The Phantom of the Opera Made into a Movie!?

Lately as I’ve been falling asleep, melodies learned by heart in childhood have been playing in my head. As a girl I was totally and completely obsessed with the musical, The Phantom of the Opera. I listened to the original cast recording over and over and over again. I read the book by Gaston Laroux. My family drove more than four hours so I could see the musical performed live. Looking back, it’s not such a mystery why the story gripped my imagination. I was a young musician with great potential, overflowing with passion for my art, and I had no idea how to navigate a career in the professional music world. If only I’d known that I, like the Phantom‘s protagonist, Christine, would never find true happiness in that world.

My well-worn Phantom of the Opera cassettes are long since lost, but I checked in with streaming music services to see if I could find the album. To my surprise, in addition to the original cast recording, I came across a film soundtrack. Someone actually made a movie out of the musical! Since I (still) know the original cast recording by heart, I  was eager to compare film soundtrack with my beloved, original cast recording.

The film version rocked up the score a little, but not too much. Andrew Lloyd Webber excelled at telling his story with music, and not much needed to be changed. I’d had so much trouble imagining the role of Christine without original cast member, Sarah Brightman, for whom the role was originally written. In the film soundtrack, Young Emmy Rossum’s Christine was less virtuosic than Brightman’s, but I actually preferred it. Rossum imbued her singing with so many different colors and emotions. She could be shy and girlish, flirty, terrified, womanly– and that’s from listening to the soundtrack, never having seen the film– she expressed everything in song. Likewise, this Raoul expressed a lot of personality using a more subdued, character-driven singing style. I was less convinced by the Phantom in the film soundtrack. My Phantom will always be Michael Crawford. His over the top theatricality embodies the the character, the obsessive recluse, lost in the melodrama of his own misery, living in the margins of the world of the stage.

Having heard the soundtrack, I would absolutely watch the movie. I have a feeling finding it online will be a whole lot easier than the four hour drive made to see the musical on stage all those years ago!

Philip K. Dick, Robotic Pets, and What is Love, Anyway?

I’m a cat fanatic. I share my life with an adorable Siamese. I love reading about cats, seeing pictures of cats, hearing friends talk about cats. I think you get the picture.

A couple weeks ago an article titled Will Robots Replace Cats? grabbed my attention via the Cat Channel. The article talked about how robotic pets are already making a splash in Japan, and posits that in the future, owning a live pet animal may be something only a privileged few can afford. Robotic cats and dogs may replace living, breathing animals.

Although the article didn’t make the connection, Philip K. Dick had this idea way back in 1968 when he wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a fantastic SF novel which later inspired the film, Blade Runner.

In the novel Philip K. Dick describes a society where owing a live animal is the ultimate in status. People save up to make a downpayment on having, say, a real live chicken. For those who can’t afford a live animal, having a robotic pet is as critical to folks as having a smart phone is to us today. One character, a robotic pet vet tech, is called to save a dying robotic cat.

Pet death is gut wrenching. I’ve been through it recently. To me the biggest benefit of a robotic pet isn’t that it won’t poop or cost me money to feed, but that it never dies. But, no, says Philip K. Dick, and no says the Cat Chanel article. The expert interviewed for the article said:

“In Japan, people are becoming so attached to their robot dogs that they hold funerals for them when the circuits die.

The Cat Channel article asks, if humans can become this attached to a robotic pet, what does this mean about our attachment to our flesh and blood pets?

if robotic pets trigger feelings in humans of attachment, then does that mean the bond pet parents experience with their animals mean it doesn’t really exist? Perhaps that “bond” is really just humans projecting their emotions onto animals.

This question is not unique to the human-animal bond. Is the love we feel toward our human loved ones anything more than a projection of our own emotions? Isn’t love the emotion of care for the other, and hope that it’s reciprocated?  Can android humans (or android pets) feel empathy, feel care? If they can’t, does it matter to the people who love them?

If you’re interested in my review of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? you can check it out, it’s short and sweet.

Art doesn’t deliver a message, art provokes questions

I’ve been reading The Book of Life, an online philosophy book discussing concrete ways to live more fulfilling lives.  It’s a cool enterprise. As explained in the introduction, the online format allows it to be free, accessible, collaborative, and it can be constantly updated and changed.  Overall I’ve loved the perspective of first two sections I read.  I jotted down several notes and insights.  Like the best traditional philosophy books I’ve read, it has given me some new and useful frameworks for looking at the world.

But one thing that has constantly made me uneasy about The Book of Life is its attitude toward art. Here’s a quote from the introduction that gets to the heart of what makes me uneasy:

We believe that one of the tasks of art is to be a repository of attitudes that are elusive, but much needed.

Throughout the first sections, The Book of Life talks about books, paintings, and movies as powerful purveyors of the attitudes that citizens cultivate.  The authors suggest we use art to convey healthy, helpful attitudes instead of unhealthy ones.

At first this all sounds very logical and laudable, but the more times I encounter this idea, the more it makes me uneasy.  Art is not some kind of delivery system or storage system for human values and ideas.  Art is a stimulus that provokes people to think.

Last week I finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird.  I’ve been aware of the book and its general plot for years.  I expected the book have a moral (to be a repository for anti-racist attitudes).  I was really surprised and delighted to find out that To Kill A Mockingbird was so much more than a vessel for a moral.  The story was complex, human, messy.  At times I felt deep sympathy with a woman whose attitudes were reprehensible to me.  At other times I was confronted with the reality of member against member prejudice within an oppressed minority.  Several times I questioned the precise motivation of Atticus, champion of justice.  I’m not entirely sure his attitudes and mine completely align.

The beauty of To Kill A Mockingbird is that it’s not a tool, a vehicle, a repository of attitudes and ideas.  To Kill A Mockingbird sets up an enthralling world that draws the reader inside a situation where all hell is about to break loose, then as the tension mounts, it provokes the reader to start questioning.  Art does not convey attitudes, art asks questions.  In answering those questions we begin to define who we are, what we want to be, and the kinds of communities we want to build.

In a discussion on the role of film in our lives, The Book of Life calls on film to:

set out in a more determined and systematic way to offer us the help we really need

If that help means probing a questioning light into places inside ourselves we rarely look, then I’m on board.  In the rare cases such a light truly shines, the power is strong enough to ignite passionate thought across generations.  But to write or film a story in a determined and systematic way, with the goal of cultivating a certain moral stance or attitude, feels stiff and disingenuous.  I doubt such a method has the power to engage us in an epic, internal struggle.  Truly powerful works of art, like To Kill A Mockingbird, always ask more than one question.  The answers are never clear cut, never obvious, never easy.  They evoke a situation of perfectly tuned people, place, and situation to bring ourselves into a place of struggle where we are compelled to look for our own answers.  Depending on who is engaging with the story (and when, and what is happening around them) the answers that come out of that struggle will not always be the same.