Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Charlie Chaplin at Burns Film Center

Happy new year!

Tuesday's show of Chaplin Mutuals – programmed by silent film comrade Bruce Lawton, who also introduced the show – was a big success. We arrived at the Burns film center to discover the show had been moved from their medium-sized theater to the big one because of the number of ticket sales. By the time we started the show the place was sold out.

Seen at left is the JBFC's Clavinova, on the stage and off to the side. The instrument was donated a few years ago, and this is what I always play when I accompany silents there. While it's not acoustic, it's got a decent sound and can be easily moved form one cinema to the other. They run it into the house sound system, when we're in the big theater there, but only amplify it a little but...just enough for people sitting in the way back.

We ran 16mm prints from my collection, and Bruce grouped them in a great way: first The Pawnshop and The Rink, and then a brief spoken intro while the operator changed reels, followed by The Cure and The Immigrant. The house was nearly half-full with children, and the films got huge laughs from start to finish. It was really satisfying for me to see the support we got this year, and that we get every year when we do this comedy shorts show there, from parents who bring their kids. Chaplin is what got Bruce and me hooked on silents when we were little kids – something we mentioned in our intro – and we love sharing these films with kids.

Here's a shot of my Charlie Chaplin necktie, which my wife bought me as a present some years ago. A few people complemented me on the tie after the show.

I thought my playing went pretty well, and it was interesting playing for The Immigrant when shown at 24fps. I've been playing for it at AMMI for school groups at 20 or 21 fps for the last couple years, a few times a month, and I'd not realized till Tuesday's performance that I'd taught myself to play for it at the other speed to such a degree that a lot of what I "usually" do didn't quite fit. One nice thing is that the waltz I use when the boat is rocking back and forth did fit. The film works better at 24fps, I think...not just my sensibilities but from listening to the audience. The film gets way more laughs at the faster speed. One nice thing about the show is that I finally found something that made the sequence in The Pawnshop with Charlie and Albert Austin and the wind-up clock really work and get the laughs it deserves. I don't think I was undermining the sequence in previous shows, but I always felt the sequence – a real gem, all in a sustained 3 or 4 minute two-shot – should have gotten more laughs. And this time it really landed. Must remember what worked for next time I play for this one...

Am looking forward to see what 2009 brings. My January is packed with shows, and the rest of the year has a number of my regular bookings already in place – monthly series at the CAC, orch scores for Boise in Feb, etc. etc. – and it'll be fun to see what percolates and falls into place this year.

See you at the silents!


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Charlie Chaplin program in Burns Film Ctr calendar

Here's the 2-page spread for Kids/Family film programs at the Jacob Burns Film Center, from their Nov/Dec printed calendar. My parents gave me their copy (since the Burns Center didn't send me one). The photo of me was taken when I was up at the JBFC in September to play for a few Fritz Lang silents. Not a bad photo, plus I look thin! (Hope to show you ever better shot of me at an organ console that my friend Steve Friedman took, sometime soon...) Circling in pen of my name courtesy of my parents.

See you in Pleasantville!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Comedy Central Insider posts "Silent But Deadly"

An article appeared on the Comedy Central Insider website this afternoon, plugging the "Silent But Deadly" PopRally event. Love the headline: MoMA to Get Let Artsy, More Fartsy. This article came from a tip from the blog of Max Silvestri, the comic who will M.C. the evening. His blog entry opens with: "On January 6th, I am hosting a comedy show at MoMA. Crazy!"

Unlike all other film events at MoMA, this is one you can buy tix online for. You may need to in order to get in. Seems like the comedy insiders are spreading the word about the show, and Titus 1 only seats 550 or so (I think?). Plus there'll be a bar in the lobby where the reception will happen from 7-8pm. Hopefully the hipsters and comics will take a moment to notice the Madalena posters on view...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Charlie Chaplin show at the Burns Film Center - NY Times

My Google alert that I've set for "Ben Model" caught this listing in the New York Times for the Chaplin shorts program Bruce Lawton and I will be doing on Dec 30th at the Burns Film Center. I wasn't sure if it was just online or not, but when I visited my folks this afternoon they had a copy for me. What's even nicer is that the print version is in a box and with a nice photo of Charlie and Edna in The Cure. A few of my parents' friends saw the piece and may be coming to the show.

