for the long, harsh winter of its reading, you can get into them on your own.
Chapter 1: The Original Fantome's Mysteries: An Introduction
Hogle here points out the obvious influence of Hugo (particularly The Hunchback of Notre Dame) in Leroux's work, but posits that he takes it a step further: rather than merely being a severely disabled and deformed character like Quasimodo, making the rest of humanity uneasy because of his example of life "gone awry" (I gotta warn you all up front that there is a lot of ableism in this psychological examination mess, so be girded), Erik and his death's-head are quite literally death. The beginning of this chapter, in fact, is devoted to examination of how death and its imagery were rather in vogue in France in Leroux's day and long before - the danse macabre concept and festivals dedicated to it are very probable influences from an older, more morbid France, mostly focused on the idea that death is a terribly egalitarian phenomenon, applying to commoners and the aristocracy alike. For Leroux's Erik, who flouts pretty much all of society's rules and straddles the underground world of his own utter lack of standing and the glittering world of "high culture", it's a pretty perfect metaphor. For those interested in getting their groove on with some seriously Phantom-esque musical stylings, check out the most famous setting of a Danse Macabre, written by another Frenchman, Camille Saint-Saëns: I can almost guarantee you've heard it somewhere before.
Discussing Erik in terms of death is one of my favorite things to do, so I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter; Hogle discusses the fact that the gut-wrenching fear associated with the Phantom comes directly from his deathliness. It's the fact that Erik is death incarnate that makes him so terrifying - that looking into his face is looking at your own mortality (as evidenced more than once by Christine doing things like succumbing to a "cadaverous pallor" when discussing him, as if his mere mention or presence is actually hastening her own death) - not actually the more earthly, physical repugnance associated with confrontation with a person whom society considers merely "ugly" or "deformed". As far as Leroux's Phantom goes, it's not really about ugliness; it's about death grasping for life, and the loss of that key idea is one of the reasons so many later Phantom versions end up pulled punches or confused morality tales concerning acceptance and appearance.
Another very awesome French convention, this one from the nineteenth century during the time that Leroux was writing, was the popularity of paintings showing people just sort of hanging out resignedly with Death, which after all is never all that far away (as in Self-Portrait with Death by Arnold Bocklin), or even of portraits of living people showing their skeleton through their skin, as a reminder of it as the basis and eventual end of them (dust to dust, as it were). I couldn't find an example of one of these from the time period, but the modern artists from Skeleton Krew do something very similar. I was surprised, in light of all of this, that Hogle didn't mention the somehow even creepier nineteenth-century fad for death portraits, which are exactly what they sound like: photograph portraits of dead people, sometimes even with their living relatives. I suppose the skull-like, visible-death imagery of Erik is not present, but the overall obsession with blurring the line between dead and alive most certainly is.
Once past this fun section, however, shit starts to get real. Hogle spends a great deal of this book discussing the Phantom story in terms of Freudian psychology and imagery; while some of it is interesting and I certainly enjoyed his insights, a lot of it goes way too far beyond the pale for me to take overly seriously, such as the assertion that many of the items in the Louis-Philippe bedroom (chiefest among them the bag containing the keys to the grasshopper and scorpion) are clearly symbolic and that Christine is in fact staying in a room positively festooned with male scrota. It's entirely possible that he might be right - Freud was publishing some of his most influential works only a few years before Leroux's novel and the author might well have been acquainted with them, and goodness knows Hogle is way more of an expert in the dirty-minded old Austrian than I am - but if so, the imagery has not stood the test of time.
He does, however, make an excellent point in that Erik putting Christine in the Louis-Philippe room, which he has filled with his mother's furniture and endeavored to turn into a lady's parlor, is almost certainly a pretty blatant attempt to slot her into a surrogate mother role by surrounding her literally with the trappings of his mother. Similarly, I really like Hogle's suggestion that Erik's final redemption at the end of the novel has the connotations of birth; by accepting him, thus becoming his mother figure, Erik is reborn as a human at last. Erik's need for a maternal figure to replace the one he never had is a huge theme in his relationship with Christine, and one again that I think too many later versions leave out to the detriment of the story (usually with a sort of air of "ew, theoretical representational incest, gross!").
