Silent films were never really silent. Although there was no dialogue that followed the motion picture, the films were accompanied by a live orchestra playing scores to establish the plot progression.
Large theaters had their own orchestra, while smaller venues offered moviegoers a piano accompaniment. Foreground music enhanced the actors’ emotions in each scene which they portrayed through their body language and facial expressions.
For those who love the genre, or just love a party, the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum will hold its annual Silent Film Soiree on Friday, Feb. 14 with a showing of the 1925 silent film “The Phantom of the Opera,” a darkly undertoned romance, perfect for Valentine’s Day.
The festivities start before the showing with a Roaring ‘20s costume party. Meg Poole, the museum’s programs coordinator, said there will be champagne, wine, and beer, plus a signature cocktail called the Phantom, made with gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar, similar to a French 75.
“We’re considering this a post-dinner event,” Poole said of the 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. soiree.
Adult admission is $30 online (bit.ly/2SnvFwG), $35 at the door). Cost includes two drink tickets for alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and a cheese, fruit and dessert bar.
Poole said the desserts will be “utterly delightful” and will include chocolate-covered strawberries, mousse cups, and cookies.
The museum’s rear-projecting screen will set up in the lobby, as opposed to previous years when the movie was shown in the old courtroom.
“The Phantom of the Opera” came out April 26, 1925 as an adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel “Le Fantome de l’Opera.”
As the story goes, opening night at the Opera of Paris finds prima donna singer Madame Carlotta forced out, replaced by understudy and unknown singer Christina Daae. No one knows why the change has occurred, but there are rumors the man lurking in the shadows is to blame. The Phantom, as he is known, has a deformed face, and is rarely seen, hiding in corners and in the catacombs below the theater. Daae, who enjoyed listening to her father’s fiddle music is grieving his recent death. Meanwhile, the Phantom, quietly watches Daae’s rehearsals, sneaking in assistance to help improve her singing. He falls in love with her, but Daae is already engaged. Who will have Christina’s hand in the end? We find out during the tumultuous conclusion to the film.
Even today, the 1925 version of “Phantom” gets a 91% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The phantom is played by Leonidis Frank “Lon” Chaney, who grew up in Colorado Springs. Born to deaf parents in 1883, Chaney learned to communicate with them through his body language. The actor was known for his mastery of makeup, using it to create the hideous face for the phantom.
A movie date, silent or otherwise, is a classic option for Valentine’s Day, and this one comes with a themed party and live music.
Rodney Sauer, pianist for the Mont Alto Motion Picture Ensemble says, “This is not just a movie, but a concert, too.” Having a live orchestra perform the score for the audience is a once-in-a-lifetime performance event.
Although sheet music exists for the original “Phantom,” Sauer said he and the orchestra select the most fitting piece of music for each scene in the film. He watches the movie first, breaking it into themes, then selects music for each theme. While the silent film characters are developed, the opera Faust is being played in the opera house. The orchestra must also consider the songs from the opera and play those, too.
“The music really helps focus the emotion of the film, and gives it a structure,” Sauer said.