Originally Published: October 24, 2014 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Lon Chaney was a handsome actor, but he chose to enthrall audiences by turning into the stuff of nightmares. Chaney was part of the silent era of film, and his best known role was Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
The 1923 re-mastered silent version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" will frighten audiences on the big screen once more, seen, as it was in days past, in a beautifully large theater with live musical accompaniment. The film will take the screen at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center at 6:30 pm Friday, Oct. 31. Tickets are $12 at the door for general admission and $8 for students. This is a traditional Prescott Film Festival event. The film will feature live accompaniment from talented Jonathan Best.
Best, known for his "Music for All" workshops in Prescott, is a veteran of "producing" the soundtrack (live) for silent films. He has previously played at the Prescott Film Festival for "The Phantom of the Opera," "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror" and "Metropolis."
Chaney is the star of this epic film, one of over 150 movies he made during his career. He was known as "the man of a thousand faces." And those faces proved to be what helped save the then failing Universal. The film, based on Victor Hugo's 1831 novel of the same name, was a gamble for the studio. They had to build a huge set, at the time the largest ever built, for the cathedral. (Though part of the set was an early form of special effects called a "glass shot,") and hire a "cast of thousands" for the extras, (pre CGI, of course,) all beautifully costumed.
Chaney's makeup took several hours to apply each day and followed Victor Hugo's description to the letter: Protruding cheeks and nose, bent legs, the infamous hump, and a rubberized shirt that had hair attached. With the monster-like makeup, it is a credit to Chaney that he is still able to elicit sympathy and connect with the audience. In fact, Chaney's acting in the movie is sometimes cited as one of the greatest performances in film history. And, there is no dialogue: only gestures, facial expressions and his eyes to communicate with the audience. In addition to being the lead actor, Chaney took pride in being involved in the film in deeper ways. He directed some of the scenes, was on set every day, whether he was in the shot or not, and had some say in the editing of the film before it's premier at Carnegie Hall.
The film was a tremendous success, playing to sold-out crowds across the country. And now it's Prescott's turn. Feel free to come in costume! For tickets and more information go to www.prescottfilmfestival.com
- by Helen Stephenson, Prescott Film Festival