There's no arguing the fact that there are incestuous overtones in the Christine/Phantom relationship both ways - Erik looking for a surrogate mother figure as much as he's looking for a wife, and Christine clinging to her "Angel" as a representative of her father well past the time it was appropriate - but Hogle wanders off too far for me again in a few places, particularly in his discussion of Christine as an example of a writer exploring a "quasi-incestuous necrophiliac fantasy". I see the train of thought - Erik is death, Christine is strangely attracted to Erik, ergo she is strangely attracted to death - but it comes off as too overt and simplistic an idea for me, particularly as the sexual tension in the novel is so much implied rather than actually present that it seems too much of a leap to make yet another level of implication past that one (especially in the case of Erik himself, who represents sexual creation to a certain extent but as a character never shows any interest in pursuing sexual behavior). I would be interested in a book that (in some kind of tasteful way that probably exists) tried to explore a representational Erik + Christine = necrophilia angle, but I don't think the original is that book.
Another good observation here, still in the incest camp, is that Erik and Christine's father, despite their very obvious differences, are markedly the same in music and lifestyle, at least in some ways; both were indigent violinist musicians who traveled and performed at carnivals to make a living, eventually ending up both in Paris where the whole story begins.
Interestingly, Hogle talks a lot about gender ambiguity in the Phantom; that is, that Erik often exhibits clear signs of femininity in spite of being presented as male. Examples include the fact that his voice is often masculine but otherwise manifests as the feminine siren, or that he sometimes refers to himself with feminine nouns (a bit of French linguistics that obviously doesn't survive into English, where our nouns are often not nuanced in that way). One of the major things he points to is the fact that Erik asks for a womens' footstool for his box at one point, and Madame Giry finds a ladies' fan in the box at another; while I have generally seen most theories be referring to what lady might have been sharing the box with him to use these implements, the usual suspects being Christine, Carlotta or some other unknown woman-person, Hogle prefers the idea that they are simply for Erik himself. It's an interesting idea: after all, a footstool and a fan are nice things for being comfortable, right? Men didn't use them at the time as a general rule because they were considered super girly and therefore gross because Sexism, but when you're Erik and nothing you do is ever going to be acceptable by society as a whole, what do you care about whether or not you're doing something "girly"?
A lot of this is based on some assumptions about gender roles and performative gender that, as is pretty common in Freudian analysis, aren't nearly as universal as they think they are, so take it all with a grain of salt. In this case, I'd argue it's more of a failure to adhere to the traditional gender binary than an attempt to encompass both genders through behavior; for Erik, who's outside society's gender roles box as much as he's outside all their other definitions, the social conventions of gender have considerably less power over him and his largely solitary presentation to the world. (Of course, this is all representational theory, since again we don't get any of the character's actual relationship with gender examined in the text itself much; just an old-psychologists-making-guesses party here.)
Hogle more pointedly discusses Erik as unacceptable in society because of his refusal (or perhaps inability) to attain adulthood; there are the obvious things, like his childish handwriting in his notes to managment, but also the more subtle ongoing themes of his selfish personal demands and inability to really empathetically understand other people. Hogle posits gender ambiguity as a "phase" of late childhood (is he right? don't know, I am not an expert or even much of a dabbler in psychology), and points out that while Raoul (described as having "girlish" coloring) and Christine (who plays a boy's role as Siebel) both grow out of it and become adults at the end of the novel, Erik never does, instead regressing literally to his own birth. There's a lot of your garden-variety Freudian grossness here, including the assertion that anyone outside a socially-constructed gender binary is a "child" who will just grow out of it, not to mention the equation of things like lack of empathy with childhood when they are also frequent hallmarks of issues like autism or mental illness that again are not at all synonymous with childhood, but that's old-timey psychology for you. Always judgey, always reinforcing cultural pressures.
But wait! Let me introduce you to yet another weird representational angle, courtesy of Hogle! Darwin was in fashion in Leroux's time, and stories that capitalize on the idea of beastliness hiding within mankind itself becoming a danger to civilization (prime examples: Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue") had become especially popular. Erik occasionally displays what seem to be bestial or animalistic traits, including being described as being as noiseless as a cat or as nimble as a climbing monkey; even if this isn't a major theme in Leroux's work (at least, not compared to some others), it does have the trappings of the popular literary idea of humanity being unable to control the bestial, predatory power lurking behind it.
