|The Phantom of the Opera (1998)|
|Starring:||Asia Argento, Julian Sands, and Andrea Di Stefano|
|The Plot: When a baby in a basket is rescued by rats who live under an opera house within Paris, he is raised as a violent but quiet man. He (Julian Sands) becomes our “Phantom of the Opera,” and he strikes against those who threaten his way of life by entering the secret underground canals that lie beneath the opera. We are soon introduced to Christine Daaé (Asia Argento), who is a young girl trying to break into Opera. Christine and the Phantom are soon wrapped up in a very strange relationship that revolves around sexual desires and the bizarre telepathic link that they have. Although Christine seems to love The Phantom, there is also the Baron, Raoul De Chagny (Andrea Di Stefano), who is currently making plays for Christine’s attention. As this love triangle ties together, it seems that a tragedy may be waiting around the corner.|
Despite all of these things, Phantom of the Opera is not exactly a visual mess. It certainly isn’t as bad as I expected from Argento at this point in his career. Although he is unable to channel the creativity that was at work for him when making Opera, the director does manage to create a slight sense of style within this feature. The real change within Argento’s work seems to be from his move away from the colorful and supernatural worlds that crafted his earliest works, and instead he moves into a grittier era that is dominated by low saturation levels and muddy earth tones. The sporadic use of red drapes, or even hints of color within wardrobes, only seems like a tease of something that might be worth admiring. Instead, the majority of positive “sights” within this film deal heavily with grungy hallways and underground paths that may not be beautiful, but at least there is some “design” at work. In a movie like this, fans can at least be thankful that there is something worth admiring, unlike in many of Argento’s future films.
At some point in his career, it seems that Dario Argento began to see himself as an heir to Lucio Fulci’s throne. This is an idea that still seems to be in play for the man. All it takes is one viewing of The Mother of Tears, with all of its comparatively explicit gore, and it becomes apparently how drastically different Argento’s work has become over time. His earlier films, while often bloody, featured few moments of chunky gore. The new Argento, born after The Stendthal Syndrome, didn’t get the memo about what fans wanted or expected from his work. Argento fans were always able to forgive the lapses in logic that his films featured, because when the artistry was set at such a height it only seemed fitting that there would be a surreal charm to his movies. When you take away the colorful visuals and the highly textured layering of scenes, we are left with very banal looking movies that retread numerous genre cliches. In doing this, it seems as if Argento has attempted to compensate for his lack of style and imagination by ramping up the gore in his movies, and it simply doesn’t work. While The Phantom of the Opera does indeed have its moments in terms of visual interest, this same sense of compensation can often be felt throughout the duration of the movie. Nothing truly seems to happen in the movie, certainly nothing of interest, and by the time the credits roll the audience will be left rather weary from the mundane script.