It's now a holiday tradition.
For more than a few years, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has screened a silent film on New Year's Eve. The tradition continues in 2011 when the landmark Episcopal church offers two screenings of the 1923 classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
With the legendary Lon Chaney in the title role, this early adaption of Victor Hugo's famous novel remains one of the most iconic films in cinema history. [Remarkably, the 1923 version was not the first of at least a dozen films based on the Hugo book. Many consider it the best. A 1939 sound version, starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara, is also very good.]
The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the story of Quasimodo, a deformed, deaf and half-blind bell-ringer who lives in the famous Parisian cathedral. A critical and commercial blockbuster, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of the highest-grossing films of its time.
The film was a major production from Universal -- where it was considered a "Super Jewel." The Hunchback of Notre Dame was directed by Wallace Worsley and stars Chaney -- "The Man of a Thousand Faces" -- as Quasimodo and Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda, his love interest. Also in the cast are notables Norman Kerry, Ernest Torrence, Tully Marshall, Raymond Hatton, and Gladys Brockwell.
The film is notable for many things, including its grand sets which recall Paris in the 15th Century. It is also remembered for Chaney's singular performance and spectacular make-up as the tortured bell-ringer. The film elevated Chaney, then a character actor, to star status. It also helped raise the bar for many subsequent adaptations of horror films, including Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera in 1925.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a moving film -- full of pathos, drama and atmosphere. And what's more, the Gothic surroundings and film's live musical accompaniment on the mighty 7,466 pipe organ at Grace Cathedral should lend themselves to a memorable visual and auditory experience.
Acclaimed organist Dorothy Papadakos will accompany The Hunchback of Notre Dame on the Cathedral's renowned Aeolian-Skinner organ. Papadakos came to international attention as organist at the world's largest Gothic cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, where she served from 1990-2003. She is the first woman ever appointed to the post.
Papadakos is also a member of the six-time Grammy Award-winning Paul Winter Consort, and is celebrated for her imaginative improvisations and compositions for theatre, film, television, and ballet -- as well as for her silent film accompaniments.
More info: Grace Cathedral is located at 1100 California (at Taylor) in San Francisco. New Year's Eve screenings of The Hunchback of Notre Dame are set for 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm. The film runs 110 minutes. Additional information, including ticket availability, can be found here.
Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and early film buff. He is also the founding director of the Louise Brooks Society, and online archive and international fan club devoted to the legendary silent film star. Gladysz has organized exhibits, contributed to books, appeared on television, and introduced the actress's films around the world. In 2010, he edited and wrote the introduction to the "Louise Brooks Edition" of Margarete Bohme's controversial 1905 book, The Diary of a Lost Girl.