Trinity to host Phantom screening, organ performance

Posted: March 2, 2018 at 1:46 a.m.

Lon Chaney, with his relatively small makeup kit, shows before and after (shown) transforming himself into the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.

"So, according to the story, in order to exercise his one joy in life, his music and the full mastery of it, not only in himself but in others, he covered his disfigured countenance with a mask .... Behind this mask he carries out the training of a young opera singer behind the walls of her dressing room and a strange fascination springs up between these two -- the phantom and the girl who owed so much to him, her mentor, and had fallen in love -- in love with his voice. The scene wherein curiosity impels her to remove his mask is said to be manipulated so that the simple act of slipping off the disguise furnishes excitement."

That was how a un-bylined writer, who obviously hadn't seen the movie, described the 1925 silent version of The Phantom of the Opera in The New York Times in September 1925. The film, based on Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel Le Fantome de l'Opera, is about a wretched, disfigured man who haunts the Paris Opera House, murdering those who stand in the way of his beloved's becoming a star.

Universal Studios was very interested in keeping the details of the production secret to build anticipation for the big-budget venture, a quasi-sequel to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which had propelled a struggling character actor named Lon Chaney to full-fledged stardom in 1923.

While the film is putatively credited to director Rupert Julian (said to be the first New Zealander to work in Hollywood), it was Chaney's film in more ways than one. The star had not gotten along with the director, and after early test screenings weren't enthusiastically received, Chaney prevailed upon producer Carl Laemmle to reshoot the bulk of the film, changing it from a Gothic melodrama to something like a bloody romantic comedy. Julien refused to go along with the program, and cameraman Edward Sedgwick reshot the film essentially under Chaney's direction.

They changed the ending. In the novel (and in Julien's original version) the phantom dies at his organ. Chaney and Laemmle wanted something more exciting, if not upbeat.

This version of Phantom is one of those silent movies that will seem familiar even if you've never watched it. The makeup Chaney devised for the role has become iconic, and images of him as the Phantom have proliferated through the culture. Using a simple kit of greasepaint sticks and collodion, the actor blacked out his eye sockets and pinned up the tip of his nose with a wire. Back in the day, audience members were reported to have screamed and fainted during the scene described by the Times writer when the Phantom's beloved protege Christine (Mary Philbin) removes his mask.

The Arkansas Film Society will present a screening of the film at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Little Rock's Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 310 W. 17th St. Organist Scott Foppiano, a Memphis-born Missouri-based performer who was named Organist of the Year by the American Theater Organ Society, will perform the score live.

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Food trucks will be set up in the courtyard, slinging snacks and drinks for the evening.

Tickets are $15 and available at

Lon Chaney, with his relatively small makeup kit, shows before (shown) and after transforming himself into the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.

MovieStyle on 03/02/2018