The Phantom goes to the movies

Who could adapt the most successful musical of all time into a movie? Considering that Andrew Lloyd Webber has produced the film version of his very own «The Phantom of the Opera» – based on the novel by Gaston Leroux – a director with a strong personality would have felt out of place. Enter Joel Schumacher, a Hollywood industry professional with a broad range of films (credits include «Batman» sequels as well as «Veronica Guerin») who managed to tame a production of such huge magnitude. A 2004 production currently on screen at local cinemas, the film stars Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson and Minnie Driver. Kathimerini caught up with Schumacher in London recently where the director talked about his own approach to the classic. Did you consider an entirely different approach or prefer an old-fashioned version of the musical? I don’t think there’s much choice. It’s a gothic romance. If you take a cynical or hesitant stance, you’ll ruin it. You have to give into it and adapt it just the way it was created. The sparkle is mandatory. Did you give into it? While on location, I was telling my friends that the film was going to be so shamelessly romantic that they wouldn’t believe it was mine. However, if you get rid of the costumes and the expensive production, my work is the same as in «Phone Booth,» for instance. I wanted to keep the theatrical atmosphere. One way or another, theater is full of rumors of monsters and superstition. How do you explain the fact that the heroine picks «nice» Raoul over the dark, «bad» and attractive «Phantom?» My take is that if she had stayed with the Phantom she would have had to light and put out hundreds of candles in the sewers, while rich Raoul has lots of servants. More than 80 million people have seen the musical on stage. What makes the movie better than the theater show? I don’t know. I don’t know if there is something better in the film, and it’s not my job to say so. My job was to make a film using this story. I don’t believe that a film can equal a live performance but at the same time, no performance can be like a movie. You may choose between watching Julie Andrews standing next to a box with a rising paper moon while she sings «The hills are alive…» (from «The Sound of Music») or watch the shot from the helicopter as it dives over the hillside capturing Julie Andrews in the timeless beauty of her youth, whirling and singing the same song. And you can watch this year in, year out, along with your children and grandchildren. I wanted to keep the feeling of the performance but at the same time create a cinematic experience. And isn’t it a little bit elitist to exclude all those who can’t make it to the theater from such a successful work? Did your experience in music videos affect your work on this project? I resisted the urge of being affected because I didn’t want to make a film which would offend audiences, making them feel stupid, thinking they’re watching a rap video. It would have been unjust to the material as well. We nearly ended up making the film in 1990, because in «Lost Boys,» Andrew Lloyd Webber had appreciated the use of music in the images. Why are musicals so popular? Given the high cost of theater productions, people love the music and feel they’re paying for something worthwhile. As for the cinema, we shall see how long its comeback lasts. In the old days, musicals were so tremendously popular because they made people so happy. Personally, I don’t like them at all because of all this unrestrained happiness. I prefer darker things. Did the fact that Lloyd Webber was also the film’s producer hold you back on the creative level? No. Since 1990, when we first talked about it and became friends, up to two years ago when he asked me again, I told him it had to be a love story, not just a musical. My condition was that Christine had to be a very young actress and that her partners had to be young too. I didn’t want to make «Lolita at the Opera,» and he accepted. His condition was that the actors had to do their own singing and I agreed. The interview was translated from the Greek text.