“ERIK: PORTRAIT OF A LIVING CORPSE”: A Valentine to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Movie Review)
Ryan Bijan freely admits that ERIK: PORTRAIT OF A LIVING CORPSE is a student film.
And indeed it is. Like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland did in those grand old MGM movies of long ago, writer/director Bijan and his friends got together and put on a show. Clocking in at about an hour, ERIK is a well put together labor of love.
For his adaptation of the oft-told tale, Bijan went back to the source: Gaston Leroux’s century old novel. While the novice director possesses a great deal of affection for the story’s many studio produced versions, he felt that the makers of those films sometimes rewrote the story, thereby altering the book’s intent.
For a student filmmaker, Bijan has written an impressively literate screenplay. It’s Leroux’s story told from the Phantom’s point of view. The iconic character is even given a backstory which offers insight into the motivations behind his actions. Bijan’s ERIK is a fully fleshed out role. We learn that while he has no compunction about killing those who stand in his way, ERIK has an enormous amount of affection for small, defenseless animals. He sees himself and the little creatures as kindred spirits.
Even more impressively, Bijan takes his viewers on a journey back to the Paris of the 1908-1910 era via the clever use of sets and locations in 21st century Fort Worth, Texas, where he lives. Authentic costumes and atmospheric lighting help to further create the impression that what we’re watching is more than just a student film.
There’s real tension in a sequence where Christine Daae (Autumn Hyun) and Raoul DeChagny (Bijan, looking quite dashing in early 20th century attire) meet in an old cemetery, as the Phantom secretly watches their every move.
Even more impressively, Bijan convinced the management of a local performing arts center to allow him use of their auditorium for the story’s important opera sequences. The director’s uncle, a county commissioner, might have helped him obtain use of the County Courthouse’s century old clock tower. As a result, the film looks far more expensively-produced than it actually was.
A superb, haunting score by Patrick Lee adds to the film’s aura of mystery.
There’s an important lesson to be learned in viewing ERIK: PORTRAIT OF A LIVING CORPSE. It’s a lesson film buffs have learned many times before: more often than not, films produced for peanuts outside of the studio system can posses more heart and soul than any Hollywood blockbuster ever could. Ryan Bijan wrote, directed and acted in his baby out of a deep love and passion for the story. His still developing talent is obvious: we might recall that acclaimed directors such as Tim Burton and David Cronenberg, among others, got their own starts making student films. When they first picked up a camera, those icons were filled with the same drive, determination, and love for the craft of film making as Bijan is.
Don’t let the “student film” label turn you off to what’s a rewarding viewing experience.
ERIK: PORTRAIT OF A LIVING CORPSE is available on DVD via the filmmaker’s website:
The disc includes a feature length making-of documentary in which we see just how much effort and love Bijan and his cast/crew put into getting the film made. Bijan also discusses the history of the PHANTOM and how he came to discover the Leroux story.