I'm really looking forward to this show. There's something kinda primal for me about getting to show Chaplin films to a large audience with a lot of kids. These are the first silents I ever saw, and I was a Chaplin nut as a kid.

A shame we can't show The Gold Rush cause it'd be perfect at this time of year. The Chaplin estate insists that – if you show it with live accompaniment – you hire an orchestra to play Chaplin's score. I can't begin to imagine how many thousands of dollars that would cost (on top of their licensing fee). Still, the Mutuals are real crowd-pleasers and are old friends of mine (and Bruce's) and even they don't get shown often enough. See you in Pleasantville on the 30th!

-- Ben

"Silent But Deadly" PopRally on spout.com

Spout.com's blog mentions the "Silent But Deadly" event at MoMA on Jan 6. Click here to see their posting (and mine...) there.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"The Gaucho" w/Douglas Fairbanks at MoMA

After some initial futzing with audio set-up we got the Miditzer sounding just right for tonight's showing of The Gaucho at MoMA's Titus 2 theater. This happens from time to time, but the MoMA projectionists are fantastic and they always figure out how to make this work right. Steven Higgins (curator of the retrospective) told me the print we were showing tonight was lab new and had never been shown to an audience before. The print was made from an excellent preservation neg made decades ago, which had been made from nitrate materials in the Fairbanks collection. It looked amazing, as if it had been struck from the camera negative (and I'm sitting closer than the front row!). My Silent Clowns friends Robert Arkus and Bruce Lawton and his wife Alice Artzt were there, which was a nice treat.

The score went pretty well, although I felt like I kept getting stuck in a couple of key signatures (there are only 12, though), and made nice use of the castanet sample on the Miditzer during the brief tango scene. A couple of themes came together during the show, and there were a couple I had worked out ahead of time – one for Doug and the girl from the shrine, and one for a love theme. The love theme was suggested by a line "El Gaucho" says a few times in the film: "Yesterday is yesterday, today is today. There is no tomorrow, until it's today" (the screen grab at right is from the end of the film, when Lupe Velez says the line and so it's a little different there). The rhythm of this line was easily fittable to a Spanish-tinged waltz love theme.

The Gaucho really is a great film, and I was glad to get a chance to see and accompany it. I am looking forward to tomorrow's showing of MoMA's recent restoration of The Mark of Zorro; the print has color tints that were done optically, but were based on instructions from the original. Am also looking forward to the new 35mm prints of the four pre-Zorro comedies I'm playing for (on piano) on Friday, Saturday and Monday.

Spent some time this afternoon (finally) getting some writing done on the silent film music book. It came surprisingly easily and I kinda lost track of time. I've loaded several CDs of Haydn string quartets into my computer...I've found over the years that listening to this music really helps me creatively. Go figure. (The opposite happens with Mozart. Don't know why, but listening to Wolfy's music drives me up a wall.) Also spent some time this afternoon making sure I've got enough black shirts and slacks lined up for the next few days...

Booking news: the conductor in Hot Springs, SD whose band did my Adventurer score wrote me about possibly repeating this in the summer; and – Dylan Skolnick has booked Don Q, Son of Zorro for our January silent at the CAC, and since they're showing Verdoux in February we will do a program of Chaplin Mutuals for our silent show that month, the same titles Bruce and I will show on 12/30 at the Burns Film Center (with my nice Blackhawk 16mm prints).

Yesterday I revamped my website so it is now black text on white background. Still needs a bit of a graphics overhaul, but white-on-black for a website is starting to be "old school". Wanted to do this in time for the MoMA PopRally website (which has a link to my website) to list its next event: "Silent But Deadly" which will feature six one-reelers from our Cruel and Unusual Comedy course (I am accompanying on piano and Miditzer), plus "response videos" by comedians a media artsts. It's a high-profile, very hip monthly event at MoMA and is usually tied to some exhibit at the museum. It's kind of a big deal (at MoMA, according to Ron) that of everything going on at MoMA they picked our slapstick film class.

