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Reshowing old-time film disappoints senior, pipe organ impresses

The Warnors Theatre, formerly the Pantages Theater, was built in 1928. For much of its glory days, the theater was used for motion pictures, and it boasted an intricately-made pipe organ with the purpose of facilitating sound for silent movies.

Now, over 80 years later, ?The Return to the Silent Movies? series offers a unique opportunity to venture a glance into the genesis of cinematic creation. Such showings will include early twentieth century movies such as The Great Train Robbery, Hot Water, and Pollyanna. I myself went to see The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

As I entered the 1920s-era theater, I realized that something magically golden existed in the atmosphere, as if the spectral image of the past floated just inches behind the curtain. Its spectacular vaulted ceilings and grandiose architecture stood as a shadow of an era long-gone, and a society mostly forgotten. An impressively large pipe organ arose hydraulically from a lower level room and rested just before the stage. Once freed from its cavernous lair, the organ burst forth in a vociferous cry of airy tunes which reverberated off the walls and tickled my eardrum with ancient sounds. I felt exhilarated by its performance as I contented myself to close my eyes and listen to its lovely racket.

The proceedings began with a demonstration by Dave Moreno, the organist. Moreno has been playing the organ since he was 13-years-old and has been playing for over 40 years. He explained that the organ was made with the theater in order to replace the need for an entire orchestra. Consequently, the magnificent musical device has hundreds of different sounds including a car horn, drums and various wind instruments. Every sound is projected out of the organ pipes and into the grand auditorium with impressive vitality. It is quite magical.

At first, I was enthralled by the experience. I gazed upon the pipe-organ in wonder, and sat in excited impatience for the movie to begin. As the show commenced, however, my countenance began to change from bright-eyed enjoyment to forlorn regret. I tried to look past the primitive film-making and view it as a classic piece of art, but found myself unable to do so. Suffering through an hour of terrible cinematography, I realized that I hated the entire thing. By the end of Act One, I exited the theater in disappointment.

The story in itself is not bad; for those of you who are not familiar with this fantastic tale, it is about a talented young opera singer named Christine who sings for an esteemed opera house in France. Unfortunately, the theater is haunted by a grotesque, mask?wearing entity known simply as ?The Phantom.? Through various means, The Phantom woos Christine to his underground lair and holds her captive as his honored lover. The rest of the story deals with the conflict between The Phantom?s desire for her, and her struggle to escape him.

Overall the sequence of events was quite interesting; I found nothing wanting in the storyline of the movie. However, the movie itself . . . sucked. It was boring. It was poorly made. It was downright awful. Maybe I’m spoiled by the modern age of hi-definition theatrical experiences. Perhaps I simply cannot, after viewing such visual masterpieces as The Dark Knight, appreciate the works of primitive film-makers. It is like stepping from the cockpit of an F-22 raptor onto the seat of a tricycle. The tricycle is simply not fast enough anymore.

Likewise, The Phantom was so far below my standards that I could not help but dislike the experience. The showing left me with a very distinct truism ringing in my mind: silent movies are a thing of the past, and are in no way relevant to my generation.

Thankfully, I only wasted $3 at the box office. That is not a bad price for two hours of ?entertainment.? And, now that I think about it, I am grateful for the opportunity to peek into the hazy world of 1920s show business. It provided good insight at least. I suppose the evening was not a complete loss. The pipe organ itself is worth seeing/listening to. And, despite having not enjoyed this particular show, I am excited to see the Jan. 16 performance of The Great Train Robbery (1903). I have seen that film before, and I hope it will be a better experience. This classic movie is also being shown with The General (1926).

In the end, I did enjoy many aspects of the experience. I enjoyed the marvelous pipe organ. I enjoyed the mystical atmosphere of the restored 1920s building. I even enjoyed seeing all the crazy people who dressed up for the performance. However, the movie itself was simply too old for my taste.

No matter how much we idolize the past, it is irrecoverable. Like a phantom, it stalks our consciousness with enticing promises of romance and fantasy. When we finally take a look at it, however, we find a creature unpleasant and uninteresting.

So I come to this conclusion: while the organ performance is worthy of attending, silent movies are no longer good entertainment. Let us leave the ghosts of movies gone by in the basement, and pay homage to the cinematography of the enlightened present. It is far better.

The next Warners “Return of the Silent Movies” event will be the showing of Hot Water (1924), Nov. 21. For those who would like a Christmas-themed event, Warnors will host the silent films Big Business (1929) with Silent Christmas Cartoons, Dec. 19. All shows begin at 7 p.m. Be sure to check www.Warnors.org for costume contest information.

For more information regarding future events call: 559.264.2848 or visit their website.

This author can be reached via Twitter: @JohnathonNyberg. Follow The Feather via Twitter: @thefeather.

For more reviews, read the Oct. 14 article, Clovis High presents ‘Exit the Body,’ entertains audience.

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