Nitrateville Nonsense: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

So you want to discuss silent drama, science fiction, horror, noir, mystery and other NON-COMEDY films? Look no further, this is the place.
Richard M Roberts
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Nitrateville Nonsense: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Postby Richard M Roberts » Thu Dec 16, 2021 3:10 am

Gad, when was the last time I took Nitwitvile to task about anything? It’s been so dull and predictable over there, it’s still in my morning coffee rotation of internet things to look at, but thirty seconds pretty much covers it most days; the same nonsensical nattering, the same group of NNN’s (Nitrateville Nameless Nincompoops) blathering on in their attempts at playing film critic wannabe’s like anyone cares what they think, the same obsessional misinformation presented as if the majority left there actually knows anything. And the general consensus among most of the professionals in this area of interest I know (at least the ones who have actually heard of Nitrateville in the first place) is that the place is a joke, so why waste one’s time re-explaining what has become bleedin’ obvious.

But it is the Holiday season, so we must from time to time remember these misbegotten little places of underwhelming with some sort of acknowledgement, call it a little gift for Gebert we put under the Christmas tree, and this does relate to some obsessional misinformation being blathered on some other sites as well, so maybe there is some need to present the real facts, and correct some of the nonsense.This pertains to one of the standard obsessions for some of the internerd film fandom, who whine and complain and wish fervently in their widdle heart of hearts and their widdle OCD heads that one day there will come to their hot widdle hands a “definitive” restored version of the ORIGINAL 1925 version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA!.

I think this is slightly below the obsession with LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, but it still seems to be a popular pointless exercise, and recently, there was an outbreak of some of that gobbledygook over at the aforementioned newsgroup that shows some considerable ignorance of the actual truth regarding what does and does not survive on POTO and where it came from.
These were the Nitwitvile threads in question:

https://www.nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=32420

https://www.nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=10228

And this is the other site referenced in the above threads :

https://nerdlypleasures.blogspot.com/20 ... opera.html

Now, to begin with, the concept of a “definitive” version of any silent film is laughable at best, no two original release prints of ANY silent films were alike (most silent film prints were assembled, not printed in one whole reel at a time, and they were also using original camera negatives to make release prints, and they were damaged and had footage deleted or replaced as more prints were made, and foreign negatives were completely different assemblies of the film as well), but it is especially laughable with a film like POTO, which was a patched and re-patched-work quilt of a film from first rough-cut to various preview versions to the 1929-30 reissues. There NEVER was or could have been a “definitive” version of the film, it was always in a creative and commercial state of flux, and even in its original release many audiences saw different versions than other audiences saw. What came down in the 16mm Universal Show-at-Home versions that were made in the late 20’s-early 30’s were whatever the already torn and tattered original negative looked like by the time Universal’s editors threw up their hands and tinkered no more because it was out of theatrical release, and this was before they re-worked and put together the 1929 International sound reissue from alternate takes and the 1930 sound reissue.

The fact that having two different surviving and perfectly watchable versions of POTO already put it ahead of so many silent films that may not even have ONE surviving version to look at seems to elude the obsessives who never can be happy with what they have in front of them to view, their little OCD brains torture them with the thought that there may be frames missing from the print, or scenes, or what they have may not be “definitive”, rather than being entertained by the film running before their eyes. This makes them easy marks for every “newly restored” version that comes down the pike, ever hoping they can recreate the “original” 1925 experience, although that would likely force them to have an audience of hundreds in their living room.

Whatever, we leave them to their time wasting silliness, but at least let’s set them straight on what actually does exist and what the materials they have been looking at actually came from. The main annoying stupidity is the constant reference to the surviving 1925 Show-at-Home materials used in the various digital releases of it as “The Hampton print”, referring to the 16mm composite print that belonged to pioneering collector and Father of the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood John Hampton, made up of material from various show-at-home prints he was able to acquire. Both in the nerdly pleasures article and the Nitwitvile threads, various folk refer to the various digital copies and even the 16mm dupes of the 1925 version as all deriving from this legendary “Hampton print”.

