We're getting near the end of this year's Halloween silent film decathlon, with just two shows remaining.
Tonight (Saturday, Oct. 29), I'll do music for this year's final screening of 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928), the film in this year's "rotation."
And then Sunday afternoon, it's Lon Chaney in 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925) at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H. Showtime is at 4:30 p.m.; more details in the press release attached to the end of this post.
It's been such an eventful week that there's a lot to round up. Here's what happened since last time I checked in, day by day.
• Sunday, Oct. 23: Pulled into the parking lot of library/town office building in Whitingham Vt. at precisely 1 p.m. to see a large sign promoting their silent film screening...at 1 p.m.!
What?! I thought showtime was 2 p.m. Ooops!
I rushed into the library to find librarian Kristine Sweeter completely unruffled.
"It's okay," she said. "We're pretty relaxed around here."
And so they were.
It's embarrassing to blow into a venue at the exact time when everyone expected the show to start, but the people of Whitingham could not have been nicer.
Geography note: the library is technically in the Village of Jacksonville, which is part of the Town of Whitingham. Just to be clear.
After setting up in record time, the screening of John Barrymore in 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' (1920) took place in a corner of a sprawling 19th century function hall, with people arrayed in chairs behind me.
No one was more than 15 feet from the screen, I think. And it all went very well—people really enjoyed the experience, and lots of good questions afterwards.
I would have stayed longer, but had to hit the road for the drive to Boston, a two-hour-plus Nantucket Sleigh Ride mostly along Massachusetts Route 2 that took me from deepest rural New England to the big city, where I would accompany 'Phantom' that night at the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, Mass.
I pulled out of Whitingham at 3:30 p.m., which allowed exactly enough time for a half-hour stop at Machu Chicken, a Peruvian "pollaria" in Somerville's Union Square (not far from the Aeronaut) that does a great inexpensive roasted chicken.
And don't confuse it with Boston Market: the place received a special permit to import a rotisserie oven from Peru, similar to the kind you'll see in the windows of restaurants lining the streets in Peruvian cities. It's roasted chicken, but really quite different.
And thus would I fortify myself for what promised to be a big show at the Aeronaut: not only was a heavy turnout expected, but a well known and highly regarded silent film accompanist was in town and planning to drop in.
For me, it's always a big deal when another accompanist is in the audience. It serves as special motivation to be at the top of your game and do your very best.
I made it all the way to Somerville right on schedule. Great! About a quarter mile from Union Square, I was just starting to congratulate myself on how everything was working out when blue lights appeared ahead.
The street was closed! (I found out later it was for a Halloween Parade in, yes, Union Square.) And cops were directing all vehicles into a maze of sidestreets where traffic just STOPPED.
When we didmove, it was half a car length before stopping again. Dinner time came and went. And never mind dinner—I began to be concerned I wouldn't make it to the Aeronaut in time.
I eventually made my way in a giant improvised loop through streets I'd never heard of, finally getting to Park Street and reaching the Aeronaut via the back way.
It was 6:20 p.m., with showtime at 7 p.m. So not as close as Whitingham, but close enough!
We did have a good turnout, and reaction was strong. (And for the first time ever, I was preceded by a magician!)
Alas, our guest of honor was waylaid and couldn't make it. But it lent an air of excitement to the evening that I think helped the performance. Hey, whatever it takes!
One interesting wrinkle to 'Phantom' was that we tried to work in an audience participation angle, billing it as a "Collaborative Phantom."
Prior to screening, I asked the audience to be prepared to do two things.
One was any time there were scenes of the opera house audience applauding, I needed them to applaud, too.
The other was at two points, they needed to scream their heads off.
The first time was when the chandelier falls from the ceiling, crashing to the ground floor. The second: when the Phantom's mask is removed.
We tried a few practice runs, and everyone seemed into it. And during the film, it worked great!
The unmasking scene seemed especially magnified by the intentional loud shrieks. So I might keep doing it.
Afterwards, two very stylishly dressed women with jet black hair came up to chat. Turned out they were visiting from Peru!
We had a nice talk about Inca Cola and other things peruvian, including my missed “Pollo a la Brasa” meal.
They said it sounded like the place where Peruvian families would go on a Sunday when no one wanted to cook.
Afterwards, this was enough for me to circle around Union Square on the off chance that Machu Chicken was still open at 10 p.m. on a Sunday—and it was!
So yeah, I had a couple of good screenings. But boy did I enjoy that Peruvian barbecued chicken!
• Tuesday, Oct. 25: Driving north for 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H., hit my first snow squall of the season.
This Halloween, 'The Man Who Laughs' is my "project" film: the one I run in multiple places as an antidote to all the screenings of 'Nosferatu' and 'Phantom.'
Audiences have really responded to it, and Plymouth was no exception. Lots of great conversation about this film, which is based on one of Victor Hugo's lesser-known works.
I recall someone wondering how the book differed from the movie. I didn't know, but someone said something along the lines of, "I bet the book ended with everyone dying, and Hollywood had to change it to a happy ending."
Afterwards, I checked. That's exactly what happened!
• Wednesday, Oct. 26: 'The Man Who Laughs' again, this time at Merrimack College's Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover, Mass.
Very large turnout for this—maybe about 80 people. Another good screening highlighted by my goofy remark referring to larges jars of candy in the lobby.
