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Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Newly Restored Colorized Print
Stars: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Snitz Edwards and Gibson Gowland
Director: Rupert Julian
Music: Phantom of the Opera was an original silent film, but accompaniment is performed at film fests with music by the Alloy Orchestra (www.alloyorchestra.com)
Running Time: 101 minutes
*World Premiere: Reviewed at the Kansas International Film Festival, Sept. 2005
The world premiere of a newly restored print of the 1925 Lon Chaney classic film, Phantom of the Opera, with live accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra, was a highlight of the 2005 Kansas International Film Festival (KIFF). The film has been restored in a complex original color scheme and printed with 218 tint changes from the original. Also included, is the original 2-strip Technicolor “Bal Masque” scene from preservationist David Shepard and a digitally recreated scene, which is the lost Technicolor scene.
The world famous Alloy Orchestra (Roger Miller, Ken Winokur and Terry Donahue) are accompanists of silent films and have performed from Lincoln Center to the Louvre to the National Gallery. Roger Miller plays synthesizer. Ken Winokur does “junk percussion” and clarinet and Terry Donahoe also does “junk percussion,” plus accordion, musical saw and banjo. In fact, the audience thought a Theremin was being played during one particularly tense moment, only to learn that it was a musical saw played with a bow.
Phantom of the Opera (1925) is different from the musical, Phantom scored by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The 1925 version strictly belongs to Lon Chaney, who turns the Phantom into a maniac living five levels below the street in a basement of horrors. With dialogue printed on the screen and the actors emoting, Alloy Orchestra’s accompaniment becomes part of the spectacle. Color is fleeting, as color was still experimental in 1925, but it is not distracting. This Phantom wears a half-mask with a veil across his mouth. He is lean, mean and sleeps in a coffin. Phantom doesn’t hesitate to kill and the falling of the chandelier is truly horrifying. Lon Chaney's face for Phantom certainly began his title of "Man of 1000 Faces." With body language and face make-up, he conveys the mind set of this man who had a tormented life and now torments others.
The more you get into the 1925 Phantom version, the more it resembles mythology with Persephone (Christine) being taken into the underground (opera cellar) by the Lord of the Underworld (Phantom) and occasionally being allowed to surface as an opera singer (Lord of the Underworld’s agreement with Persephone’s mother). Once a good story still means, always a good story.
Mary Philbin plays Christine who admires her “teacher” until she finds out whom he really is. Norman Kerry as her true love, Raoul, emotes less, which is why we don’t remember his name now. Special effects of the time still hold up and the Masque scene where the Phantom is the only person dressed completely in red, is startling.
This new restored version of Phantom of the Opera will be playing at art theaters and film festivals around the country. When the Alloy Orchestra accompanies it live, you are in for a treat. Sit back and enjoy.
Copyright 2005 Marie Asner