Review: Paul F. Tompkins’s The Phantom Of The Opera

The full title for this is actually Online Video Review: Paul F.Tompkins’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera, but that broke our menu page so it had to be curtailed. Now for those who are unaware, Paul F. Tompkins’ take on Andrew Lloyd Webber is best known due to the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and tv series and has been one of the funniest things he’s ever done. And he’s a man who has done a quite frankly fuck load of funny things. Playing the writer of musicals as a foppish English dandy who’s all a bit daft, his ridiculously silly portrayal is an absolute delight, and in 2015 he recorded an audio commentary to the 1925 Phantom of the Opera film adaptation starring Lon Chaney for The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast. Now that’s been given an animated opening, and the commentary put over the film itself, and it’s a constantly funny two hours of comedy.

Mostly it sees Tompkins’ mocking the events of the film, but at times he occasionally inserts imaginary dialogue and goes off on weird tangents like how the French army outnumber civilians ten to one, and anyone can be inducted, even if you’re in Australia, Tompkins is clearly unimpressed with the film, criticising it from the get go he amusingly declares “Well we’re off to quite a boring start” the second the credits appear on the screen. There’s also a lot of lampooning of the various title cards which explain what’s going on, correcting the grammar and knocking how it’s often pointless information that no one needs to know about.

There’s a great deal of highlights within the work, from a joke about Harry Dean Stanton being the first character we see, debate over whether the phantom has a nose or not, and the slowness of the film in general, where he mentions “Now it’s a miracle films continued when you look at this”. There’s also discussion of Lloyd Webber’s other musicals, where he explains “That’s why I was going to reboot Cats with rap songs in it – because of art!”. Also fun are the running jokes about how he doesn’t understand what’s going on, taking the piss out of some of the dodgy camera work and editing, and how he wants various characters to die, taking umbrage against “an overacting lady” and how “I actively root for her murder.” Towards the end he’s even wishing for the Phantom to succeed, saying of the romantic leads “I have wanted few things in life more than I want these people to be dead” and I can’t blame him at all. Though he does have a slight change of mind about the Phantom, uttering “Oh, talks about himself in the third person, that is a turn off. What are you, The Situation?” which is a more apt description than Tompkins could have known at the time given that the reality star is about to be carted off to prison, if admittedly for a far lesser crime.

There’s so many funny moments it’d take an age to write them all out, and also make watching it pointless, but special mentions must go to when Christine removes her wig after performing on stage with Tompkins commenting “Thank god I can lose that wig and let my identical hair flow freely”, and when her singing causes a chandelier to fall on to the crowd below he’s overjoyed, claiming “Yes at last, the dream of everyone in the theatre, to crush audience members to death”. His occasional off topic ramblings are great too, including when there’s the introduction of a horse which is in a damp dark cellar for seemingly no reason he starts talking about wanting to purchase the Downton Abbey house, and how when they refused “They sometimes get mysterious and very large pizza deliveries to the home”. Oh, and then there’s my favourite line – “This sequence was filmed during the great title card writers strike of 1925” but you’ll have to watch it to discover just why that’s so funny.

With this you get two pieces of art for the price of one, with the opportunity to see the silent film and also the always impressive improvisational skills of Paul F. Tompkins. To be honest the movie itself isn’t that great, there’s some interesting scenes but it takes far too long to get going and it’s not until about 45 minutes in that anything dramatic happens, and whilst it may be of interest to anyone who’s in to the history of cinema it definitely would have been a bit of a slog without Tompkins’ observations. Thankfully they’re a mix of the astute, the wry, the mocking and the silly, and it’s a hilarious combination. I’m not a fan of many commentary tracks over films as they’re often a bit dull, but if they were like this I’d watch every single one of them.

Related Links:

The Video on Vimeo.
The Thrilling Adventure Hour Podcast.
Paul F. Tompkins Official Site.

Alex Finch.

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