Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'Phantom of the Opera' at Flying Monkey
on Thursday, Oct. 30: See it if you dare!

Vintage promotional material for 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925).

In what amounts to a grand finale of the busy Halloween silent film calendar, I'm doing music for a screening of 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925) at the Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center on Thursday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

It's been a great season, and I'm looking forward to getting a good crowd for this one. We've had posters up, and press releases have gone out.

Plus, it's 'The Phantom,' who just always draws an audience.

However, I'm afraid I have two pieces of bad news from recent months to deliver regarding the silent 'Phantom.'

Here goes...

Dancer Carla Laemmle seen on stage near the beginning of 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925).

• The first involves Carla Laemmle, who appears in 'Phantom' as a dancer. Niece of Universal studio boss "Uncle" Carl Laemmle, she went on to play a key role in the opening of the studio's iconic Bela Lugosi version of 'Dracula' (1931).

For years now, audiences at 'Phantom' screenings have enjoyed learning that Carla Laemmle was still with us, well past age 100 and still going strong. What a kick to have this living link to the silent era among us.

Well, I'm sad to report that Carla passed away on June 12 at age 104, still sharp right up until the end.

If you'd like to learn more about her story, check out this wonderfully eloquent tribute on the cinema blog maintained by a gal who goes by 'Nitrate Diva.'

• The second piece of sad 'Phantom' news involves the Opera House set. Left intact after 'Phantom' filming wrapped, the set (later known as "Soundstage 28") stood for decades on the Universal backlot, still regularly used well into the 21st century.

Among its more prominent recent appearances: the old, abandoned Muppet Show theater in 'The Muppets,' the 2011 franchise reboot.

Well, I regret to inform you that the set was demolished this past September, apparently to make room for the nearby Universal Studios tour operation. Here's an account of the demolition.

Among its other distinctions, legend has it that Soundstage 28 was haunted by Chaney's ghost. Here's an in-depth report on that side of things.

And so goes one of the few remaining tangible links to the silent era.

How ironic! An historic (and still useful) studio stage torn down to make room for a theme park celebrating an industry that...well, don't get me started.

But the film is still with us, and you have a chance to see it on the big screen and with live music and an audience on Thursday, Oct. 30.

More info in the press release below...

* * *

Lon Chaney as the Phantom menaces Mary Philbin.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film 'Phantom of the Opera' at Flying Monkey on Thursday, Oct. 30

Just in time for Halloween: Pioneer classic horror flick to be shown on the big screen with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H.—Get into the Halloween spirit with a classic silent horror film!

'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the first screen adaptation of the classic thriller, will be shown with live music on Thursday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

The event will feature live music by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis.

Admission is $10 per person.

'The Phantom of the Opera,' starring legendary actor Lon Chaney in the title role, remains a landmark work of cinema horror. 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 goes by," said Rapsis, who is based in New Hampshire and ranks as one of the nation's leading silent film accompanists. "It's a great way to celebrate Halloween and 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, 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 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.

'The Phantom of the Opera' proved so popular in its original release and again in a 1929 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.

In reviving the original screen version of 'Phantom of the Opera,' the Flying Monkey aims to show silent movies as they were meant to be seen—in high quality prints, on a large screen, with live music, and with an audience.

"All those elements are important parts of the silent film experience," said Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. "If you can put it all together again, these films still contain a tremendous amount of excitement. You can see why people first fell in love with the movies."

Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

Upcoming feature films in the Flying Monkey's silent film series include:

• Thursday, Nov. 13, 6:30 p.m.: 'Running Wild' (1927) starring W.C. Fields. Long before he entertained movie audiences with his nasal twang, W.C. Fields was a popular leading man in silent film comedies! This one finds Fields as a hen-pecked husband finally driven to make surprising changes in his life.

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) will be shown on Thursday, Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.; (603) 536-2551. Admission $10. For more information, visit For more info on the music, visit

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