Can I mention that in spite of his general Freudian nastiness, I love that Hogle wants to talk about Orientalism? I love it so much. So many later authors absolutely embrace Orientalist tropes in their Phantom-related stories without even realizing it - it's that ingrained in our cultural subconscious. The fact that Leroux's vague, misty impression of the East is incredibly inaccurate and wildly racist by today's standards doesn't seem to register even a blip on the radars of a lot of authors who follow in his footsteps, which always seems bizarre to me. Orientalism was rampant in Leroux's day, and since authors wanted to write about "exotic" locales but were not likely to actually go to most of those faraway places, it was pretty standard practice to make some shit up and call it a day. The Orient of the nineteenth century was a vast, undifferentiated and misunderstood place; rather than being many countries with individual cultures, it was sort of a huge conglomeration of "the other", something that could be pointed to as a contrast to the civilized world of Europe, a sort of scapegoat of a place where evil things like torture chambers that could never exist in the civilized West could be said to come from.
This is of course very ugly by modern standards, but it's rampant in Leroux's novel; the daroga himself is the most egregious example of it, from his black skin (ethnic Persians are actually notoriously light-skinned) to his astrakhan cap (actually Russian). He is in one person a conglomerate stereotype of all the savage barbarian lands outside the Occident - which is to say, he's a perfect example of Leroux's (and, in general, Europe's) total ignorance of the East during the nineteenth century. Erik's acquisition of mysterious powers, including hypnotism and the ability to murder people with uncanny accuracy (typified by the Punjab Lasso), are also relics of his time spent in the Orient, again reinforcing the idea of the wilderness beyond Europe as savage, dangerous, and vaguely magical.
To further play on paranoid fears of foreigners, Erik's time in the misty recesses of surely barbaric Asia aren't the only reason for a nineteenth-century French audience to be subconsciously worried about him; the fact that he may also have Germanic origins, as evidenced by his name and travels, would also be striking a serious chord with readers at a time when the Prussians had all too recently decimated parts of France. Gounod's Faust, in particular, is a German story that its French composer heavily hacked up, rewrote and added a new ending to, an example of French aversion to German things at this general time (and few, if any, operas that were not French were allowed on the Garnier's bill).
A cute side note that once again gets lost in translation: the first dish Erik ever makes for Christine is "poulet". That's just chicken, but in French the word is a double-entendre meaning "love letter" as well.
Yay, Hogle brought up du Maurier's Trilby! I've always campaigned for the idea that it's an obvious source from which Leroux borrowed ideas, but somehow I seldom see it acknowledged. Hogle notes that Svengali, the evil maestro and obvious Erik-analogue from that earlier novel, is also Austrian, another example of that Germanic = Bad idea. (Oddly, he does not mention that Svengali is also very clearly coded as Jewish and that Trilby is not even a little bit subtle about its antisemitic stereotypes, but that would also play into the obvious setting up of his character to audiences of the time as "other" and therefore dangerous and bad.)
Back in the realm of uniquely French shenanigans, however, Hogle also points out that it's interesting to note that Erik not only uses the Communard setup beneath the opera house for his base of operations, he also bears a similar burning rage against the upper class. I still await one day getting to read a story about the Phantom actually being part of the Communard movement. Someone out there must be as much of a history nerd as I am.
Chapter 2: The Psychoanalytic Veneer in the Novel: Le Fantome's "Unconscious Depths" and their Social Foundations
In addition to all the other layers of her choice, it should be noted (as Hogle does here) that Christine choosing Erik would be literally for her to choose Death (i.e., remaining buried underground with Death). It's understandable that the poor girl is not excited by the idea, particularly when it's couched in such irrevocable terms as "or I will kill everyone else in the building along with us". This is not a simple choice between Man A and Man B, as so many later retellings make it; it's a choice for Christine between death alone or death with hundreds of others, and she nobly chooses to save their lives. Erik's insistence on her role as a "living bride" is, of course, ironic - she can't be living if she stays with him, since he's almost literally the antithesis of life, even while he desperately wants her to be in order for her life to by proxy elevate him to the status of the living.
Hogle here dedicates some time to the possibility that Erik, with his incredible vocal range, bizarre childlike behavior, and obvious inability to know what to do with his own hideous body, might be a castrato. The theory is that not only would a lack of real sexual maturity make sense for the character (and make thematic sense, as Death actually being able to create life in the genitive sense is usually impossible in most story setups), it would throw interesting light on yet another level of Erik's disenfranchisement if he were, like many castrati in the eighteenth century, forcibly castrated to preserve his voice. It would once again make him a relic and outcast from his society; castrati went decidedly out of fashion in the early nineteenth century, and they were not only somewhat shunned as they slowly disappeared from society but replaced rather definitively by women and young boy singers within the realm of opera. This would not have needed to be one of those awful surgical castration situations, either; Erik, who has eight tons of other developmental anomalies, might well have just been one of those few who never reach adulthood due to physical deformity, growth stunting, or endocrinal disorders. (Again, conflating the character's genitalia with his maturity and psychological stability is peak Freudian nastiness, though. Sigh.)
