Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Coming up: Four—count 'em, four!—
screenings of 'Phantom of the Opera'

As the old saying goes, four phantoms are better than one. Not sure if I have that exactly right, but even so, it's my current philosophy, as I have no less than four separate screenings of the silent 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925) in the upcoming weeks before Halloween.

Interested in taking in all four? Here's a quick run-down of the where and when:

Saturday, Oct. 13, 7 p.m.: Brandon Town Hall, Route 7, Brandon, Vt. Free admission, donations accepted.

Sunday, Oct. 21, 2 p.m.: Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville Mass. Admission $15 per person. In glorious 35mm!

Thursday, Oct. 25, 6:30 p.m.: The Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H. Admission $10 per person.

Wednesday, Oct. 31, 7 p.m.: Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College, Andover, Mass. Free admission, donations accepted.

I didn't plan on a four-in-one 'Phantom' season, but the requests kept coming in and this is the result. It'll be fun to do, as 'Phantom of the Opera' was the first feature I scored in live performance, and I haven't really done it since 2007, so it'll be interesting to see how my approach has evolved.

Ah, the iconic film still image.

I'm particularly excited by 35mm screening we've arranged at the Somerville (Mass.) Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 21. (All the others use digital transfers.) The print we're using belongs to noted film historian and preservationist David Shepard, and I understand it to be one of the best 35mm prints of 'Phantom' in existence.

I'm also thrilled that 'Phantom' will be presented by David Kornfeld, the Somerville's vastly knowledgeable projectionist who knows so much about the many things that go into presenting a vintage film print on the big screen—especially a real vintage one such as 'Phantom.' Bulb strength is only the beginning!

In addition, for the Somerville screening, we're hoping to patch my synthesizer output into the house theatre's amazingly powerful house sound system in the main theater. Assuming we can do this successfully (still a big if), the results should be spectacular. They may never get me to stop playing!

For now, I'm looking forward to the "starter" Phantom—a screening coming up on Saturday, Oct. 13 in Brandon, Vt. More info is below on the press release, but let me say that this marks the final silent screening in Brandon for the 2012 season. (Brandon Town Hall, where we show them, isn't heated, so we push as far as October, when we wind things up with 'Chiller Theatre' in honor of the season.) It's been a great year in Brandon and I want to thank everyone whose efforts make it possible for me to do films there. We've already got dates set for 2013 and I'm working on what films to program. So if you have a favorite, let me know!

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Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 • jeffrapsis@gmail.com

'Phantom of the Opera' at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, Oct. 13

Classic silent horror film starring Lon Chaney to be screened with live music

BRANDON, Vt.—It was one of cinema's first real shockers—a movie so frightening that its original audiences would shriek in terror and even faint. It was 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the silent horror film starring legendary actor Lon Chaney, and it will be revived with live music on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. at Brandon (Vt.) Town Hall and Community Center.

The screening, the final installment of this year's Brandon Town Hall silent film series, will feature live accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based composer who specializes in creating scores for silent films. Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with proceeds to support ongoing renovation of the town hall.

'The Phantom of the Opera,' adapted from a 19th century novel by French author Gaston Leroux, featured Lon Chaney as the deformed Phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House. The Phantom, seen only in the shadows, causes murder and mayhem in an attempt to force the 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, giving a skull-like impression to them. 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 the film's original audiences to shriek in terror.

"No one had ever seen anything like this before," said Rapsis, who will accompany the film. "Chaney, with his portrayal of 'The Phantom,' really pushed the boundaries of what movies could do."

Chaney's other iconic roles of the period include 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.

Chaney's 'Phantom' looks a bit down in the dumps in this still—but not for long. The spigot of self-loathing will soon be turned on full blast.

'The Phantom of the Opera' proved so popular in its original release and again in a 1930 reissue that it led Universal to embark on a series of horror films, many of which are 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, 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 original silent 'Phantom' featured lavish sets, including a large theater designed to represent the sprawling interior of the Paris Opera House. The set was never torn down and continues in use today as part of Universal's Stage 28; it was seen most recently in 2011's 'The Muppet Movie' as the abandoned Muppet Show theater.

Organizers say the original silent film version of 'The Phantom of the Opera' is not only a great movie, but also a great way for families to get into the Halloween spirit. Audience members are encouraged to attend in costume, or at least dress warmly. Because Brandon Town Hall lacks a heating system, organizers have dubbed the screening of the horror film as "Chiller Theater."

And above all, everyone should be prepared to get scared.

"Remember—in silent film, no one can hear you scream," Rapsis said.

Sponsor for the Oct. 13 screening of 'The Phantom of the Opera' is Lake Sunapee Bank.

The final installment in this season's series of silent films at Brandon Town Hall will be 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the classic horror film starring Lon Chaney, to be screened on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.brandontownhall.org. For more info on the music, visit www.jeffrapsis.com.

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