Fans of classic cinema, ring the social-media bells, and spread the word: In what might be one of the more memorable movie events of the year, improvisational organist Tom Trenney is returning to Memphis to accompany a revival of the 1923 classic "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," starring Lon Chaney, the silent screen's remarkable "Man of a Thousand Faces."
The movie screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, in the nave, or sanctuary, of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, 700 Poplar, which for one night will be transformed into a movie theater (with pews for seats, of course). The venue couldn't be more appropriate, since much of the movie takes place inside a cathedral, and the hunchbacked Quasimodo's cries of "Sanctuary!" become key to the plot.
Ballyhooed by Universal Pictures as a "Super Jewel" release, in reference to its lavish production values, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" required the construction of a full-scale reproduction of the facade of Paris' Notre Dame cathedral on the Universal backlot. Often referred to as a horror movie but in fact more a romantic historical melodrama (based on a novel by "Les Miserables" author Victor Hugo), "Hunchback" presents Chaney in one of his most famous roles — and perhaps his most impressively grotesque makeup — as Quasimodo, the title bell-ringer cursed by his tragic deformity and impossible love for the gypsy dancer Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller).
The success of "Hunchback" convinced Chaney and Universal to return to a Hollywoodized version of Paris for the actor's most famous film, "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925). "Hunchback" was revisited in the following decades as a starring vehicle for Charles Laughton, Anthony Quinn and Anthony Hopkins (in a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie), and as a 1996 Walt Disney cartoon musical.
The screening marks the second visit to Memphis in recent years for Trenney, a Lincoln, Neb.,-based organist, silent-cinema aficionado and United Church of Christ minister of music. In 2011, Trenney accompanied a St. Mary's screening of the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks silent "The Mark of Zorro." The event was a big success, prompting this return engagement for the concert organist.
The St. Mary's screenings are two of several live-music-with-a-movie events held in Memphis in recent years. The Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass., has accompanied silent films here four times since 2006. Most recently, Alloy performed during a near-sellout October screening of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (1927) at the Malco Paradiso.
The "Hunchback" event is presented as part of the St. Mary's concert series. Admission is free. Concessions will be available for purchase, and all ages are welcome. Child care will be available.
For more information, visit stmarysmemphis .org.