July 04, 2012
Score one for sheer chutzpah. Seize Lloyd Webber’s bloated version of his wildly popular musical, trim the fat (almost all dialogue) and sideplots, decolour it so it resembles a 1920s Silent film. Unfortunately, he goes one step further and applies heavy damage effects to the entire print.
Video - 672 X 512p. Black n white. Frame is resized from 2.35:1 to 1.33:1. Damage effects applied across the board with this one. Scratches, artifacts, image fading. Luckily there are no sprocket holes or celluloid burn through, although that would not have surprised me. The image stutters now and then, another old-timey effect. None of these are done with a light hand. Everything seems pushed to 11.
Audio - AC3 640 kbps Mono AND Stereo. Yes, two separate audio tracks. Mono and Stereo. No subs. The syncing of the edited film with the London Cast recording is exceptional. I listened to the stereo on headphones; that was easier for me than the mono. Now and then I heard what sounded like clipping in the right channel.
Narrative - Surprisingly, with 49 minutes cut, the plot holds together well. Love him or hate him, Lloyd Webber was on creative fire at this juncture, and Phantom is blessed with memorable hooks. The music propels the story. Plus, the tale is folklore. Even with zero dialogue, the average viewer can follow this.
Enjoyment - I stayed with this, though the damaging effects grew distracting. At odd points the image washed out completely. For a 1920s print, this would be in atrocious condition. I have viewed a couple hundred films from the 20s: grand classics, star vehicles, obscuro cinema. Few looked as terrible as this. Had this been circa 1915 one might have been more forgiving. Dating earlier, say 1895, using Latham equipment, would have been better.
This is an inspired concept. Source material is top notch. The film itself, while fattened heavier than turkey dinner, is sumptuous looking with rich colours. Even rendered black n white. there are a luxurious amount of textures and contrasts. All, unfortunately, obliterated in this edit.
Do I recommend this? Absolutely! Even a grand miscalculation, as this edit strikes me, is a potential learning experience. Any editor looking to craft grindhouse, old fashioned, or vintage, should study this. Realize the difference between restraint and excess.