Berklee Silent Film Orchestra Creates and Performs New Score for The Man Who Laughs

Tori Donahue
May 15, 2018
Press release
Universal Pictures’ 'The Man Who Laughs' (1928)

Ninety years after The Man Who Laughs, Victor Hugo’s story of human cruelty and the redemptive power of love, first captivated global film audiences, Universal Pictures’ 1928 film based on the story returns to the screen in a new 4K digital restoration with an original score by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra (BSFO).

Universal’s feature-film score commission is believed to be the first undertaken by college student composers and performers for a major Hollywood studio. The BSFO will record the new score in Berklee’s studios from May 22–25.

The BSFO will perform the world premiere of the score, live to the restored film, on Wednesday, May 30, at the opening night event of the 2018 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The BSFO will also perform with The Man Who Laughs in five of New England’s finest repertory film venues. The East Coast premiere will be at the BSFO’s traditional home, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Monday, June 11, at 7:00 p.m.

New England performances continue on Thursday, June 14, at 7:00 p.m. at the Avon Cinema in Providence, Rhode Island; Saturday, June 16, at 8:00 p.m. at the Cabot in Beverly, Massachusetts; Tuesday, June 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Nantucket Dreamland for the Nantucket Film Festival; and on Thursday, June 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. 

The Man Who Laughs will be exhibited on high-resolution Digital Cinema Package (DCP) at each venue.

Film Synopsis

Set in early 18th century England, The Man Who Laughs is equal parts court intrigue and transcendent love story. King James II orders that his rival’s son’s face be permanently disfigured into a freakish smile. As an adult, the son, Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt), becomes a well-known circus clown and finds love with an orphaned blind girl, Dea (Mary Philbin). In a twist of fate, Gwynplaine is restored to the nobility, and must then decide where his future will lie. Gwynplaine is widely acknowledged to have been the inspiration for Batman’s nemesis, the Joker.


The Man Who Laughs was restored in 2017 by NBCUniversal StudioPost, using a 4K digital workflow. The primary source element was a 35mm composite fine grain from the Universal Studios Vault, made in 1954 from the original nitrate camera negative. Using advanced digital tools, Universal's restoration experts were able to stabilize and deflicker the film, as well as repair many of the other issues with the picture.