The (Real) Music of the Night

Tonight we saw Lon Chaney in the original 1925 silent film version of Phantom of the Opera with accompaniment by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The performance took place at Symphony Center and was a wonderful experience. This is the way movies were meant to be seen.
The film tells the story more as a horror tale, not as the overwrought romance Andrew Lloyd Webber would have us want it. (Apologies to Phantom fangirls in the audience. 🙂
Modern film audiences tend to be spoiled by the flash and boom of the current crop of Hollywood movies (ask Dan upstairs about this), which seem to be focused on making you, the viewer, feel like you’re right there in the middle of the action. Silent film is a different experience altogether: you know it’s a performance because it’s this flat black-and-white image on a screen and it doesn’t look like real life, and the sound in the theater is meant to draw an emotion instead of replicating the actual audio of The Rock blasting someone’s whatever off.
Phantom of the Opera used some early silent film techniques, such as different color stock for inside, outside, and underground scenes and even an early use of Technicolor for the Grand Ball scene.
Despite its lack of Foley artists, this Phantom of the Opera is very creepy. Lon Chaney’s tortured Opera House-dweller is more menacing on grainy celluloid, and Mary Philbin plays a Christine that you can actually care about.
The CSO played an adaptation of the original score by G Hinrichs and M Winkler. The conductor was Richard Kaufman, and the organist was Dennis James, whom I’ve heard playing at the Silent Film Society of Chicago’s presentations. A wonderful touch was soprano Elizabeth Norman, providing voices for both Christine and Carlotta, along with the occasional scream.
The program started out with Mr Kaufman’s telling us that the movie we were about to see was made 6 years after “a very important event.” He then introduced Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust, who played a rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” followed by “Go-Go White Sox.”
Who says an evening at the symphony is stuffy?