Original ‘Phantom of the Opera’ to be screened in Brandon

BRANDON — 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 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, 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 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. 

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