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The German-Expressionist masterpiece based on Victor Hugo’s tragic tale of wrathful anger resulting from wrongful persecution, features the original performance that inspired “The Joker.” With a live musical score performed by Ben Model, resident silent film accompanist at MoMA and The Library of Congress!
THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928, 110 mins, Dir. Paul Leni). Newly released in 4k.
A thrilling, dreamlike and visually striking historical melodrama, packed with political intrigue, emotionally-complicated characters, and exceptional acting. Conrad Veidt (Cabinet of Dr Calagari) stars as Gwynplaine, who as a child was disfigured with a ‘permanent smile’ at the cruel command of King James II – a punishment carved onto the boy’s face by the royal surgeon as punishment for his Scottish father’s political dissidence from the British crown. Ostracised, Gwynplaine joins a carnival sideshow and rescues and befriends Dea, an innocent blind girl who is not aware of his scarred features but loves him for who he is. However their lives of contentment at the fringes of society become threatened by an unexpected confrontation with Gwynplaine’s troubled past. The distinctive tortured ‘look’ of Gwynplaine is cited as a major influence for the American comic book creators of Batman’s grinning nemesis “The Joker”. Veidt’s extraordinary performance, and the film overall however, deserve to be celebrated for far more, and as a work of art in itself. The darkly gripping story is propelled by director Paul Leni’s masterful visual style, and whose pacing rewards us with intrigue and excitement at every surprising turn.
BEN MODEL is one of the nation’s leading silent film accompanists, and performs on both piano and theatre organ. Over the past 35+ years Ben has created and performed live scores for several hundred silent films, films lasting anywhere from one minute to five hours. Ben is a resident film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) and at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre, and performs at theatres, museums, schools and other venues around the US and internationally. As a film programmer, Ben has co-curated film series for The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and co-programs a monthly silent film series at the Cinema Arts Center. This will be Ben Model’s fourth cine-concert at Epsilon Spires, he has previously accompanied Metropolis, Steamboat Bill Jr, and SAFETY LAST! on our historic Estey pipe organ. Ben also recently featured our Estey organ in his blog which you can read HERE.
About the film’s Influence on the creation of “The Joker”:
The Joker as a film character has garnered Academy Award wins for the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. He stands alone as a unique entry in DC’s classic canon of super villains, an unbridled force of chaos with an unparalleled savvy for bringing hell to Earth. And his story begins with the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs, an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel. Hugo wrote his ode to wrathful anger resulting from wrongful alienation: The Man Who Laughs over a period of fifteen months while he was living in the Channel Islands, having been exiled from his native France due to the controversial political content of his previous novels.
“The Man Who Laughs was originally promoted as a horror film, a precursor to the Universal Classic Monsters made famous by the studio from the 1930s to the 1950s. That classification, largely, misrepresents the film, which seeks to explore the themes of acceptance, beauty within, and man’s inhumanity to man. The Man Who Laughs has no intention of scaring its audience, but rather challenging it. So if the film itself lends nothing to the mythos of the Joker, what does? It’s the telltale deformity made from a permanent smile carved into a boy by an evil man. The gruesome look was created by make-up mad genius Jack Pierce, through the use of a dental contraption that kept Conrad Veidt’s mouth hooked at the corners. Outside of context, the visage is striking, unsettling, and, most importantly, memorable. When the DC comics team of Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson were looking to create a nemesis for their Batman, the image of Veidt from The Man Who Laughs inspired the look they were searching for, a physical characteristic at odds with his actions.” -Collider