BIFF 15: Phantom of the Opera (US 1925)
Posted by Roy Stafford on 30 March 2010
My last festival film was shown in the Victoria Hall, Saltaire (a world heritage site for the mill and model industrial village built by Titus Salt in the 1850s). Victoria Hall now houses a Wurlitzer Organ removed from the Gaumont Cinema, Oldham. Concerts are held regularly by the Cinema Organ Society and this was an opportunity for organist Donald MacKenzie to perform his score for Phantom of the Opera.
There isn’t too much to say about the film itself. I know there are several versions. Whichever was used, it had the 1929 prologue (without the voiceover) and it included both the tinted sequences and the 2-color Technicolor. Donald in his introduction explained that the British Board of Film Censors at first refused a certificate and the film did not open in London (at the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road) until 1930 by which time sound had been added in Hollywood. It was the colour sequence that really took my attention. This and the scenes in the Opera House were impressive. I was less interested in the underground lair of the Phantom. Lon Chaney famously suffered great pain and discomfort in wearing the make-up which created the Phantom’s appearance.
The film was projected digitally from the edge of the balcony across the large hall to a relatively small screen at the back of the stage. (The Wurlitzer is properly installed and ascended for an introduction before descending as the film began.) The Wurlitzer sound was very impressive and it made the screening a real occasion. I’ll certainly be interested in seeing more films in this location with an organ score. There isn’t a projection box as such, so I guess that digital projection is the best bet, but it’s a pity that the screen isn’t larger.