They could not be farther from the mark. I’ve got news for you kids, the so-called “Hampton print” was not the derivation of ANY of the circulating copies of the 1925 version of POTO.

I saw John Hampton’s composite print of POTO several times over the years, it was his perennial Halloween show when he was still operating the Silent Movie Theater, and it was a completely different and better version than anything else that has ever been circulated on this, it had complete 1925 opening titles, and had better picture quality, though it still had the printed in wear and tear and white rain scratches that are a trademark of the Show-at-Home direct reductions to 16mm from Universals camera negatives. Hampton’s main composite, along with the other secondary materials (certainly not “eight” different Show-at Home prints as described by Nerdlypleasures, there were several other reasonably complete Show-at-Home editions and many odd-reels and incomplete materials missing sections that had been edited into Hampton’s “A” composite), were acquired by the Packard Stanford Theater Collection in the 1990’s and have resided at the UCLA Film and Television Archive since then. Apart from a few small sequences that were utilized by Photoplay Productions for their version of POTO, notably the unmasking sequence, the Hampton material has never been allowed by the Packard Archives to be used in any digital video release.

In fact, to also stop the whining as to why there has never been any restoration undertaken by Packard-Stanford, UCLA, or Universal using this material, we inform you that, in fact, this Legendary “Hampton print” composite at this point, no longer exists, certainly not in any usable state. Unfortunately, like so much of the John Hampton Collection in 2021, his “A” print of POTO has succumbed to the crumbling death of vinegar syndrome. John Hampton amassed a terrific collection in his lifetime, but unfortunately he stored it in his un-air conditioned Silent Movie Theater for decades with no temperature or humidity control, and though the archive performed heroic measures to rescue what could be rescued on the already decomposing collection when they received it, alas , not all was saved or savable. The one attempt to preserve the main composite print of POTO in 35mm, when the print was already in not terrific condition, was unfortunately not considered successful enough to attempt a full restoration, and by the time that was determined, it was too late to attempt another blow-up.

What is also annoying is the misinformation spread in the above threads about the 16mm copies circulating among collectors of the 1925 version of POTO. To begin with, none of them derive from the “Hampton Print”, nor did they come from Home Movie Wonderland or David Bradley. The 16mm negative that derived from a Show-at-Home print was done by Bill Bissonette in the early 70’s and 16mm and 8mm prints were sold through his Vintage Cine Service, and when he shut down Vintage Cine Service, he sold all of his PD negatives to Niles Film Products, who sold a number more 16 and 8mm prints of POTO from that negative. The Show-at-home print used for that negative came from an East Coast Collector, and though it is an acceptable print of the 1925 POTO, it looks nothing like the “Hampton Print”, using titles partially replaced by the 1929 opening titles, and being in more worn condition (the surviving Show-at Home prints of POTO were all well-run, it was a popular title in the rental libraries of the time). It is this Bissonette/Niles print that has been the print used in the DVD releases of the 1925 version.

I’ve always found the obsession with this 1925 version of POTO laughable mainly because I have always preferred the 1929 reissue print to begin with. With that 1929 International sound reissue, Universal understands what I and the audience seemed to feel, that it’s the Phantom we care about, not those two drips Raoul and Christine. So they pare back a lot of the Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry crap and get Lon Chaney into the picture as soon as possible. The 1925 version is just a lot more Mary and Norman, and nary a frame more of Lon Chaney, who needs that? That’s why I dislike the 1943 remake, all Nelson Eddy and Suzanna Foster with just a smidgen of Claude Rains. Though I have my own Vintage Cine Service print of the 25, my go to print is my lovely Blackhawk version of the 29 with the Gaylord Carter score nine times out of ten.

