Friday, April 22, 2005

It’s a shame that the most famous moment in the 1925 Lon Chaney silent film The Phantom of the Opera is the moment when Christine takes off the phantom's mask and reveals his hideous face. It’s such a shocking moment but the effect is lessened by the fact that even those who have never seen the film before have perhaps seen that particular moment a hundred times before on television and in other places. That was the only part of the film I was familiar with prior to seeing it today and I felt kind of cheated from the suspense. Though it’s difficult to be scared by a silent film anymore because we’re so trained to depend on modern conventions, mainly sound, but there are some genuinely creepy moments in this movie. I can imagine that seeing this in a darkened theater in 1925 must have been pretty horrifying. The Read Death sequence, which is in two-strip Technicolor as pointed out by one of the Alloy Orchestra musicians, is extremely effective even today. The Alloy Orchestra actually owns the print and the copyright for Phantom of the Opera. An audience member asked about the process of acquiring rights to films and how that is affected by the well-known 75-year rule, which says that anything over 75-years-old falls into public domain. We were then informed by the percussionist of the Alloy Orchestra who seems to be the businessman of the group that Disney recently had Congress quash that rule in anticipation of losing the rights to Mickey Mouse as his 75th birthday steadily approaches.

Roger pointed out that silent films are the most popular that they’ve been since 1928. He said people are beginning to re-appreciate that exclusively visual element of the cinema. Where as sound films are “dreamy”, silent films are a kind of “reverie”. Jonathon Rosenbaum said that he knows someone who has even taken to watching sound films without the sound on to pay more attention to the visuals. That’s actually not all that uncommon as it’s a great exercise for film students. Citizen Kane is one of the most common films used for such a study. But it falls second to pretty much any porno for those still living with their parents.

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