Hogle points out (and I agree) that Erik's "creation" of Christine's voice is pretty much tantamount to him impregnating her with it, which is part of the whole contrast between Erik as physically embodying death but having talents and spirit that allow him to create life anyway; he does it without her really understanding it, and she is frightened and feels unable to control the new thing within her, almost as if it had a life of her own. No wonder she feels guilt and anxiety over her voice, under this theory. Sadly, Hogle's analysis spends more time interested in Christine's recognition of the "child" within her as "illegitimate" than on the implied invasion of her body by an outside force.
Chapter 3: Leroux's Sublimation of Cultural Politics from Degeneration and the Suppression of Carnival to the Abjection of Mixed "Otherness"
For those keeping score at home, you know by now that the original Erik's mask is black, while for some reason later versions of the story seem to tend toward either white (the most popular, thanks to Lloyd Webber and his desire for a very visible-from-stage image) or more spectacular colors (Technicolor Dance masks, how I love you). Hogle suggests that the black mask is meant to suggest a literal interpretation of its color - that is, to suggest the Phantom as black-skinned, an idea backed up by other moments, such as when he sings the role of Otello to Christine or she thinks to herself that he reminds her of a Moor. Again, Erik is representing something that the European society of the time considers evil/scary/other than itself and therefore shunnable - if Erik isn't a white Frenchman, the rampant racism in France is also pointed in his direction, an interpretation left very open by the book's failure to thoroughly pin down Erik's ethnicity or origins. Oddly enough, he does not mention Erik's connection, in his brief backstory, to various dark-skinned peoples that he spends time with, including the Romani people and the natives of the Punjab province in India where he presumably spent time, who are also reasonable candidates for a dark-skinned non-European origin. (Hogle's an American writer and scholar, so possibly the US-centric bias toward dark skin = African descent might play a role here.)
Hogle also points out that carnivals and similar spectacles were illegal in France at the time of the novel, being considered somewhat immoral as well as threats to public peace and safety. But Erik himself, not only as a former carnival performer but as a freakshow in the flesh, causes the carnival to follow wherever he goes simply by existing; his mere presence intrudes it on "high" society so thoroughly that they are scared witless, and furthermore makes a very clear mockery of the society-sponsored "carnival lite" events when he shows them just how gritty and ugly a real carnival can be (the most pointed example of this is his crashing the carefully-orchestrated masquerade with his all-too-real self).
Erik is, in one person, everything the average nineteenth century reader was afraid of: foreign, occult, bestial, gender-fluid, immature, revolutionary, German, Oriental, brown-skinned, sexual, and, of course, Death itself. He is a potpurri of terror. He is the stuff of 1800s French assholes' nightmares.
Hogle mentions here that he believes that Leroux himself was quite happy with the status quo of society; after all, he was doing a job he enjoyed and living comfortably doing so, and certainly never made any political or social waves. While I can't theorize on Leroux's personal leanings, having never met him, I will note that it's pretty common for an author to criticize (or at least throw light onto) things that he or she might not be willing or able to actively attempt to change in their real lives. Writers are the mirror-holders, I believe someone once said.
Chapter 4: The Ghost of the Counterfeit: Leroux's Fantome and the Cultural Work of the Gothic
This chapter is very interesting for the student of Gothic literature; it discusses various characteristics of the genre and general literary techniques it employs, including things like subconscious counterfeiting and conquering of the subversive. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the purpose of Gothic horror, that being to show the reader something incredibly horrifying or fearsome in order to then conquer it at the end of the story and show that that horrifying thing can't possibly exist in modern society anymore. It's the opposite of modern horror; whereas Gothic horror says, "Look at this terrifying thing - it's so awful that it must live in a world that can't possibly be ours," most modern horror instead says, "Look at this terrifying thing - it's probably in your kitchen right now" and then cuts the lights.
However, there isn't much directly on the Phantom story in this chapter. It's extremely useful background information for Gothic interpretation of the book, but most of the analysis has already passed at this point.
