Thursday, October 23, 2014

Saturday, Oct. 25 in Oqunquit, Maine:
'Phantom of the Opera' (1925)

A poster for this weekend's screening of 'Phantom' at the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine.

This weekend, I'm doing music for 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925) in a place where movies have been shown continuously since before the 'Phantom' itself first hit the big screen.

It's the Leavitt Theatre in Ogunquit, Maine, where the original Lon Chaney silent version of 'Phantom' will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 25 at 8 p.m.

The screening, part of a community celebration dubbed 'Ogunquitfest,' is also being billed as 'Chiller Theatre,' given the building's lack of a central heating system.

More info on the film and the screening is in the press release below.

But I'd like to add that in the spirit of Halloween, the Leavitt Theatre itself can be counted among the "undead," given its recent brush with closure.

Yes, after 90 continuous years of operation, last October it looked like the Leavitt would be among the casualties of Hollywood's conversion to digital format for first-run films.

As a summer-only theater in a seasonal coastal resort, the economics for the Leavitt were marginal at best.

The interior of the Leavitt, virtually unchanged since movies began being shown there in 1923.

So there simply wasn't $60K in the till to install a digital projection system needed to continue showing the latest releases.

As the 2013 season ended, long-time owner Peter Clayton (who's run the place since 1976) was reluctantly ready to throw in the towel.

But his sons, Ian and Max, suggested a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter to raise the money. The month-long campaign came through with more than enough to go digital, plus add a few extras like air conditioning.

And so it came to pass. The Leavitt, still under Clayton family management, was back in business for 2014, with a full summer of first-run movies and a variety of other programming. (Yes, including a silent film series!)

In an age where more than ever we need spaces for people to gather for communal experiences that include great cinema, I think the continuing "undead" status of the Leavitt is something to be celebrated.

So I hope you'll join us for "Chiller Theater," after which the theater will go into winter hibernation. And I hope you'll make it a point to return often during the 2015 season!

* * *

Lon Chaney as 'The Phantom' menaces Mary Philbin.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent film 'Chiller Theatre' at Ogunquit's Leavitt Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 25

Just in time for Halloween: 'Phantom of the Opera' (1925), pioneer classic horror flick, to be shown on the big screen with live music

OGUNQUIT, Maine—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 Saturday, Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine.

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

Admission is $10 per person. The horror film event is being dubbed "Chiller Theatre" due to the summer-only building's lack of a heating system. Organizers ask attendees to check the weather and bring along sweaters and blankets if a cold evening is anticipated.

'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 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."

A closer look at Chaney's 'Phantom' get-up.

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 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 Leavitt's screening of 'The Phantom of the Opera' is part of the 11th annual Ogunquitfest, an area-wide celebration of autumn and the Halloween season.

The screening is the final installment of the Leavitt's 2014 Silent Film Series. Although 'Phantom of the Opera' is suitable for all family members, the overall program may be too much for very young children to enjoy.

All movies in the Leavitt Theatre's silent film series were popular when first seen by audiences in the 1920s, but are rarely screened today in a way that allows them to be seen at their best. They were not made to be shown on television; to revive them, organizers aim to show the films as they were intended—in top quality restored prints, on a large screen, with live music, and before a live audience.

"If you can put it all together again, these films still contain a tremendous amount of excitement," Rapsis said. "By staging these screenings of features from Hollywood's early days, you can see why people first fell in love with the movies."

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) will be shown on Saturday, Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. at the historic Leavitt Theatre, 259 Main St., Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. Admission $10 per person; for more info, call (207) 646-3123 or visit For more info on the music, visit


  1. I have seen the 1925 Phantom at home on my home cinema with candles and red wine together with my wife - it was awesome. Thank you for your post and thoughts. We got a feeling about the history of this tremedous story. Also we have seen the musical some weeks ago in germany/hamburg and it was a good supplement, so now we are little fans of this story. Ah, years ago i read the genesis of the Phantom in the book of Susan Kay. I can recommend it! Regards..

  2. Wow, candles and red wine! Hope Lon Chaney getting unmasked didn't ruin the mood. But seriously: I think one of the enduring aspects of the 'Phantom' story is that it so elegantly walks the line between romance and fear. This line is drawn differently in each of us, but I think it's a basic part of the human make-up. As such, it inspires our passions, inflames our desires, and drives what we find erotic.

    And now I'm going to go take a cold shower.