This afternoon's screening of 'Nosferatu' (1922) at the Town Hall Theatre went frighteningly well!
About 60 people turned up. That's a good-sized crowd for a pandemic, but still well within the Wilton, N.H. theater's reduced capacity of 108.
The film seemed to connect—no surprise there as one of its central themes is the timely topic of plague.
Afterwards, theater owner/operator told me one woman left early, upset at two things:
1. A guy kept checking his phone during the film. Need to remind people not to do that.
2. People were laughing at some parts of the movie. This offended her because it's supposed to be a horror movie. How dare people chuckle!
So that's also something I have to say: not all laughter is equal. And director F.W. Murnau was, I think, in some cases trying for laughs, although of the nervous kind.
I believe in presenting century-old cinema to today's audiences, there is right and wrong laughter.
Tittering at Mary Philbin's over-the-top "acting" in 'Phantom of the Opera' is the wrong kind of laughter: the kind directed at the film and the people involved in it. Ho ho, how silly this all is!
But about 'Nosferatu': when Count Orlok observes that Hutter's wife "has a nice neck," of course an audience may laugh, knowing what is to come. I think Murnau knew that even then.
So I'll have to mention these things at other upcoming screenings of 'Nosferatu.'
Speaking of which: it's now the week before Halloween, normally the busiest of the year for this silent film accompanist.
Although Covid-19 has kept some theaters closed this year, causing some gigs to vanish, I've managed to put together a respectable line-up of shows.
One highlight: two programs on Thursday, Oct. 29 at the Garden Cinemas in Greenfield, Mass., a new venue for me. Thanks again to the Mass family, stewards of this classic downtown cinema, for giving silent film a place on the bill!
Here's a summary of upcoming Halloween shows:
• Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, 6:30 p.m.: "Nosferatu" (1922) directed by F.W. Murnau; The Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 South Main St., Plymouth, N.H.; (603) 536-2551; http://www.flyingmonkeynh.com/. Celebrate Halloween by experiencing the original silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous 'Dracula' story. Still scary after all these years—in fact, some critics believe this version is not only the best ever done, but has actually become creepier with the passage of time. See for yourself...if you dare. Monthly silent film series at a restored moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H. Admission, $10 per person.
• Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, 2:30 p.m.: "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) starring Lon Chaney; Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St., Greenfield, Mass.; call (413) 773-9260 or visit www.gardencinemas.net. Celebrate Halloween with one of the all-time classics. Long before Andrew Lloyd Webber created the hit stage musical, this silent film adaptation starring Lon Chaney helped place 'Phantom' firmly in the pantheon of both horror and romance. And remember: in silent film, no one can hear you SCREAM! Admission, $6.50 per person.
• Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, 9 p.m.: "Nosferatu" (1922) directed by F.W. Murnau; Greenfield Garden Cinemas, 361 Main St., Greenfield, Mass.; call (413) 773-9260 or visit www.gardencinemas.net. Celebrate Halloween by experiencing the original silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's famous 'Dracula' story. Still scary after all these years—in fact, some critics believe this version is not only the best ever done, but has actually become creepier with the passage of time. See for yourself...if you dare. Admission, $9.50 per person; $8.50 students/seniors.
• Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, 7:30 p.m: Special Halloween Lon Chaney "Creepfest" Double Feature; Wilton Town Hall Theatre, Main Street, Wilton, N.H.; (603) 654-3456; www.wiltontownhalltheatre.com. Two strange and disturbing silent thrillers, both starring Chaney at the peak of his career and directed by Todd Browning, who would later helm the cult film 'Freaks' (1932). Live music by accompanist Jeff Rapsis.
In 'The Unknown' (1927), Chaney plays 'Alonzo the Armless,' a circus knife-thrower (he uses his feet!) with a dark past who lusts after bareback rider Joan Crawford, who is also pursued by the circus strong man, but she has a phobia about being touched by men. See where this is going?
In 'West of Zanzibar' (1928), Chaney plays a vaudeville magician who loses use of his legs in an accident but journeys to Africa to seek revenge on the wealthy businessman (Lionel Barrymore) who stole his beloved, with shocking results. A double dose of Lon Chaney will make it a Halloween you'll never forget! Admission free, donations of $10 per person encouraged.
I'm especially excited by the Chaney double bill on Halloween night in Wilton. In one film, he's without arms; in the other, he can't use his legs. If anyone can suggest a tagline that won't get us in trouble, I'm all ears!