Saturday, October 22, 2016

Too much Phantom still a good thing:
Three screenings, three Sundays in a row

In the silent film world, can there possibly be too much 'Phantom of the Opera?'

Every Halloween, it seems we're on the verge of finding out.

Example: I know of at least a half-dozen screenings with live music in New England in the next week.

And though I try to limit myself to keep 'Phantom' from becoming too familiar, even I have three 'Phantoms' on the schedule this month.

Well, despite concerns about over-exposure, the silent 'Phantom' starring Lon Chaney shows no signs of fading.

Maybe the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical fuels continued interest. Maybe it's author Gaston Leroux's story, powerful in any form. Both certainly play a part, I'm sure.

It could even be a local TV program here in New England called 'The Phantom Gourmet.'

But I believe a lot of credit should go to the film itself. It's really, really good. And those of us who've seen it many times tend to lose sight of that, I think.

So theater programmers will continue to run 'Phantom' for the same reason music directors continue to lead Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: it's one of the classics.

Lon Chaney menaces Mary Philbin.

And we shouldn't lose sight of the value of experiencing it as intended—in a theater with an audience, and with live music.

Nor should we forget what a roller coaster ride 'Phantom' is for someone who's never seen it. If we stop showing it, we'll stop giving newcomers the chance for that "first-time" experience.

Having said all that, I found myself open to the idea of trying something different for this weekend's screening of 'Phantom' at the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, Mass.

The folks there are running a costume contest in conjunction with the show, which is Sunday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. (More details about the screening are in the press release below.)

But they also asked me if it was possible to do some kind of audience participation during the film—something in the manner of Rocky Horror, perhaps.

I thought about it, and felt the best way to go was to deputize the audience to help create elements of the accompaniment.

Consider: one of the highlights of the 1924 silent film version of 'Peter Pan' is when the audience is asked to clap to save Tinkerbell. People inevitably rise to the occasion, and it's always great fun.

Why not apply that same dynamic to 'Phantom of the Opera?' So that's what we'll try tomorrow night in what we're calling the first-ever "Collaborative Phantom."

Specifically, the audience will be asked to help out in two ways:




For the APPLAUD part: the silent 'Phantom' has several scenes in the Paris Opera where the audience is seen applauding something on stage.

Whenever the audience is seen reacting on screen, our own audience will be asked to clap, cheer, and generally ovate. (Is that a word?) Extra credit if anyone yells 'Brava!'

For the SCREAM part: two moments occur where our audience will be asked to basically scream bloody murder.

The first time comes fairly early in the film, when the Opera House chandelier falls. The second is the Phantom' unmasking.

If nothing else, I hope the chance to scream creates a sense of what experiencing 'Phantom' must have been like for its original audiences.

Nowadays we've watched movies our entire lives, and we've seen everything. But early movie-goers were genuinely shocked by Lon Chaney's ghoulish appearance.

We can't forget the haunting gallery of truly frightening images that Hollywood has given us since Chaney played the 'Phantom.'

But I think staging a "Collaborative Phantom" in which the audience actively contributes to the soundtrack instead of just passively watching the film, is a worthy project.

I also think there's a good chance this might loosen up the audience we get so that everyone feels free to really react in any way they feel like.

One of the great glories of silent film (and one of its unsung achievements, I think) is the audience experience it can produce.

I hope you'll join us tomorrow night at the Aeronaut, and that you'll be a part of that experience! Details in the press release below.

And if you can't make it this weekend, I'm doing it one mo' time this season—on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

More info on that to come next week.

* * *

A poster for the original 1925 release of 'Phantom of the Opera.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Phantom of the Opera' with live music at Aeronaut Brewing Co. on Sunday, Oct. 23

Just in time for Halloween: Pioneer classic silent horror flick starring Lon Chaney shown on the big screen with live music

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a spooky 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. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass.

Live music will be performed by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $10 per person.

Tickets are available online at; search on "Aeronaut Brewery."

The program is open to the public and is part of the Aeronaut's commitment to showcase local music, art, and performance.

'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 this unusual film 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 frequently accompanies films in the Boston area. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween, and also the power of silent film to transport audiences to strange and unusual places."

Original 'Phantom of the Opera' promotional art.

'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 DaaƩ, as the Phantom's love interest; character actor Snitz Edwards; and many other stars of the silent period.

Another one.

'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. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewing Co., 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass. Admission is $10 per person and seating is limited; for tickets and information, visit or and seach on "Aeronaut Brewery."

• The full link on Eventbrite is below:

• The event is also on Facebook at this address:

For more info on the music, visit

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