Tuesday, October 30, 2018

To scream or not to scream? Find out:
Attend 'Phantom' on 10/31 in Keene, N.H.

Lon Chaney as the Phantom: A face worth reacting to.

It's a movie-going experience worth screaming about.

Really! It's the original silent version of 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), which we're running on Halloween night (Wednesday, Oct. 31) at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, N.H.

Details in the press release below. But what about that screaming?

For the first third of the picture, the title character (played by Lon Chaney) sports a smooth mask that conceals his face.

Why? Well, we find out when the mask suddenly gets removed, revealing his true visage.

The mask-removal scene is an early masterpiece of timing and suspense, I think. The way it's edited, and of course Chaney's hideous make-up job, led Universal to warn theaters that doctors should be stationed at all screening to attend to those prone to fainting.

What an experience that must have been to early movie-goers! And it's hard for us to appreciate these days, nearly a century later, because—well, we've just seen it all.

But there IS a way to recapture some of that early shock that 'Phantom' gave audiences. And it's to employ the audience itself.

When I accompany 'Phantom' screenings around Halloween, I tell the crowd that they have a role to play.

When the Phantom is unmasked, their job is to scream. Loud!

And they do—sometimes for quite awhile. And the screaming, with the music rising up underneath and Lon Chaney glowering at the camera, creates a kind of emotional tidal wave that I think captures a something of the magic that early cinema offered its audiences.

I wouldn't do this at any other time of the year. (But then does 'Phantom' ever get shown other than at Halloween?) But around Halloween, it seems to help the film connect with people, many of whom are unfamiliar with silent film.

Plus it's pretty cool to actually hear a lot of people scream all at once. How often do you get a chance to experience that?

So think asking people to purposefully scream at the unmasking isn't turning the 'Phantom' into a gimmicky novelty or diminishing the film's impact.

I look at it like the sequence in 'Peter Pan' (1924) in which the audience is encouraged to applaud to restore Tinkerbell to life. It can really add to the experience, and encourage people to explore what else vintage cinema has to offer.

Trick or treat! And if you're anywhere near Keene, N.H., lend your voice to our chorus of screams by attending 'The Phantom of the Opera' on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. Details below.

* * *

An original poster for 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925).

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

'Phantom of the Opera' with live music at Colonial Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 31

Celebrate Halloween with pioneer classic silent horror flick starring Lon Chaney in the title role

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

'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925), the silent big screen adaptation of the classic thriller, will be shown with live music on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H.

Live music will be performed by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis. Admission is $6.50 per person.

'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 screening.

"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 throughout the state. "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 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 Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) will be shown on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene, N.H. General admission $6.50 per person. For tickets and information, visit www.thecolonial.org or call (603) 352-2033.

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