Skip to main content

HP Lovecraft and the Opera Ghost #TrailOfCthulhu



I came across something today that puzzled me at first and then intrigued me.

I found this essay online - "The Horror on the Wall" by ST Joshi about Lovecraft's opinion of movies, and in it was a passage about a favourite of mine which I am glad to hear that Lovecraft also rated highly - the Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney (in my opinion one of the finest actors who has ever brought his art to the screen.  That is only my opinion but you are entitled to disagree and that's fine as long as you don't mind your opinion being held in justified contempt by right thinking folks).

Lovecraft saw Phantom in 1925 and wrote this:
 ". . . what a spectacle it was!! It was about a *presence* haunting the great Paris opera house . . . but developed so slowly that I actually fell asleep several times during the first part. Then the second part began--horror lifted its grisly visage--& I could not have been made drowsy by all the opiates under heaven! Ugh!!! The face that was revealed when the mask was pulled off "
Well quite. Chaney's self devised make-up was a wonderful piece of grotesquerie, replicating so near as could be achieved the death's head look of the novel's Phantom rather than the mild sunburn of the latest cinematic abomination to take the name.

But what intrigued me most were the next words in Lovecraft's letter (emphasis mine):
"The face that was revealed when the mask was pulled off . . . & the nameless legion of things that cloudily appeared beside & behind the owner of that face when the mob chased him into the river at the last!"
As you young people say, "Wait, what?"    Nameless legion of things that cloudily appeared...   I don't recall any cloudy appearance of things, nameless or otherwise.

Now the ending of Chaney's Phantom is not ideal.   The novel and the originally shot ending of the 1925 movie both ended on a note of poignant drama as the psychotic Phantom releases the object of his fixation to live a normal life with her beloved Raoul, and then himself perishes alone of misery and a broken heart.   The originally shot ending of the movie truncated this to happen in minutes rather than weeks but nonetheless ended with a mob breaking into Erik the Phantom's lair and finding him dead at his organ.

A surviving still of the original ending, now alas lost

That was shown to test audiences comprised, like most movie test audiences, of movie goers who naturally eschewed such moments of drama and poignant character resolution and demanded some active justice so Carl Laemmle had the sequence reshot as a carriage chase involving an angry mob pursuing Erik through Paris, beating him to death and throwing him in the Seine.   There would presumably have been a custard pie fight too, as crowds love those, but I guess the custard wasn't delivered in time.

Anyway, those are the two endings I know of for the 1925 Phantom.  Lovecraft of course saw the ending from the final cut of the movie in which Erik is chased, battered and thrown in the river.  But I haven't seen a single nameless legion of things cloudily appearing in that sequence.  Unless you count Parisians of course, but to be honest I think Lovecraft rightly included them in the word 'mob'.

Erik serenades Christine at the cemetery where her father's body lies
- a scene cut from the final version
The film had a troubled history.  The director Rupert Julian didn't seem to have a cohesive vision for the work and lots of the scenes veer wildly between the macabre, the comical and the just plain baffling.   The character of The Persian, an unnamed figure from Erik's past appears as he does in the novel but is suddenly renamed Inspector Ledoux of the Surete for no good reason and doesn't bother to change out of his fez.   The ghostly rat-catcher of the novel appears and is entirely unexplained, and so on.   Scenes were filmed, used, recut, moved, dropped and reintroduced throughout the production.   In 1929 the whole thing was recut and scenes were added and dropped to conform to a new vision of the whole, including scenes shot from alternate angles during the original filming.   Most cuts of the movie you can see these days are drawn from the 1929 version as the original negatives of the 1925 version are in poor condition.

This video clip compares and contrasts the key unmasking scene from the 1925 and 1929 versions to illustrate the differences that exist.



Returning to the question in hand then, did Lovecraft, in 1925, see something we don't have in today's version of the film?  Did he simply imagine them, dredging up eldritch additions from his imaginative depths?
Were there actually nameless legions of shadowy things that appeared to witness Erik's demise?  Certainly no such things appear in the novel as there is no equivalent scene in the novel.    Was there a cut, that Lovecraft saw, in which things appeared there on screen at such a key moment?  If so what were those things and why were they so ruthlessly expunged from all further cuts of the movie?

