JACKSONVILLE >> It was first a best-selling novel, then an immensely popular stage play. So it was just a matter of time before the movies tackled "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde," Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of a man tortured by two personalities — one thoroughly good and the other completely evil.
"Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" (1920), the original silent film adaptation of Stevenson's classic story, will be shown at the Whitingham Free Public Library, 2948 Route 100, Jacksonville on Sunday, at 1 p.m.
The Halloween-themed program will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis. Admission is free and the program is open to the public.
Starring iconic actor John Barrymore, the film was a huge early hit for Paramount Pictures. It helped establish the "thriller" genre and showed the potential of the movies to vividly tell disturbing and creepy stories.
Dr. Jekyll, a London physician and philanthropist, becomes fascinated with the dual nature of man after the profligate Sir George Carew exposes him to temptation. When Jekyll invents a potion that separates the good from the evil in a person, he decides to live both roles and names the evil persona Mr. Hyde.
Jekyll is in love with Millicent, the daughter of Sir George; meanwhile, Hyde prowls the poorer districts of London, debases and discards Theresa, a dance hall performer. Jekyll's control over Hyde weakens gradually to the point where his alter ego resorts to murder, forcing Hyde into a showdown to save his loved ones and reign in the evil he himself has spawned.
The film put Barrymore, a noted stage actor, on the cinematic map. Following "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde," Barrymore would go on to be one of the biggest stars of early cinema. His handsome visage, dubbed "the great profile," was instantly recognizable to movie-goers of the time, who flocked to see Barrymore in later films such as "Sherlock Holmes" (1922), "Don Juan" (1926), and "The Beloved Rogue" (1927).
Barrymore's performance in "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" is noteworthy in part because, in an era of limited special effects, his portrayal of the early stages of Jekyll's transformation was done using only facial expressions and gestures. Make-up was only used later in the film following the full transformation of the Hyde character.
In screening the original "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde," the Manchester Public Library aims to recreate all essential elements of silent film experience: high quality prints shown on a large screen, with live music and an audience.
"These films caused people to fall in love with the movies for a very good reason," said Jeff Rapsis, who will improvise a musical score during the screening. "They were unique experiences, and if you can recreate the conditions under which they were shown, they have a great deal of life in them.
"Though they're the ancestors of today's movies, silent film is a very different art form than what you see at the multiplex today, so it's worth checking out as something totally different," Rapsis said.
Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.
"Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" will be shown at the Whitingham Free Public Library, 2948 Route 100, Jacksonville, Vt. Admission is free; for more information, call 802-368-7506 or visit townofwhitingham-vt.org.
For more info on the music, visit jeffrapsis.com.
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John Barrymore stars in "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" (1920), a silent thriller with live music to be shown on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 1 p.m. at the Whitington (Vt.) Free Public Library, 2948 Route 100, Jacksonville, Vt. Admission is free; for more information, call (802) 368-7506 or visit www.townofwhitingham-vt.org.