The PopRally should be a real blast. Will be interesting to see if the silents do better than the new stuff (quite possible they will). The show happens right in the middle of my Jan 4-12 Fairbanks run of shows, so I'll be performing for 9 straight days.

See you at the silents!


Thursday, December 04, 2008

John Gilbert in "The Cossacks"; audio from "Two Tars"

Today's show at MoMA went well. Both prints were in 35mm. Two Tars looked okay...I'd be curious to A/B it against a good Blackhawk 16mm. The Cossacks looked fantastic, and while the audience really enjoyed it I found its 10 reels felt like 15. It's a big Hollywood star vehicle for John Gilbert and Renee Adoree, who reprise their parting-as-rides-off-to-war sequence (quite literally) from Big Parade. There's a big fight sequence toward the end with Cossacks vs. Turks that looks like it's from a Western because of the Monument Valley-ish location. I'm glad I saw it, but don't envy Philip Carli, who will be playing for its repeat showing on Dec 26 or 27. Most notable about the show was that a fellow introduced himself to me after the show, quite excited, and let me know he was John Gilbert's grandson. He'd happened to be at MoMA that day and at th last minute found out about the show and got a ticket. Lucky for him, since this film almost never gets shown and isn't on video or slated for TCM (it is an MGM picture). Also notable was Ernest Torrence's excellent performance as Gilbert's dad.

I brought my new Zoom H4 digital recorder and recorded the score, which I performed on the Miditzer. Here is a 2-minute clip from Two Tars.

Tomorrow it's The Lost World with Wallace Beery, Bull Montana and the artistry of Willis O'Brien. Next week I've got The Adventures of Prince Achmed at the Cinema Arts Center. This is the (tinted) restoration from a few years ago, in a nice 35mm print from Milestone.

See you at the silents!


long day at MoMA

pictured above, L-R: Sandra DeFeo, Steve Massa, Ron Magliozzi, Ben Model

Okay, here's what my day was like --

Arrived at MoMA at 11:15-ish, went to Titus 1 and got the Miditzer equipment and rolled it through the catacombs of the museum to the education building and to the Bartos Theater. Set up the Miditzer, and had a sound check with the projectionist. Lunch. 1:30 show of Beggar On Horseback, plus reel 2 of Shivering Spooks and all of Sundown Limited. I introduced the show, since half the audience probably didn't know Spooks was only reel 2 and that Beggar On Horseback was incomplete. Played the show, "sight-reading" Beggar On Horseback...glad I'd added a piano rank to the Miditzer, since Edward Everett Horton plays a composer and there are scenes with him playing the piano and of someone using a player grand (Philip Carli will know exactly the make and model). After the show, two people tell me about a production of the show of Beggar On Horseback at Lincoln Center in 1973, one of whom tells me also about seeing a fragment of the the film of B.O.H. at BAM in the early '70s that is around 10 mins long and which probably goes where there is a big jump in the action in the print we showed (gorgeous 35mm from L.O.C.). Where'd it come from? Packed up Miditzer, putting away pedals and part of the stand and then schlepping the keyboard/controller and main stand up to the Warner screening room where tonight's Cruel and Unusual Comedy class will take place. I meet Ron Magliozzi in his office to do some research on Fairbanks film scores in MoMA's collection. Ron tells me he caught the last 20 mins of the show, and noticed that one of the audience members filing out of the theater was Steven Sondheim. I go back home to get my sustain pedal (which I'd forgotten this morning). See wife, daughter, check email, eat, grab pedal and head back to MoMA. Meet Steve Massa at Ron's office; then head down to Warner to set up the keyboard and laptop (using piano samples). Our class starts at 6:30 and goes well. Guest speaker is Sandra DeFeo, Co-Executive Director of the N.Y. Humane Society. Eileen Bowser also came to the class. Class went really well. Packed up the keyboard and stand and stowed it in a room on the film dept's floor (I will return tomorrow for an appt at the Film Dept, and will then bring the keyboard and stand to Bartos Theater to set up Miditzer for Thursday's 1:30 show of The Cossacks starring John Gilbert). Attend cocktail reception for all MoMA courses in the lower lobby of the education building, and find out Steve has identified yet another comedy short in the collection of the Nederlands Filmmuseum...the 2nd reel of a lost 1928 Charley Chase. Then, back home.