"Halloween is fast approaching, yes, and the organizers of tonight's event hope you enjoyed your share of the candy out in the lobby. Tonight's screening, by the way, is sponsored by the American Dental Association."
• Thursday, Oct. 27: Drove in driving rain down to the Capitol Theatre in Arlington, Mass. to do music for 'The Unholy Three' (1925), a very strange vehicle in which Lon Chaney plays a sideshow ventriloquist who turns his talents to crime.
This being the first screening at a new venue for me, so turnout was limited. I think we had about a dozen people.
Alas, no image check was done prior to the show. I didn't think to ask for it because the Capitol is sister theater to the Somerville Theater, where I've done shows for years now, and where on-screen image concerns are top priority.
So I was surprised to see 'The Unholy Three' start up in wide-screen ratio! What? It didn't help that the first image of the film is of the "fat lady" in the circus, who was wide enough without being stretched further.
After a minute, when I sensed that no one was going to fix this, I decided I had to stop and fix this. So I did something I almost never do: I stopped playing, stood up, and told the people there we had to stop and start over because the picture was in the wrong aspect ratio.
They stopped the picture, but then nothing happened. So I went back to the keyboard to play some interlude music while things were fixed.
After a few minutes, a woman comes down to talk with me. It's the manager. And she's great and understanding and all, but says there's simply nothing they can do to change what's on the screen.
So we chatted, and it was soon clear that yes, they had no ability to fix the problem on the equipment in the booth. Sheesh!
So I had to stand up and change my whole pitch to the audience, saying that we were now going to discover how good this film was by finding out if its impact is at all diminished by showing it in the wrong proportions.
No one seemed to mind, though. And off we went, it after awhile you really do kind of forget about how things are stretched horizontally.
Makes me wonder what else we come to accept as natural even if it's dead wrong. I guess we'll find out with the upcoming Presidential election. Har!
• Friday, Oct. 28: My one screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922) this year is at the Regent Theatre, not that far from the Capitol. (See yesterday.)
The Regent, a busy artistic hub for all manner of performances, does show film, and silent film with live music worked so well as part of their 100th anniversary celebration last April, they thought it was worth trying again, hence tonight's screening.
Well, they were right: About 140 people crowded into the screening, one of those where everything really came together. Great audience reaction throughout, and a fairly sizeable group came down to the keyboard for questions some demonstration.
One woman was so into it, she pumped me for details about tonight's screening at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, where I'm doing one more 'The Man Who Laughs.'
We call it 'Chiller Theatre' in part because it's Halloween weekend, and also because the summer-only theater has no central heating.
It's tonight at 8 p.m., and she's planning to go. Hope you are, too!
And if you'd like more information about 'Phantom of the Opera' on Sunday, Oct. 30 in Wilton, N.H., here's the press release:
MONDAY, OCT. 10, 2016 / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • firstname.lastname@example.org
'Phantom of the Opera' with live music at Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 30
Just in time for Halloween: classic silent horror flick starring Lon Chaney shown on the big screen with live music
WILTON, N.H.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a nerve-rattling silent horror film!
'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the first screen adaptation of the classic thriller, will be shown with live music on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 60 Main St., Wilton, N.H.
Live music will be performed by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free, with a donation of $5 per person suggestion to help defray expenses.
The screening is part of the Town Hall Theatre's ongoing monthly silent film series.
'The Phantom of the Opera,' starring legendary actor Lon Chaney in the title role, remains a landmark work of the cinematic horror genre. To modern viewers, the passage of time has made the picture seem even more strange and otherworldly.
It's an atmosphere that silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis will try to enhance in improvising live music on the spot for the screenings.
"The original 'Phantom' is a film that seems to get creepier as more time passes," said Rapsis, who is based in New Hampshire and accompanies films at venues around the nation. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween, and also the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."
'The Phantom of the Opera,' adapted from a 19th century novel by French author Gaston Leroux, featured Chaney as the deformed Phantom who haunts the opera house. The Phantom, seen only in the shadows, causes murder and mayhem in an attempt to force the opera's management to make the woman he loves into a star.
The film is most famous for Lon Chaney's intentionally horrific, self-applied make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere.
Chaney transformed his face by painting his eye sockets black, creating a cadaverous skull-like visage. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom.
Chaney's disfigured face is kept covered in the film until the now-famous unmasking scene, which prompted gasps of terror from the film's original audiences.
"No one had ever seen anything like this before," Rapsis said. "Chaney, with his portrayal of 'The Phantom,' really pushed the boundaries of what movies could do."
Chaney, known as the "Man of a Thousand Faces" due to his versatility with make-up, also played Quasimodo in the silent 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and circus performer 'Alonzo the Armless' in Tod Browning's 'The Unknown' (1927).
The large cast of 'Phantom of the Opera' includes Mary Philbin as Christine Daaé, as the Phantom's love interest; character actor Snitz Edwards; and many other stars of the silent period.
'The Phantom of the Opera' proved so popular in its original release and again in a 1930 reissue that it led Universal Studios to launch a series of horror films, many of which are also regarded as true classics of the genre, including Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and The Mummy (1932).
The silent film version of 'Phantom' also paved the way for numerous other adaptations of the story, up to and including the wildly successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical from 1986 that continues to run on Broadway and in productions around the world.
‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) will be shown on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre, 60 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Admission is free; suggested donation of $5 per person. For more info, visit www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com or call (603) 654-3456.