Lon Chaney, who I admire endlessly, was nicknamed the Man of a Thousand Faces. This was a salute to his incredible virtuosity with special effects make-up and the countless characters and faces he brought to life. The piranha toothed freak in London After Midnight. The killer Clown, Hugo's Quasimodo, and the Phantom of the Opera--his most famous. Of course, there’s another face he seems to have created or at least inspired (without make up even), that goes unmentioned. That overly toothy, eyebrows peaked, crazy face that JN puts on so often. (Idle speculation, idle speculation, mumble, mumble.)
Erik has always been one of my favorite misfits. In fact, when I was around 14 I made a charcoal drawing of Chaney’s iconic Phantom face and entered it in the county fair’s art competition. (I think I got a ribbon.) And where other kids might have had Aerosmith posters, I had the following framed and hanging on my wall:
Feast your eyes gloat your soul on my accursed ugliness.
My Grandfather, who had a small printing business, had done up the line in a cool Phantom font for me and printed it on his best paper stock and framed it. Dumb ass that I am, I have lost it or just got rid of it not thinking it would be nice to have as a keepsake.
In the original Phantom of the Opera, there are three scenes that make the film for me. Of course, the first in the unmasking. That’s the money shot before there was such a thing as the money shot. Then, I have never forgotten that scene of him on top of the opera house in the Masque of Red Death outfit, cape billowing in the night wind, heart breaking with jealousy and rage. (I guess I have to say SPOILERS ahead if you have somehow never seen the film.) Lastly, and I might like this more than the unmasking, is the death sequence at the canal. After being pursued relentlessly through the streets of Paris by the crazed mob, they trap and encircle him at the canal; as the mob is squeezing in on him from all sides, he thrusts his hand up in a warning gesture as if he’s got a weapon. The mob cowers and falls back a bit until the Phantom, laughing, lowers and opens his hand to reveal it is empty. Psych!
I love this moment and wish I could find a better image of it--if this is even it. The background looks wrong, looks like we might be underground in his man cave perhaps, not alongside the canal he is about to die in. Anyway, here’s to an empty hand. With a little acting, bluff and bravado, it might just be your greatest weapon some day.