Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Beggar Maid, NYC

Played for The Beggar Maid (1921, dir. H. Blache) this afternoon at the Met. The film preceded a lecture on Tiffany and the Tiffany estate, and the house was packed with museum-goers (plus a bunch of people I recognized from my e-list). The film was shown in a 16mm from Milestone Film & Video; Eastman House has a 35mm print, but the museum (this wasn't MoMA) can currently show only 16mm and video.

I had a chance to preview the film ahead of time, which was nice. I decided on a Debussy-ish, 1920's parlor music sound -- and this was one of those times when improvisation and the flexibility it allows you, came into play. As I started and as the film progressed I felt this "feel" was a bit too much. This came from sensing the vibe in the room and the way the audience was experiencing the film. I pulled back a little, and then gradually dialed it back up till the flava was just right. The audience was having a little more fun with the picture than I'd anticipated, and I was able to shift and adapt for their maximum enjoyment of this rare classic.

[This recording and music is copyright ©2007 by Ben Model. All rights reserved. This is for your listening enjoyment. Period.]

Played for Keaton's Our Hospitality at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY. Had a great house, and the film went over big-time. Pretty impressive for suburban Long Island on a Weds eve, but this theater has had a history of showing silents. I'll be back there in March for Pandora's Box (the new 35mm print!), and hopefully in April as well.

I've got two Immigrant shows at AMMI this week. There haven't been any since mid-Dec, but I suspect this will pick up now that schools are resuming field trips. Am also finishing up a DVD release for ReelclassicDVD, and will post again when it's released.

Monday, February 19, 2007

"The Phantom Carriage" - Burns Film Center

Pleasantville NY, Feb 19 (Mon) -- Played for Victor Sjöstrom's Korkarlen (Thy Soul Shal Bear Witness, or The Phantom Carriage) this afternoon in Pleasantville, NY. The Jacob Burns Film Center is running the 50 years of Janus Films series that is touring the country, and this is the only silent film in the package. I've been playing for silents at the Burns Center since it opened four or five years ago. The center is the town's original movie theater, rescued and refurbished by Steve Apkon. I'll be back on April Fool's Day with Bruce (Lawton) for a program of Hal Roach shorts.

Really enjoyed playing for this film; it's moody and expressive, and a welcome break from comedy shorts. Got to use a lot of musical vocabulary, chord progressions and moods I don't usually get to. They had a really good crowd...around 100 people or so. Not bad for a Monday at 5pm on Presidents weekend in Westchester. Have posted some of the music below.

[This recording and music is copyright ©2007 by Ben Model. All rights reserved. This is for your listening enjoyment. Period.]

Had not previewed the film, but I've played for it recently -- I forget where, probably MoMA, and I'd played for it in 2003 when the Swedish Film Institute's Sjöstrom retrospective ran at MoMA. Now, to take a look at Keaton's Our Hospitality, which I'm playing for in two days on Long Island...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Squaw Man shows; Chaplin orchestral performance

[FYI...I have now fixed the setting on this blog that allows you to post comments so that it works now.]

Played for DeMille's The Squaw Man (1914) twice last week, and brought my MD recorder to the second show to make a reference recording. We ran the film at 20fps both times. What was interesting to me was that, even though the film seemed a bit fast at 20, it seemed all right the second time through. Often, even if a film is available on video (or 16mm) for a look-see before a show, there just isn't time to do this. The score that gets created during the show is usually just fine or better; the audience response at the end of the first performance surprised me as I thought it hadn't gone all that well...mainly because of the challenges of playing (nearly cold) for a pre-1919 feature-length drama.

Most feature-length dramas, Griffith's work aside, are stagey and gesticular, with expository titles telegraphing the dramatic action of the scene and a certain amount of lip-reading skills necessary to follow what's going on. In these cases, I've learned to watch the screen more closely than usual -- meaning that I have to watch faces and constantly look around to see "who's got the ball" and shift the music based on this, since there is little cutting or medium-shots to make it clear. The second show of Squaw Man availed me the chance to anticipate more, and I was able to do more with tempo shifts and chord progressions and transitions -- one of Lee Erwin's main techniques -- to follow the drama.

Below is a clip of the first 3.5 mins of the performance. You won't be able to tell what's going on necessarily, but I thought you'd like to hear samples of my playing "hot off the press" as it were.

[Note: the music and recording posted below is © 2007 by Ben Model - all rights reserved. The recording of these live scores at the shows is not allowed, but I gave myself special permission.]

Got a chance to hear a courtesy recording of the performance of my orchestral score for Charlie Chaplin's The Adventurer, from Feb 1 in Boise, ID. The kids in the Treasure Valley Youth Symphony (mostly all-state or all-county musicians) did a great job, as did their conductor Dr. David Saunders. He's got the hardest job, staying in synch with the film. It was great to hear the new stuff I added to the score; I'd had to revise it as the original composition was to a 15-minute version of the film, as commissioned by the New York Ragtime Orchestra (Masanobu Ikemiya, conductor).

Coming up next is a show of Keaton's Our Hospitality in Huntington NY (on Long Island). This second show at the Cinema Arts Centre is turning into a series, as they've just asked me about a date/film for March. Stay tuned or just keep checking my performance schedule at my silent film website. Will also be playing for The Beggar Maid (dir Herbert Blaché, starring Mary Astor) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of their Tiffany exhibit. I'll try to make sure my MD recorder is charged and in my bag when I do these shows and you can hear clips from them in a couple weeks.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Arbuckle, L&H and MoMA

Presented a program of comedy shorts at MoMA Sat Feb 3 that featured slapstick teams. We showed Fatty and Mabel Adrift, Big Business and Idle Roomers (Three Stooges, dir. Del Lord). This was #2 of the 3 "Watch This! Films for Tweens" programs I programmed and introduced, working with MoMA's Liz Margulies of their Ford Family Programs dept. Program was held in the new Bartos Theater; as before, I brought my Kurz keyboard (still no piano in that cinema). Ran it through the house stereo sound system...sounded great. Can't wait to try the Miditzer in that theater. Program went well. Was especially entertained by the reaction of both kids and adults to the Stooges short. All 3 films went over really well. MoMA's 35mm of BB is fantastic, and I got a kick out of showing these to kids on a Sat afternoon, the way collectors I knew when I was growing up did for me. Was particularly tickled that MoMA has a Stooges short in its collection (actually there are two (both 16mm's), but I picked the one dir by Del Lord over the one dir by Jules White).

Next up is DeMille's The Squaw Man (1914) at MoMA, twice this week. Am considering figuring out a way to make this a video blog; not sure if I can be bothered with the time/effort to do this, esp if no one's actually checking this blog....