In the 1980s, the digital colorization of black-and-white studio films touched off a firestorm of controversy in which its detractors proclaimed the so-called “entertainment makeovers” an act of cultural vandalism.
With Vox Lumiere — The Phantom of the Opera, creator-composer-director Kevin Saunders Hayes re-straddles that controversy by screening the complete 1925 silent Lon Chaney Phantom behind a pulsating, fully choreographed (by Natalie Willes) and steam-punked (by costumer Sharell Martin) original rock operetta.
And while re-scoring vintage silent films with anachronistic rock music is hardly new (see: the Georgio Moroder Metropolis), and nor for that matter is combining a film screening with live performers (see: The Rock Horror Picture Show), appropriating an existing feature film in its entirety as a kind of supertitle and lavishly animated scenic backdrop to a parallel musical version of the same story seems to be unprecedented.
Hayes doesn’t physically tamper with the Chaney film, and occasionally, thanks to lighting designer William Kirkham’s skillful chiaroscuro, the live actors do almost blend with the vintage cinematography, particularly during the film’s stunning, two-strip Technicolor masked-ball sequence.
But Vox Lumiere does raise the question of whether James Lynch (as the Phantom), Marisa Johnson and Victoria Levy (sharing the role of Christine, the object of the Phantom’s obsession) and Julie Brody (as the diva Carlotta) echoing the onscreen narrative in song and dance represents a value-added enhancement of the film or merely an annoying sightline obstruction.
The answer probably hinges on the radically different expectations one brings to a Las Vegas showroom, American Idol and an evening at the cinematheque.
Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntn.; through December 13. (804) 869-7625, voxlumiere.com.
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