I’m terrible at blogging. I just don’t have the time. Or rather, the time I could spend moving the sand around my zen garden is time that could be spent writing, scratching my arse or otherwise doing something useful. But I suspect this is Wrong Thinking TM and I should embrace it. It’s nice to speak, sometimes, of inconsequential things. As I have confessed here before, I’m massively into musical theatre. But even people who like musical theatre have standards.
Except yesterday I spotted that Lovefilm has the 25th anniversary performance of The Phantom of the Opera currently on free-if-you-want-it, so I watched it. Yes, I watched it. For the record, I generally disdain ALW but there’s just something about Phantom I can’t resist. I can’t even pretend it’s a detached, ironic, cool sort of love either. As soon as I hear those over-wrought 80s synthesisers, I get shivers of delight. I think it must be because it’s so gloriously naff. Also I’m a sucker for the gothic.
Anyway, the long and the short and the shame of it is, I had a great time. I’ve never been that into either Crawford or Brightman, because he’s kind of sitcom and she’s kind of wet, so I really enjoyed hearing different voices and seeing different interpretations. I mean, I’ve seen the slightly ropey movie of course, but Christine is – if anything – even wetter in that, with enormous confused bunny eyes throughout, and the Phantom, well, never let it be said I had a bad word to say against Gerard Butler (for I am only human) but, although he puts in a very actorly performance, I kind of feel that singing is important in a musical. Also, he’s meant to be an Angel of Music, not Moderately Okay Probably Better Than You Can Do It But Still Not Really Up to Scratch Of Music. I remember reading an interview with the film makers (or maybe it was on the making of documentary – which I may have watched, God I’m TRAGIC) in which they expressed the view that: realistically, right, since the Phantom was not a classically trained singer, he shouldn’t technically be all that great at singing. Talk about nerd-view in action.
Anyway, I think one of the things that really surprised me about the 25th anniversary thingy was the relatively non-wetness of Christine. There’s no getting around the fact it’s a wet role since she spends most of the show being squabbled over and hanging soggily in the Phantom’s dark embrace. But Sierra Boggress seems to have managed to give her a borderline backbone. I mean, when she sings Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, she actually sounds pretty peeved by the end of it – as if she’s just as much wishing her dead father would bog off and let her get on with her own life, as well as mourning his loss. I mean, lines like “dreaming of you won’t help me do / All that you dreamed I could” are actually a bit grim when you get right down to it. Live your own life, girlfriend. Yo. I don’t know, I just thought it captured some the ambivalence of grief and loss, instead of just being all “oh help, I’m lost without the guidance of a man.” And she’s actually fairly pro-active in The Point of No Return, rather than submitting in damp ecstasy to being groped by the Phantom.
The other thing that struck me is how it’s almost become fanfic of itself over the passing years. Is that an unfair thing to say? I think what I mean is that the subtext has become the text. I mean, yes, Christine is enchanted by the Phantom’s voice and genioos and all that but it now seems to be pretty much canon that, once she gets over the “omg he’s a minger” moment, she fancies the pants off him as well. Poor Raoul. At the end of the 25th Anniversary version, when bargaining for Raoul’s life, she kisses Erik about three times. With tongue. This ain’t no chaste benediction let me tell you. Or even a taking one for the team. I can only presume she gets off on dudes threatening to lasso her boyfriend. But that’s okay. Each to their own. And passion is way cooler than chaste benediction anyway. And, then, as we know, he releases them and they run off – and he stands around on the empty stage, with his monkey in Persian robes playing the barrel organ, whimpering about how he’ll be AWONE forever and how he’ll always WUV Christine, except she’s come back, and she’s STANDING RIGHT THERE. So they cry and fondle each other a bit, and then she sings the All I Ask of You refrain TO the Phantom, except then it’s like the play remembers Raoul is meant to be the romantic lead and he pops on briefly to lead her away.
I actually liked this Raoul as well. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I’d totally have married him.
But, it’s, at this point, I just can’t understand why Christine and the Phantom aren’t making red hot barrel organ monkey sex. As they clearly want to be doing, with full mutual consent.
I mean, the irresistible subtext of Phantom has always been “why has she gone off with the bland Viscount instead of the gothic hero” – because it’s impossible not to root for the tormented outsider and unrequited love makes people cuddly. But, actually, when you get down to it, it’s absolutely the correct choice to go with the nice, attractive, wealthy normal dude over the ugly, murderous sociopath living in the basement of a Paris opera house. I mean, Christine is not just being shallow here. And a story like Phantom derives a lot of its cheesy power from the gap between romance and reality i.e. that as a spectator you can think Christine should get with the Phantom, but that Christine herself shouldn’t be all that committed to the idea – thought, of course, she can pity and admire him because she’s a Nice Person.