Chapter 5: Universal's Silent Film: The Recast Scapegoat, the Quest for the Widest Audience, and the Management of Labor
Aha, this is the part where you think the book is over, but NOT TODAY, SIR. That was just the beginning. This book is ONLY GETTING WARMED UP. We're now on to the part where Hogle and I are playing in the same pool: looking at later versions of the Phantom story and wondering what all the bizarre changes are about. We'll start where they all started, with the 1925 film!
Do you guys remember David Skal? It's okay if you don't - he's only come up in the project previously as the director of that delightful Universal retrospective on its Phantom films. At any rate, Hogle quotes his suggestion that one of the reasons Chaney's makeup and portrayal of Erik were so disturbing for the audience at the time was that the bulging bald, veiny head and stiff body were uncomfortably reminiscent of a penis. Oh, Freudians and your penis thing. I'm personally not sure if I see it, but then again, when someone exaggerates it (as this puppet hanging out with Ron Chaney Jr., the actor's great-grandson, does), I can get where it's coming from. In a 1920's movie where the undertone of the terrible danger faced by ladies who encounter men alone is a strong one, that imagery might have packed a little more punch.
At any rate, Hogle discusses the reasons behind the many changes that occurred between the novel and the film (and there are a lot of them, even though this film is generally considered the closest in content to the original story). He mentions that the scripts intentionally set Erik's hideous face as a symptom of his evil, rather as the original Erik feared it was in Leroux's novel; this approach leaves out a lot of ambiguity, and it isn't hard to see why the movie ends up with a classic villain's death instead of the more layered approach in the novel.
The movie's "medieval" torture chambers and implements, Hogle notes, make Erik less of a creator and more of a monster who has inherited someone else's creations; he doesn't have to be creative about murder and torture, since he's just using someone else's forgotten equipment. It does, however, make it clear that Erik is a being sort of out of another time, a true holdover out of humanity's dark history.
Ironically, Hogle says that the film was intended to draw high-class viewers to see cinema, which was at the time considered a mostly low-class entertainment; the trappings of opera and high society that the film revolves around were meant to stimulate interest in the film as a source of art, which is possibly why some of the ballet sequences and performances seem to drag on incomprehensibly long to a modern viewer. The author here suggests that the murder of Erik by a mob at the end of the film is a response to unionization occurring in the film industry at the time, a sort of onscreen mirror of events behind the scenes. Which is weird, considering Erik ends up in the role of representative of The Man that the people revolt en masse against, when he's about as far from being The Man as it is possible to get.
Chapter 6: The 1943 Remake: Recombining Film Styles, Struggling with Psychoanalysis, and Sanitizing World War II
In contrast, the disfigurement sported by Claudin in the 1943 film is entirely different, an only partial-face scarring from being attacked with acid. This is by and large a response, according to Hogle, to the fact that World War II was raging and there were a lot of people seriously scarred and permanently disfigured in the bombing and fighting; shocking an audience with a scarred face seemed insensitive (as well as reminding audiences of the people they were worried about overseas in the fighting), and thus it was toned town to be more a source of pity than horror. The origin story of the injury, the first except for the Chinese Ye ban ge sheng's burning, was added to avoid there being a congenital defect in the mix; the moviemakers wanted a man as the villain, not a monster, and it's socially telling that they felt they had to remove the deformity in order to achieve that goal (that is, they decided that they couldn't sympathize a naturally deformed character for the audience). Even decades later, Erik is still a little bit too gross for general consumption, which is ironic since toning him down to not upset people is kind of the opposite of the original character's point.
This being wartime, a major theme added in this movie is that of individualism (represented by the disenfranchised Claudin) versus collectivism (represented by everybody else); the underlying message is that the individual, though he may be a good person and acting as he believes he must, should still be excoriated for selfishness and misbehavior that hurts the whole community. It's a completely understandable message in a time of rations and heavy government propaganda encouraging citizens to remain united against the enemy until the war's end. At the same time, Hogle also notes that it plays more subtly on the nagging fear of losing one's own individuality in the froth of nationalism and solidarity; just as Claudin started out a nice guy who didn't mean to do any harm and had his identity (via his music and face) literally stolen from him, so anybody in the United States during wartime might tap into that fear of losing one's essential self.
