Saturday, October 31, 2009

Phantom of the Opera (1925) with the Alloy Orchestra

It seems like everyone on the blogosphere was doing some Halloween-type post or series on their blog. And I had absolutely nada, zilch, zip, nothing. It was a veritable Halloween FAIL. Then at the 11th hour came an opportunity so amazing that I just couldn't turn it down.

Yesterday afternoon I found out that Somerville's Arts at the Armory (MA) program was having a special event featuring the silent film Phantom of the Opera (1925) that very night. The film would be shown with live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra. I couldn't believe my eyes. This was my chance to watch a silent film on the big screen with live music! I called Carlos and being the amazing boyfriend he is, he encouraged me to go ahead and buy the tickets so we could go (any other boyfriend would have shirked and mumbled some excuse about watching a sporting event on TV instead).

The even was held at this very cool building. It was an armory built in 1903 to house the Somerville Light Infrantry of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. Over the past century it's been used for many things and now the space is used for community arts programs.

The space was very open and they used really cool lighting. Red light pillars running alongside the wall, spotlights, and lots of blue and green lighting. It's hard to explain but you can get a feel for it from the picture. It was a very open space and quite suitable for a big production.

Carlos and I really just came for the screening of Phantom of the Opera (1925) with live music. However, if you go to a concert oftentimes you'll have to sit through the opening act. R/A and DJ Dzinga showed 3 short films with live techno-music accompaniment. This part of the event was really trippy. The first short we saw was the experiment German film The Fall of the House of Usher (1928). Woah. It was Art Deco & German Expressionism in a very hypnotic way. I didn't quite get it. Carlos was amused. The next two short films were very strange. Some trippy '60s/70's horror sequences that made me go all cross-eyed. The last short film has techno-music so loud that I thought I was going to go deaf. So when it was time for Phantom, I was more than ready.

The film was shown on a big elevated screen and the Alloy Orchestra played below. I was very impressed by their music and how they closely watched the movie to make sure their music suited what was going on in screen. It really enhanced the movie-watching experience. They used a wide variety of instruments including: drums, chimes, bells, horseshoes, cymbals, an accordion, a saw and some other metal with a violin bow (for the creepy sounds) and a multi-functional keyboard that happened to play organ music. Sometimes I would take my eyes off the screen just to see what instrument the orchestra would use next.

The film itself was spectacular. I had never seen it before so it was a real treat to watch it both on the big screen and with live music. The film we was an amalgamation of the 1925 and 1929 versions. Most notably, the 1929 version has a talking scene in which Carlotta sings a song in the opera. We didn't hear the sound but it was notably different visually than the others since it spent so much time focusing on her face and her mouth. In reading the Trivia section of this film's entry in IMDB, there are lots of differences between the two versions so it's interesting that what we saw was a fusion of the two.

The version we saw had what I consider extraordinary use of color. Many duo-tone scenes of green, blue, orange and red were found throughout the film. My favorite was with Lon Chaney as Erik the Phantom when he is perched on the statue at the top of the Paris Opera House. He's wearing a red suite with a red cape when he crashes theBal Masque as the red death. It's at night and the rest of the elements are blue. So it's great to see the contrast between the black and the blue of the night with the Phantom's bright red!

The sets in the film were so elaborate and beautiful. It seemed like a costly film to make. I think Phantom of the Opera (1925) is a great example of how sophisticated and beautiful silent films can be. Of course, the story looks at Erik the Phantom as a horrible monster who must be destroyed whereas notable late versions like Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, take a more sympathetic view of that character.

Interesting to note, Carla Laemmle, the niece of Phantom's producer Carl Laemmle, is in the film as one of the ballerinas. She was 15 when it was shot and she is the only surviving cast member of Phantom. And on that very same night, October 30th, 2009, Carla Laemmle was on the other side of the country celebrating her centennial birthday and signing books at the Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Los Angeles. Isn't that neat?

It was a really great night and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to see this and that Carlos was willing and excited to come with me. Now I leave you with some fun shots we took at the Armory. Perfect pictures for Halloween.

Have a safe and wonderful holiday!


  1. that must have totally hella cool!!!! i LOVE the music the Alloy Orchestra did for the restored Chaney film "The Unknown" (highly recommended if you havent seen it) and so seeing them live with that film must have been a really special treat!! the Phantom has some slow parts but the moments with Chaney more than make up for it. he is unforgettable in that role!

  2. You're so lucky!! This sounds like an amazing experience! Princeton U had a screening of Phantom with live accompaniment in the chapel last week but I couldn't go :(

    I love the scary pictures you took, too!

  3. I saw Alloy perform this at the Somerville Theater many years back. It was thunderous. I especially remember the chase sequence towards the end of the film. They put a lot of love into the score. Always meant to see one of their other performances, like Hitchcock's Blackmail, but it never happened.

  4. You are so lucky! I have seen The Phantom of the Opera several times, but never on the big screen accompanied by a live orchestra (it is probably the silent film I've seen the most besides Nosferatu). I know I'd rather attend something like that than any sporting event (even if it was the Cardinals in the World Series or the Rams in the Super Bowl).

  5. What a wonderful experience! I loved reading about it.

    Best wishes,

  6. Raquelle,
    On your description it seems you had the ultimate 1920's horror night! Wonderful!
    Did the Phantom had any Technicolor footage in it? Or was it only tinted?

    I can highly recommend the Milestone Edition of the Phantom on DVD. They have tried to reconstruct both the 1925 and 1929 versions of it.

  7. What a great night! The Phantom is one of my all-time favorite movies, & seeing it with live music would be wonderful.

  8. Wow Raquelle, this sounds amazing!! Lucky, lucky you!

    I LOVE the poster with Lon Chaney's red face! I've had to design two movie posters recently for classes, so the artwork is blowing me away. One of the girls in my class even chose the modern film version of Phantom for her poster- didn't look anything like this though!

    The photos of you and Carlos in the red light are wonderful! Very noir!

  9. I love the Alloy Orchestra!!! They really do make silent films all the better!!! I love your blog...I don't know if I have commented before, but I am a long time reader. I wanted to let you know that I have just started a series on my blog called Film Fashion Friday where I feature vintage films with great period costumes. I though maybe you and your readers would be interested and I would love for you to stop by!!


  10. What a fun experience, thanks for sharing it. "Phantom" seems to enjoy a rebirth every Halloween with public showings, and the presentations get more spectacular.

  11. Thank you everyone for your input! I'm glad to hear several of you know about the Alloy Orchestra.

    Jonas - It was tinted! I wish to God I had taken a picture.


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