The Lon Chaney version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is in no danger of being missed by anyone who wants to see it, look at Youtube, where there are so many versions to choose from right there, of either incarnation, it may be the most AVAILABLE silent film that currently exists. The only ones whining are those internerd noodninks with too much time on their hands who’d rather whinnie, postulate and complain about what they believe they don’t have rather than actually enjoy themselves watching films that they do have, they’d rather spend the time wishing the print was just a hair sharper (where we wish they were a hair sharper themselves) or this imagined missing bit or that missing bit returned might make them happy (probably not even if it actually turned up). How can it be possible that POTO has been the gateway picture for so many budding silent film enthusiasts all of these decades when the thing cannot be properly seen in these horrible surviving prints? And all of these fan based digital composites combining bits of the 25 and 29 versions are no more accurate representations of POTO than anything Universal ever put together, don’t bother me with any of that silliness until you turn up something like the Chester Conklin scenes, or fifteen pristine reels of never before seen deleted Chaney footage that features the missing airplane escape ending and the henchmonkey. I think I’ll go watch the 1962 Herbert Lom Hammer version, there’s one I have actually not seen in many decades.

So enough of our little bundle of Christmas cheer for that sorry little site, the Nerdlet of Nitwitvile. Let Gebert read and grumble and madly count the words, Merry Christmas Michael, as we return to the other more productive and interesting things we’re doing this Holiday Season, having given those who enjoy our critiques and call outs on that waste of server storage a little Holiday pleasure as well. We leave Nitrateville’s nattering nonsense to continue its commencement remaining mainly unread.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

William Ferry
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Re: Nitrateville Nonsense: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Postby William Ferry » Fri Dec 17, 2021 10:58 am

This is an obsession I've never understood, Richard. I just enjoy watching these films. I don't care if it's the 25 or 29 PHANTOM, or the current version of VARSITY SHOW that's supposedly some 20 minutes short, or THE PERILS OF PAULINE edited WWI-era reissue. I'm 62 now, and I've enjoyed old films for over 55 years. There's a lot available now that I never thought I'd ever have the chance of seeing, and personally, I think my time is better invested in watching and enjoying what I can, rather than fruitlessly griping or seeking the unattainable.

If you'll excuse me, I have to finish watching my Super 8 silent Blackhawk print of THE GENERAL (Paul Killiam version). And I like it just as much as the KINO restored DVD, which I also have.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my fellow Mafiosi!

Rob Farr
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Re: Nitrateville Nonsense: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Postby Rob Farr » Tue Dec 28, 2021 10:46 am

This essay is a great Christmas gift Richard. Along the lines of pointless reconstructions, the project to map all surviving prints of Shoulder Arms seems particularly meaningless since no one is proposing or funding a restoration of any kind. I grant anyone their right to go down a rabbit hole for their personal pleasure (I’ve done a few deep dives myself), but I’m pretty sure that the Pathe print of Shoulder Arms is as close to Chaplin’s 1918 release as anyone could want and hope for.

And a very happy New Year to all Mafioso, gunsels and molls.
Rob Farr
"If it's not comedy, I fall asleep" - Harpo Marx

Richard M Roberts
Godfather
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Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

Re: Nitrateville Nonsense: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Postby Richard M Roberts » Tue Dec 28, 2021 4:12 pm

Absolutely Mr. Farr, and why only SHOULDER ARMS? I have four different prints of A DOG'S LIFE that are all unique in terms of footage contained and alternate takes. If they are going down that wabbit hole, they might as well do the whole Chaplin canon.

I'll even help them, I'll do an inventory on the number of original print materials on A THIEF CATCHER...........................one.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

Agnes McFadden
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Re: Nitrateville Nonsense: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Postby Agnes McFadden » Thu Mar 31, 2022 11:38 am

It is nice when 3 seconds of a great film are found, but to put out the money to reissue & get enough folks to pay for a new disc- unless the difference is volumes &/or story changing, it isn't for me.

There are so many titles that could better use the funds - films that haven't come out on disc.

As for me, I keep hoping there is another swimming pool in Alaska, a barn in Iowa, or a warehouse in eastern Europe , with a print of The Miracle Man.
That is my ( unrealastic) Chaney fantasy.
Agnes McFadden


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