I genuinely don’t know what’s the point of Phantom if Christine is blatantly into the Phantom, and pretty much saying HEY I LIKE THIS ONE, and then just wanders off with the Viscount like semi-accidentally.
That’s not really a tragedy. It’s an organisational error.
And as much as I’m squishy for a doomed gothic romance with power chords, I always do find it hilarious that Phantom is billed as The Greatest Love Story Ever Told. So, it’s okay to abduct people and attempt to forcibly marry them by strangling their boyfriend, if you really love them? I mean, it’d be better called The Greatest Stalking Story Ever Told.
And obviously I’m talking about the musical here as an entity entirely separate from the book, which must surely count as one of our weirder classics. Though I do confess I am very fond of it. I like books that don’t know what they want to be and don’t care very much, I mean it’s part horror, part romance, part detective story, part travelogue, part comedy, part morality tale. What the shit is the business with the safety pins? And the Punjab lasso monsieur!
The other reason it holds a privileged place in my heart is that I consider it slightly instrumental in the development of my sexuality. This is probably too much information but I do find it amusing to look back on my desperate, adolescent search for self-understanding through the limited resources available. I mean, I grew up without many books, no television and back when the internet was just a twinkle in some nerd’s eye (God I feel old), so even if I’d had names for the things I felt, I still wouldn’t have had any way to develop an understanding of the concepts themselves. All I had was a world of slightly oblique hints.
And the thing about the Phantom, right, is that he’s actually incredibly submissive – in an innocent early 20th century way. He spends an awful lot of the book on his knees at Christine’s feet, crying and howling. And I found it, well, unbelievably hot. Especially, I have to admit, when combined with his seeming textual omnipotence. So here was a strong, intelligent, powerful man, weeping and kneeling with absolute, emotional abandon. Honestly , the fact he had no nose and a death’s head for a face was neither here nor there after that.
“Then he hissed at me. ‘Ah, I frighten you, do I? I dare say! Perhaps you think that I have another mask, eh, and that this this my head is a mask? Well,’ he roared, ‘tear it off as you did the other! Come! Come along! I insist! Your hands! Your hands! Give me your hands!’ And he seized my hands and dug them into his awful face. He tore his flesh with my nails, tore his terrible dead flesh with my nails! ‘Know,’ he shouted, while his throat throbbed and panted like a furnace, ‘know that I am built up of death from head to foot and that it is a corpse that loves you and adores you and will never, never leave you! Look, I am not laughing now, I am crying, crying for you, Christine, who have torn off my mask and who therefore can never leave me again! As long as you thought me handsome, you could have come back, I know you would have come back but, now that you know my hideousness, you would run away for good So I shall keep you here! Why did you want to see me? Oh, mad Christine, who wanted to see me! When my own father never saw me and when my mother, so as not to see me, made me a present of my first mask!’
“He had let go of me at last and was dragging himself about on the floor, uttering terrible sobs. And then he crawled away like a snake, went into his room, closed the door and left me alone to my reflections. Presently I heard the sound of the organ; and then I began to understand Erik’s contemptuous phrase when he spoke about Opera music. What I now heard was utterly different from what I had heard up to then. His Don Juan Triumphant (for I had not a doubt but that he had rushed to his masterpiece to forget the horror of the moment) seemed to me at first one long, awful, magnificent sob. But, little by little, it expressed every emotion, every suffering of which mankind is capable. It intoxicated me; and I opened the door that separated us. Erik rose, as I entered, BUT DARED NOT TURN IN MY DIRECTION. ‘Erik,’ I cried, ‘show me your face without fear! I swear that you are the most unhappy and sublime of men; and, if ever again I shiver when I look at you, it will be because I am thinking of the splendor of your genius!’ Then Erik turned round, for he believed me, and I also had faith in myself. He fell at my feet, with words of love with words of love in his dead mouth and the music had ceased He kissed the hem of my dress and did not see that I closed my eyes.
“What more can I tell you, dear? You now know the tragedy. It went on for a fortnight—a fortnight during which I lied to him. My lies were as hideous as the monster who inspired them; but they were the price of my liberty. I burned his mask; and I managed so well that, even when he was not singing, he tried to catch my eye, like a dog sitting by its master. He was my faithful slave and paid me endless little attentions.
It’s very strange. With the easy accessibility of pornography and, in fact, real people to kneel at my feet (though, ideally, I would not be wearing a frock) – I will always remember the accidental erotic charge generated by this hilariously silly piece of late Victorian fluff.