There is an episode of "The Odd Couple" where Felix and Oscar think their air conditioner is possessed and they go see a medium, played by Victor Buono. Buono says he used to be a dentist and then found his calling with the occult. Oscar asks him at one point if he really likes all this spiritualism and voodoo and stuff, and Buono shrugs and says: "Beats cleaning bubble gum out of braces." Sometimes when I have a crazy day like this, I think of that line...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Madalena weekend at MoMA

Here's a photo of the Miditzer set up in Titus 1 theatre at MoMA. I accompanied The Last Command (2 times), Old Ironsides (2 times), Sally of the Sawdust and Hotel Imperial over 3 days on Thanksgiving weekend, using the Miditzer. MoMA's projectionists and A/V staff were terrific getting the sound right, and we had great crowds at all 6 shows.

Out of all the films The Last Command affected me the most. When I accompany a film you go on the journey, emotionally, with the actors and when it's a really strong performances – like in this picture, with amazing performances by Emil Jannings and William Powell – I found myself in an emotional state at the end of the picture...both times. While accompanying this film I remembered Lee Erwin talking about holding back during the romantic scenes, because you've got this heavy-set older guy "making love" (in the 1920's sense of the phrase) to Evelyn Brent, and you need to watch out for iadvertent laughter. The connection they have is about how much they both love Russia, and so you have to underscore that somehow while not sounding too romantic so no one chuckles.

Old Ironsides is an okay-to-good big-budget Paramount helmed by James Cruze. I'm glad I got to see it and play for it twice – spotted Spec O'Donnell in an unbilled bit part in the last third of the film – but I have yet to be really impressed by Cruze's dramas. Sally played much bhetter than I expected it would with the crowd; it's not a film I'm wild about, between Dempster's lack of screen presence and Griffith's mis-handling all the comedy, but the audience was really into it and cheered at a few moments and laughed at a lot of Fields' business.

Miditzer sounded great, and I added a piano rank for the last day of shows. There's a nice sense of whimsy in adding a piano to an organ registration, and it was nice having that in the "orchestra".

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

William S. Hart DVD of "SAND" now available

A DVD that I scored for Unknown Video about a year ago has just been released (on Nov 15). It's the William S. Hart film Sand (1920), mastered from a real nice, sharp color-tinted print. I did a Miditzer theatre organ score for it, as well as for the disc's two extras – a gallery of Mary Thurman stills and a Snub Pollard & Marvin Loback short No Kidding (Weiss Bros., 1928). Click here to go to UnkVid's site to order it (just $18.95!).

Last night's show of The General went well. A rather light turnout, but I felt better about the score than I have the last few times I played for it. Managed to make myself play a little less busily than usual, one of the upgrades I'm trying to make.

Tonight I'm back on L.I. for Langdon's The Strong Man at the C.A.C – will be bringing a short to open. Walter Kerr always said that when he showed Langdon to people he'd run a Keystone or two first, to warm them up and to put Langdon's comedic style in context. I'm bringing a Larry Semon short that's quite funny. Semon's films play well with an audience, and I figure Larry and Harry are both white-face silent clowns from opposite ends of the slapstick spectrum and of the silent era. There's a late '20s Semon that Steve Massa and I screened at MoMA where Semon is clearly trying to "do" Langdon...stopping, thinking things over, blinking, etc. instead of dumping barrels of molasses or tar on people willy-nilly.

After turkey-day, I'm on at MoMA for two-a-day on Fri, Sat and Sunday for the Batiste Madalena series. BTW, if you're in the NYC area and want to see more Madalena posters than what's on display at MoMA, the Hirschl & Adler Gallery has an exhibit running now through mid-January.

