The Sound of Silence

Kyle Westphal muses on music and silent-era film

The first silent film that I ever saw was The Phantom of the Opera, a common entry point that I experienced in a most uncommon way, when I was fifteen. It was screened from an undistinguished 16mm print, projected in the concrete-coated, makeshift auditorium of the Towe Auto Museum in Sacramento. The audience congregated in bleachers that must have been salvaged from a local middle school gymnasium. The two-hour film included an abrupt intermission after Chaney’s famous unmasking sequence, as if anybody would want another bag of dollar popcorn after that grotesquery.

In retrospect, I see a plausible synchronicity between the strange venue and the people who would gather to enjoy that seemed something so culturally marginalized as a silent film. This drafty palace of Plymouths attracted a certain type of clientele—mechanically-inclined, nostalgic, and largely male. What better place to see another oily, obsolete machine brought back to life? The ambiance resembled a film collector’s basement screening room, only bigger and with more stanchions....

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