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Dennis James Hosts Halloween returns to IU Auditorium

Lon Chaney and Gertrude Olmstead act in the 1925 silent film, "The Monster." IU alumnus Dennis James will play the organ to accompany "The Monster" on Oct. 28 at the IU Auditorium.

As part of his decades-long effort to reconcile film with live music accompaniment, IU alumnus Dennis James will return to the IU Auditorium on Oct. 28 to perform at the organ to silent film classic "The Monster."

"Dennis James Hosts Halloween" will be performed 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the auditorium. Tickets can be purchased at the auditorium box office or at

In the spirit of Halloween, the auditorium will also hold a costume contest prior to the show. 

“It’s also an all-ages costume party — a great excuse for the campus and Bloomington community to dress up and also participate in the annual B97 costume contest prior to the show,” said Maria Talbert, managing director of the auditorium.

James began the annual Halloween tradition of accompanying a silent film on the organ as an IU student in the 1960s. This was all the start of his international interest in presenting silent films with live music accompaniment.

“In 2007, we worked with him to revive this tradition and have presented him on our season ever since,” Talbert said in an email.

 James said he personally selected "The Monster." The film follows aspiring detective Johnny Goodlittle investigating the unorthodox doings at a local sanitarium run by Dr. Ziska , who kidnaps Goodlittle’s girlfriend Betty to use in his experiments.

James has played the organ across the country, for places such as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Meyerson Symphony Center according to the American Theatre Organ Society's website.

Music and film captivated James at an early age, he said. As his dad worked for RCA Television, James was a keen viewer of television which was then a very young medium. 

“Every time one came on I would rush to the screen to watch," James said. "At one given point, I walked up to the television ,and I turned down the sound. Even at that point I recognized that the music had nothing to do with the images.”

 When his mother asked him why he watched a silent TV, James said,“I hear better music in my head.” 

While James was at IU, he studied organ. He also studied the history of film under Harry Geduld, creator of Indiana University's Film Studies Program. James said that Geduld also supported him in accompanying silent films in the Whittenburger Auditorium.

In 1969, James played the organ to "The Phantom of the Opera"  at the IU Auditorium on Halloween night to a sold-out crowd. He subsequently began touring. 

James said he would like silent films and organ music to be more recognized as an art rather than a forgotten novelty, and he has dedicated his career to that despite shifting cultural trends.

“I never acknowledged that they were forgotten," James said. "I simply carried on." 

James encourages people to come to the showing of "The Monster" to experience what will indeed be a very distinct and authentic performance, he said.

“It’s now increasingly rare at this point and a unique opportunity to experience the art form that is the predominant part of our culture today – that is film –and experience it in the manner it was prepared and witnessed in the day by people in the performing medium,” James said. “It’s one of the rare opportunities, one of the last places in the world you can still have that experience as a college student.”

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