Of course, we've noted before the obvious paternalism of Rains' portrayal of the Phantom, and the 1987 Sanford/Green book preserves the early idea in the script of the Phantom as Christine's biological father; Hogle also points this out, and re-confirms that the studio scrapped the idea for fear that it would appear incestuous to audiences. However, he also points out the weird ambiguity about what exactly Claudin's relationship to Christine is, which I had been wondering about since the guy only speaks to her once and she clearly has no idea who he is, and he doesn't show many of the classical signs of Horrifying Dude Stalking Girl He Doesn't Know. Hogle suggests that the studio found giving the Phantom a purely sexual motive also too off-putting, making the character into too much of a "dirty old man", so the whole thing was left up in the air, leaving the audience to make their own assumptions rather than forcing them to face something that might be indelicate.
We've seen the split Phantom a lot, particularly in film, but Hogle points out that an earlier proto-form of that is present here, which I had never caught before. Anatole, one of Christine's suitors, is an older man who is attracted to Christine and suspected of the crimes before the true killer is brought to light - in other words, he's the ego to Claudin's id, the light version of the dark Phantom. Not that it could have happened in the forties, but wouldn't this have been a fantastic Fight Club-esque thriller if Anatole really were the Phantom and just didn't know it?
I know a lot of people love to point to this movie as an example of Christine finally getting a little backbone when she rejects Raoul and Anatole to go focus on her career, but, as Hogle points out, things are actually almost the opposite (also, I resent the continuing belief that original Christine was not a badass). Anatole and Raoul represent a common fear of the time, namely older men swooping in and stealing younger women from their absent soldier husbands or lovers while they were away at the front lines; Christine's rejection of them is more of a proper female response to such shenanigans than a proclamation of emancipation. Further, the Christine of this film doesn't really get any independence of her own; she gets instead a representation of independence, attractive to female viewers, overlaying a reality in which the only choices she has to make are given to her by the men in her life and the final implication is that she must choose between dependence on a husband and dependence on the opera and its owners, never actual self-determination. (She's still awesome, and I still cheer for her telling both dudes to collect their shit, but sadly the narrative is not one of feminine emancipation.)
Just like the 1925 film, this one was again trying to reach out and catch people of both low- and high-class social strata; the lush sets, Technicolor, and many musical performances (which modern horror buffs frequently complain about, apparently unaware that this is a movie that was clearly not meant to scare anyone's socks off in anything but a very tame way) were heavily advertised to appeal to the high-class set, while the personalized story and the folktunes used by Claudin and in the opera Martha that is partially performed were meant to appeal to the low-class common man.
Chapter 7: The Culture of Adolescence: The Lloyd Webber Musical and the Adaptations that Paved the Way, 1962-1986
Oh, Lloyd Webber. Always the big, fat elephant in the room. It's no surprise to anyone that Hogle thinks this production is all sex, all the time - it totally is. He points out that its design, from plunging costumes to statues groping themselves, is sexy in the extreme, and quotes Harold Prince as actually admitting that he focused on sexuality in the disabled as a theme. (As a side note, I'd like to read a disabled person's thoughts on this at some point.)
But for Hogle, it's not actually the sex that makes this the most ridiculously popular version of the story (or at least, not only the sex); in large part, it's the fact that it plays to the adolescent in all of us. It's a teenage dream, which is one of the reasons that teenagers tend to be its biggest fans. It takes a basic psychological adolescent dream (the lonely, high-voiced [i.e., breaking from puberty] loner with an ugly face [acne, how we loathe you] lusting over an unattainable and beautiful woman) and adds to it a quintessentially teenage kind of eternally unrequited sexual tension. The entire show is about wanting and never having; in other words, it's exactly what every teenager can relate to. Add to that the common feeling that the awkward years of adolescence will last forever (represented by the Phantom as an eternal teenager, never outgrowing his ugly awkward phase) and throw in a dash of guilty secret ("Music of the Night", thy name is The Masturbation Song), and you have Instant Teenage Soup.
Now, of course, this does not only appeal to actual adolescents; we've all got some of that in us (or at least can all recognize it, since we were all there once). It's still powerful and romantic to many adults for exactly the same reasons it is for teenagers, especially adults in marginalized communities who are more than familiar with the problems of never being allowed to achieve or express things on their own terms. So the next time you want to yell at some poor teen for squealing about how Erik is just so deep and tortured, be kind. Lloyd Webber's musical has already done it for you, with a big old anvil reading SELF-INSERT. By the way, I think the idea sheds some interesting light on the perennial phenomenon of young female fans being so vociferous in their "love" of Erik or their inability to understand how Christine could possibly "abandon" him; identifying with the Phantom so closely leads pretty unsurprisingly straight to sympathizing with his lonely pain (which is their lonely teenage pain, of course) and wanting to soothe it. They're not really upset that Christine abandoned the Phantom; they're upset that everybody else has abandoned them, or so the cathartic feelings the musical stirs up suggest on a subconscious level.
