'The Phantom of the Opera' gets silent treatment

"The Phantom of the Opera" will be screened to accompaniment by organist David Briggs on Friday at University Auditorium. "The Phantom of the Opera" will be screened to accompaniment by organist David Briggs on Friday at University Auditorium.

Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:56 a.m.

In a time when nanobytes and pop culture have turned cell phones into entertainment and computing systems NASA couldn't have conjured a decade ago, some entertainments of years past must seem as foreign as brachiopods from the Mesozoic Era.

And when moviegoers can watch videos on screens the size of match books, how do you even begin to explain the once-fascinating allure of silent films?

Movies without sound? Images without color? And rickety action that makes Godzilla's steps in the '50s seem as fluid as ballet? It's hard to imagine today, but there was a time when Hollywood movies not only embraced all of the above, but audiences reacted with stunned amazement.

The collective Gator Nation gets to experience such an early spectacle thanks to UF Performing Arts, which is screening the 1925 silent film "The Phantom of the Opera" on Friday at the University Auditorium.

Though the dialogue of silent films was flashed on the screen, those early cinematic marvels weren't experienced without sound but were screened to accompanying music played lived by pianists, organists and other musicians.

On Friday, that's where David Briggs, a renowned British keyboardist who knows his way around the ivories, comes in. He'll play the dramatic swells that accompany Lon Chaney's moves as the title character in this particular version of Gaston Leroux's novel.

The film wowed audiences upon its release, and can do so again on Friday, if we turn off those pocket entertainment systems and imagine ourselves in an era when even the sight of moving pictures could elicit joy and glee.

For those who want to experience Briggs' musical prowess on its own, the organist will play a full concert at 4 p.m. Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church. For details on both events, see Calendar on page 12.

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