A Brief History of my Fandom of the Phantom
In one of my favorite pieces of fan fiction, Erik appears to Leroux the night before the book is about to be released. As he reads the book, he scowls and becomes increasingly upset at how the daroga makes him out to be crazy and Christine a foolish damsel in distress. Years later, a mysterious figure approaches a woman in her office and says, "Madame Kay?" It drew a chuckle from me. The fan who wrote this obviously is a fan of Susan Kay's novel Phantom, or at least was one at the time.
If the Phantom feels this way, why not the daroga? I can hear him now as he cries out, "That sensationalist gossip made mincemeat out of my memoirs!" and "That drunken fool inserted his bad horror novels into our story!" I am still to this day an X-Phile (or perhaps more of a Mulder-phile), and most of the time I believe that the spirit of the Phantom's story lies somewhere in a triangle of three of my favorite X-Files episodes: Clyde Bruckman's 'From Outer Space', Bad Blood, and The Postmodern Prometheus.
I recall discussing the Phantom movie starring Charles Dance with another fan when it first aired on TV. He mentioned the Broadway musical and, I kid you not, I looked up in suprise and asked excitedly with big, bright, hopeful eyes, "There's a Broadway musical about the Phantom of the Opera?"
Do not misunderstand me. I like Michael Crawford as an actor and singer. I enjoy a lot of the music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber including his lovely, memorable adaptation of the Phantom's story. By all means, do not interpret my comments as one who is snubbing the musical that brought the character by Leroux back out of obscurity and into worldwide fame. I just happen to be a fluke, someone with a few of my own eccentric personality quirks.
For the longest time, not even I knew where I stood in this Phantom's (soap) opera. I am not a singer, nor do I wish to become a singer. Nor am I a poet, an author, an artist, a dancer, or musician. I'm not even a magician. Strangely enough, I began to get e-mail newsletters from a web site for magicians not too long after I launched my old site, but I digress.
I knew the internet was the wave of the future and I wanted to learn web page design, so I chose a subject that interested me: The Phantom. He has many handles, making him an excellent "Home School Front" on topics such as web page design (duh), French language 101, creative writing, classical music, architecture, classical literature, magic, mythology, and 19th century diseases, just to name a few. Yet he does speak to my heart as well. He is a workaholic maestro, one that never sleeps. His mystery, genius, and passion are great motivators that help me work tirelessly. He's also a lot more fun than just playing with Mensa books all day.
Of the many versions of the phantom stories, my "role" metaphorically speaking is not any portrayal of Christine, nor little Meg, nor Madame Giry. It is not even Belladova. I am proud to say it is definitely not La Carlotta. Nope, mine is a "trouser role" as the daroga in a quirky low-budget production by Waterbearer films starring David Staller as the Phantom. This eccentric "outsider" is, in many ways and for lack of better words, the closest I have to a soul-mate in relation to the Phantom.
In this more light-hearted production, the Phantom is left bewildered as Christine chooses to leave his lair and go with Raoul. He feels alone again in his quest for Perfect Music, and there is no longer even an audience to appreciate his work. The quirky daroga steps in eagerly and says, "Let me be your audience!" like a happy, attentive kid on his way to a funhouse ride. As the two old friends from years ago talk, it becomes clear that their unusual friendship is like a "Road Runner" cartoon game. Neither one seriously wants to do away with the other, even though they have had ample opportunity to do so. They never do because, as the daroga says with a playful smile, it would not be much fun anymore.
In Leroux's novel, Raoul and the daroga must walk through a path that is like a maze, with mirrors and trap doors at every turn to confuse them. It is as though, in a metaphorical sense, every time I begin my quest down to the catacombs to find Erik, I find some new path. Upon my return, my story is always different. Sometimes it is radically different. I never know what story I will have on my return. When I first began my old site years ago, the Erik I saw upon that return trip reminds me of a cross between "Charly" in Land of the Dead and Johnny Depp's Don Juan de Marco. About one or two years ago, long after I took down my old site, I came back with him as an anime character much like "Alucard" in the Hellsing series. On occasion, he and I even have "Shaggy and Scooby Doo: Get a Clue" moments where he is the equivalent of Dr. Phineaus Phibes to my feminine counterpart to Shaggy. They are always good giggle moments.
This is the same for anybody who travels the catacombs. I think that is why there is such an extremely diverse collection of phantom stories. It's like the ballet girls in Leroux's novel, when none of them can agree what the Phantom's face and head really look like. One says he has a head of fire, another that he has no head, and so forth until they agree that he has many heads which he changes around according to his need. In the NBC mini-series starring Charles Dance as the Phantom, Erik switches masks around depending on his moods and intentions. This mystery is most prevalent in the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber as well, when initially the Phantom himself claims just to be in Christine's mind and at the end, we are still wondering if he is a "mere mortal" after his seemingly other-worldly disappearance.
I nearly burnt myself out trying to piece too much together too quickly as I built my old web site years ago. There existed too many gaps, too many flaws and perceived flaws, too many scientific inaccuracies, etc. Leroux considers himself the investigational news reporter in The Phantom of the Opera, but it reads much like a modern day tabloid. That is fine by me; I find it amusing and fun. It was not unusual for Agent Mulder of The X-Files to get some of his investigational leads from tabloids. There is also the chronic issues with points of view and perceptions. Back to the comparison to The X-files, two of the episodes I mentioned earlier dramatize those PoV's quite well.
In my need for clear definitions, I took refuge for a while in the works of JRR Tolkien. Watching those lovely Peter Jackson movie adaptations of the story made it all too tempting for me and I caved. I needed the vacation but I must now admit that I came back in part because Tolkien did TOO good a job of defining every little point. Things became too tightly defined with time, and way too dry. I was without something to stimulate my imagination. I think that if Leroux had not been so "sloppy" and had written his novel so clearly that I could "catch" him, it would not be much fun and I would not continually return every few years like I have been for the past thirty years.
So I feel most like this quirky portrayal of the daroga. I feel like the old friend from years ago. I like being his audience, but at this point in my life, I also feel much like his historian. (It's my quirky hobby, to collect artifacts about this eccentric, unusual, sometimes homicidal composer, magician, musician, architect, etc etc etc.) I like the many exercises he provides. Sometimes he is dangerous. I do come back at times with a horror movie, but not all of the time and I always know that it can (and will) change again on the next trip through the catacombs. If Erik were all too cut-and-dry defined for me from the beginning, or if I were able to "catch" him myself, it would not be much fun anymore. Erik as a master illusionist likes it that way and it keeps it fun for me as well. I learn a lot about myself and topics I thought I'd never come across every time I visit the Lair. It is like that saying, "Happiness is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but the path you travel along the way."
I hate to type and run, but I have an appointment now. I'm late for a show... movie... maybe it's a book or poetry reading this time... if you know what I mean...
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