But enough amateur psychology. This chapter also contains brief drive-by thoughts on a few other versions, starting with the 1984 Hill musical; Hogle points out that this is the only time to date that the Phantom is actually Persian (in the show said to be the daroga's brother), and that once again he is split into ego and id, with the more reasonable daroga as the former and the unstable Phantom as the latter. I was interested to note that he mentioned in passing that the male lead who played the Phantom in that production, Peter Straker, is actually African-American; the contrast would have been an engaging external echo of the metaphors at work, and I wish I'd been able to see that show. (I'd also like to know why no versions ever make the Phantom of Persian origin. It seems like such an obvious option. What are y'all doing?)
The 1962 Fisher/Lom film gets some discussion here, and I'm always pleased to see someone not dismissing it out of hand. Yet another separation occurs here, shunting off the Phantom's nasty bits onto the frightening "assistant" Ivan to leave Petrie as an ultimately tragic figure. The major theme here is the overthrow of the old/corrupt/out-of-touch aristocracy by modern society, marked by the villanous D'Arcy (this won't be the last film to go for that idea, either!), and Hogle points out that the faux female emancipation angle is present again, showing Christine as "free" but, ultimately, ending with her only real choice being between which male figures she wants to be her caretakers.
Aha! He mentions the 1974 Levitt/Cassidy film! Okay, so only in passing, and only to say that it isn't as good as the de Palma/Finley film of the same year (with which I unequivocally agree), but I'm excited anyway. Once in a while I start to think that maybe I've hallucinated all those horrible, horrible movies and they don't really exist since no one else in the world seems to have seen them.
Speaking of de Palma and Finley, I'm not surprised that Hogle seems to be a fan of bananas old Phantom of the Paradise, considering what a romp through overblown imagery and metaphor that movie is. After noting the Swan was originally named Spectre (drat my lack of access to scripts!) in an earlier draft, a much more obvious shoutout to the Phantom, Hogle goes on to discuss the crux of the movie involving the idea of a corporatized industry preying like a leech, destructive, upon the arts, which is much the same vibe I got from the piece. This movie (and the 1962 one, actually) both play heavily on the fear of corporations or higher-ups crushing or stealing from an artistic individual who is powerless to stop them; it's the same nagging fear from the 1943 film, but now that the forced cooperation of wartime is over it's free to be out in full view. Hogle also makes a few more observations that I'm pretty embarrassed that I never did, including the fact that Swan is another form of D'Arcy or the Baron Hunyadi from the 1983 Markowitz/Schell movie, and the obvious connection between Swan with his image captured on film and Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray with his portrait.
And speaking of that 1983 film, Hogle sees it as another backlash to "high culture" - a move away from the more accessible shockers and rock'n'roll Phantoms back to the fancypants operaness of it all. My favorite note of his here is that the grotesque mask from that film (so hideous that it confused at least one reviewer into thinking it was actually the Phantom's deformed face) is intentionally horrible-looking because it's a way of hiding without lying; the Phantom is openly telling Christine what lies beneath it without having to be exposed, a choice I think makes a lot of sense given the regressive retreat that movie's Phantom instantly enacts in the one scene that he becomes barefaced.
Chapter 8: Different Phantoms for Different Problems: Some Adaptations Since the Musical
Hogle's right about the heavy abortion commentary in the 1990 Richardson/Dance miniseries, with the attempted chemical abortion resulting in a dead mother and a scarred child; much of the film revolves around this idea of the abdication of responsibility, in this sense of the mother to the child (and the absentee father to both of them), but in a larger sense of society to its disenfranchised members, Erik being the prime example. Of course, blaming women who get abortions for being "irresponsible" is not new or groundbreaking, and frankly we could all have done without that considering that there was plenty of room to lay the blame on Carriere, the abandoning father who caused these problems in the first place, but then we couldn't have been all Freudian about a mother figure, could we?
