“Don’t get upset but they are going to laugh and talk all the way through the film,” the film media teachers at a university told me when I screened my version with my score of Lon Chaney‘s 1925 silent film, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to an audience of over 500 students.
“Not today they won’t,” I replied.
I introduced the program, gave them insights into Lon Chaney they would not otherwise have had (but which anyone going to see a Lon Chaney film when they were first shown would have known) and told them that while nearly everyone sees The Phantom as the villain I see the girl as the person best described by that adjective.
That surprised them. Then I told them why I see the story that way.
The film played to an audience rapt in every detail. When it finished all 500 students stood as one as they gave the screening a ten minute standing ovation.
“They have never done that before. I wonder why they are doing it now,” said one of the teachers.
There are many film versions of this story. None hold a candle to this one. The reason for that lies with Lon Chaney and with Lon Chaney alone.
Last week I found myself compelled to re score the film putting to work ideas that I have found myself thinking about over the last few weeks.
In particular the moment of the Phantom’s unmasking, being the center of the film, has always fallen short of what I want for it. Now that is no longer the case. By chance I found a piece of music that put everything into that moment that I knew it calls for.
Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS, which I am presenting Tuesday at 9pm, was the first film that woke me up, at 17, to what movies could be.
Lon Chaney‘s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is the first film I fell in love with. I had read the novel by Gaston LeRoux before I saw it in the 8mm silent copy I first purchased. It is one of those rare films that is better than the book it is based on.
If The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) made Lon Chaney Sr. a superstar, The Phantom of the Opera, released two years later, made him a legend. The story of the grotesquely malformed, yet strangely sympathetic, Erik, who dwells in the catacombs far beneath the Paris Opera House, and will do anything to win the love of the young ingénue Christine Daae (Mary Philbin), this was Chaney’s masterpiece. Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, Chaney managed to create a character, by subtleties of body language and facial expression, that was, at once, both revolting and endearing, a complex character that later versions of the story fail to match. The result was a spectacular hit for Universal, the first entry in their forthcoming horror genre, and a film that firmly established Chaney as the reigning King of Horror. Sadly, his time at the top would be severely limited, as he passed away just five years later. This movie, however, stands as one of his finest, and an important landmark in the history of cinema.
9pm Thursday, June 28.
The Cineforum, 463 Bathurst Below College Across From The Beer Store, Toronto, Canada.* 416-603-6643. Donation. $20. $10 under 24. Bring a bottle of wine and pretend you are in Paris.
*This presentation is worth flying in from London, Paris, Moscow, Hollywood for. I guarantee you will experience this film, no matter how many times you may have already seen it, as if you had never seen it before.
The Cineforum is the main floor of my home in Toronto. I started it by accident. Chandler Levack, in The UofT Student paper, THE STRAND, calls The Cineforum the best place in Toronto take a date.
The world’s number one travel guide, THE LONELY PLANET, lists The Cineforum as number 5 of the top 5 places in Ontario to see, number 3 of the top 5 places in Toronto see and as the number one place in Toronto in which to see a movie.
Brit painter Peter More calls The Cineforum, “The most perfect place on earth in which to see a film.”
If you have not been here it is time you started coming.