And if surviving film of that original sequence with Lovecraft-witnessed nameless shadowy Things still exists what would happen if it was found and viewed?

That's one I'll mull over for a while but I thought I would throw open that question to any Keepers out there who may want to revisit with Lovecraft's eyes this cinematic conundrum.

What new surprises lie in store?


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

(Old) School’s In For Summer

I recently discovered Lamentations of the Flame Princess mainly due to seeing it mentioned all over the Internet as something worthy of note – people talked about its high production values, innovation, boundary pushing etc and I thought I’’d see what all the fuss was about.


The basic rules are available for free online in an art-free version (which is a shame – the art is splendidly evocative of the feel intended by the author) and I will be honest and say that when I first read through the rules I was underwhelmed.   Yes it was an old school D&D clone, laid out very well, clearly explained and with some nice rule tweaks to tidy things up --- but it didn’t seem to be anything special.   I was a bit nonplussed as to what all the fuss was about.     Then I saw a few reviews on YouTube – IvanMike and QuestingBeast do a lot of old school gaming posts and reviewed a number of LotFP’s products – and it dawned on me that the strength of the game isn’t from the system but from the advent…

Five Lights - An Adventure for Barbarians of Lemuria

I've recently become enchanted by the simplicity and clarity of Barbarians of Lemuria - a role playing game in the Sword & Sorcery genre.

To that end I present "Five Lights" an adventure in which our heroes are called upon to rescue a fair maiden, probably against her will, from a new religious movement.   All things are, as you would expect, not what they seem.



The pdf can be downloaded HERE, and feel free of course to tweak things as you wish to suit your play style and group.

Index Card RPG - Runehammer Games

I don't often review games - I'm usually too busy playing and find it hard to come up with things to say that aren't just lists of rules that I like or dislike, but I'm going to make an exception now and make a suggestion:

You should buy Index Card RPG.
Not so much a suggestion as an unsubtle instruction I guess.   But let me explain why.
Some time ago, no idea how, my YouTube meanderings brought me across a channel about Dungeons and Dragons - The title was as unsubtle as my suggestion - "Drunkens and Dragons - How to play D&D like a big old bad ass."    My interest piqued by the approach I watched, despite not believing anyone could tell me anything new about D&D.
Ah the folly of approaching senility.
The channel was run by one Hankerin Ferinale the nom-de-jeux of one Brandish Gilhelm whose real name is as player-character worthy as his assumed name.   Hankerin (for so I always think of him) presented a series of episodes about room design, rpg theo…

Ssssh, it’s Confidential

Regular readers of this irregular outlet for my musings will know that I’m a big fan of the Gumshoe system by Pelgrane Press.    I’ve got a year-old Night’s Black Agents campaign that shows no signs of slowing down just yet, and a Trail of Cthulhu campaign that is letting me indulge my fantasy of being remotely as good at drawing together Lovecraftian strands into a single narrative as Alan Moore has been in “Providence.”   I’m not, but it’s fun trying, and the Gumshoe system has supported it brilliantly.
I recently picked up the PDF copy of the latest iteration of the system, Gumshoe One2One, in the soon-to-be-physically released CthulhuConfidential.  Gumshoe One2One aims to bring the Gumshoe experience to the specific situation of one GM and one player.  In doing so it’s had to address the usefulness of the pool point system for General Skills and also the often fudged issue of character demise or debilitation in a single player setting.   My Trail campaign has always been just me …

The Star Flung Hammer

A new Sword & Sorcery adventure for Index Card RPG involving a daring expedition into hostile territory and the confrontation of an unexpected cosmic horror.

Something strange fell from the sky into the land of the Jötnar - and those brave souls who went in search of it never came back.  Now doom is prophesied and new heroes must arise to follow the path to danger and glory - but worse things than Jötnar dwell in the mountains, and the secret of the Star-Flung Hammer is nothing that those heroes could have imagined.

Download here