Hogle doesn't waste a lot of time on the 1989 Little/Englund film, which is too bad because it's one of my favorites to discuss, but he does note that a lot of its horror at the time came from the then-emerging fear of the new phenomenon of successful, advanced plastic surgery - not just the visceral horror attached to someone cutting up your face, but the more subtle psychological fear that it is becoming harder and harder to tell who is beneath such a face or what it might be made of. And, of course, still trucking along is that theme of the fear of losing one's individuality, in this case quite literally of having one's identity stolen as Erik steals the faces of his victims.
I'm excited now, because, unlike the earlier Flynn book, Hogle takes a look at a few written followups to the story, namely Kay's 1990 novel. He echoes what I've heard from many readers, that the book falls apart when it reaches the ending counterpoint chapters between Erik and Christine; his suggestion is that this is largely because Kay is violating an implicit contract with her reader by suddenly swerving from a fairly faithful expansion of Leroux's text to a wholly new and explicit sexuality, leaving the novel's tone and execution inconsistent and confusing. It's an interesting conundrum; there's no doubt that many readers certainly wanted that sexual fulfillment to the story, but many of the same readers were not fans of it when they got it. If Hogle is correct in saying that the appeal of Lloyd Webber's version lies mostly in its adolescent sexual tension rather than in any adult consummation, this is a pretty understandable letdown.
I was totally interested by his suggestion that Kay's novel might be in part an unconscious response to the rise of AIDS, however - literally "love disguised as death", with Erik once again playing his old role of the Death that kills with a touch. It's entirely possible that, if this is the case, it wasn't conscious on Kay's part; Suzuki's famous horror novel Ringu (better known in English-speaking countries as The Ring), published the same year, mirrors similar fears.
Hogle also notes the marginalization of Christine in Kay's novel, another thing that I've heard many readers complain about; because Erik is by this point so powerful and paternal, she has to be infantilized to accept the kind of love he is willing to give her, something that Kay does relentlessly throughout the novel until her Christine is little more than a fainting flower, a far cry from the stubborn and passionate woman of Leroux's novel. By the end of the book, Christine is so unimportant a character that she's all but forgotten - she's only the instrument of Erik's final triumph, a surrogate for his mother and the means by which he gains a son, never a meaningful person in her own right. It's something I recall noticing when I was reading the book myself, that the important thing here is a line of powerful men (Charles down to Erik down to Charles Jr.) and incidental, belittled or forgotten women (Madeleine to Luciana to Christine).
His discussion of the Forsyth novel is pretty entertaining just for its tone, which has a little bit of a quality of chuckling into the back of his hand when he discusses the book. He points out (again, I should have noticed this!) that Darius, more than just an Ivan descendant, is directly cheating the Phantom's hideous imagery away from him, being described as excessively pale, skull-like and so forth, not only absolving the Phantom of wrongdoing but actively taking on his role as the representative of Death. I'm not surprised by his conclusion that Forsyth's book taps into the Baby Boomer desire for fiscal growth and the realization of the American Dream in the late nineties, but I am surprised that nowhere does he discuss the fact that Raoul suffers a debilitating injury that renders him incapable of having sex. What? Come on! You're the Freud guy, you're all about the penises! I expected more.
Excitingly, there is also a lengthy discussion here of something I haven't previously covered: a short film (or long music video, depending on how you look at it) by Michael Jackson entitled Ghosts. Hogle goes so in-depth into discussion on the film and its Phantom relations, particularly when it comes to danse macabre imagery, that I ended up having to go watch its delightful wackiness for myself. In the end, I don't think it's really related to the Phantom tale in anything other than some shared imagery, but I'm a sharing lady, so all of you be the judge. (I also could really have done without this section's insistence on examining Jackson's changing appearance over time and trying to connect it to masking metaphors. Jackson was a real person, not a character designed to make a point, and trying to assign psychological meaning to his struggle with a medical condition is pretty gross.)
Epilogue: The Phantom's Lasting Significance: An Assessment of its Cultural Functions
There's not much being said here that wasn't said already, but it's still a good solid chapter of tying all that imagery together. In passing, Hogle connects the Phantom story not only to the Hades and Persephone myth and the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, but also to Little Red Riding Hood (which I suppose makes sense, what with the scary monster threatening the little girl and the scary sexual subtext involved). In the end, it's not just the idea of confronting (or even indulging) our darker natures before triumphing over them that makes the Phantom story timeless; that's something almost all fairytales do, but it's the addition of that question of class lines and society restrictions that makes it resonant over time.
I think I've used up my entire amateur psychology quotient for the year. My brain is tired. Someone help drag me to a fainting couch.