See you at the silents!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Three Musketeers @ SCFS

Yesterday's showing of Douglas Fairbanks' The Three Musketeers went quite well. Much better crowd than I'd expected, as usually dramas mean a dip in audience turnout at the Silent Clowns series. Getting the Miditzer to the N-YHS and back was as much of a snap as posisble, as I've really gotten the packing and unpacking of it down to a science. Steve Massa swung by the apt to help me get my three cases of stuff into a cab, and Rob Arkus came early to the show to help man the audio mixing board and set levels. Miditzer behaved itself just fine and sounded great in that auditorium. I'm not sure how excited I was about my playing (par for course, as you'll note from previous posts), but I'm sure it was great for the audience. I made mental notes during and after the show, since I'll be playing for this again in a few weeks at MoMA.

It was nice to hear a round of applause for Doug when he showed up on screen, and a couple audience members hissed at Cardinal Richelieu. I remember back in the '80s when people did this routinely at silent film shows, but it doesn't happen much anymore. Although last week at the MoMA class, when Sunshine Sammy turned up in Get Out and Get Under there was a nice round of applause from class members who knew who he was.

Also in the audience were Dave Stevenson, of Loose Than Loose Publishing, who provided his rare 16mm prints for our Educational Pictures show two weeks ago. Dave came down from Manchester, NH along with Jeff Rapsis, who is another film accompanist who started a few years ago. He's in a good position to learn and play, teaming up with Dave (as I did with Bruce Lawton back in the 1990s) to make silent film shows happen, and he's doing a show or two a month up in the Manchester area where there are a few nice venues for this. I'd connected him with Joe Yransky for a show at the now-defunct Donnell this past year, and then wound up being in Boise, ID when his show happened, so this was our first in-person meeting. See photo below.

Tonight I'm off to the East Meadow Public Library on Long Island to play for The General (one of these days I'm going to get this score right), and then am back on L.I. tomorrow for Langdon's The Strong Man at the Cinema Arts Centre. I am trying to come up with a good short to open for the Langdon. Walter Kerr told me he always ran a Keystone short or two before showing people Langdon, which I believe makes sense, and so I'll come up with something frenetic and slapsticky either in 16mm or on DVD. Maybe an Arbuckle...

See you at the silents!


Friday, November 21, 2008

Westchester Magazine: "Top 5 picks"

The December 2008 edition of Westchester Magazine has a piece on me in it. They'd contacted me about this in September; they have a profile in each monthly issue of a local (or hails-from) resident who then recommends his/her top 5 picks of something in their field. Chef recommends restaurants, golf pro recommends golf courses, etc. I was about to play 3 shows at the Burns Film Center, all Fritz Lang films, so it looked like we'd have to wait until I got another Westchester booking. A couple weeks later the JBFC contacted me about the annual end-of-December silent comedy program that I do with Bruce Lawton there (we've been doing this since the place opened some years ago), and so the piece would now go into the Dec issue of the magazine.

I didn't want to list a top 5 silent films, or even top 5 comedies. That was too easy and too general, so I went with a list of 5 silent comedy DVD's that wouldn't be obvious first choices but should be, figuring the readers of this magazine would be people who'd go for The General, Safety Last, The Gold Rush etc on their own. I picked 5 releases, none of which have my scores on them, of films with well-known comedians, lesser-knowns, plus an Ozu film.

Click here to see the piece in the magazine, which was just posted online and will probably hit newsstands, people's mailboxes, and doctors' waiting rooms in the next week or so.

The article also plugs the Dec 30th Chaplin shorts show at the Burns Film Center, which I understand is prominently featured (according to my parents) in the Burns' Nov/Dec printed calendar. Click here for the web listing for the show.

See you at the silents!

Ben Model

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cruel and Unusual @ MoMA Nov 19

photo of our Nov 19th class with guest speaker Eileen Bowser, MoMA senior film curator emerita. L to R: Eileen Bowser, Ron Magliozzi, Steve Massa, Ben Model

Last night was our third class session for Cruel and Unusual Comedy at MoMA. The class is going really well, and we've got 20 people in the class. A little more than half the people are silent or classic film fans who were attracted to the class by the title list and rarities, and the other half are people new to the genre. Everyone's enjoying the class and the films. Our progam last night featured guest speaker Eileen Bowser, MoMA's senior film curator emerita, and her talk was titled "Mack Sennett vs. Henry Ford", and focused on automobiles in slapstick comedies and also covered the way both Ford and Sennett innovated and utilizied assembly-line production methods to make their product accessible to mass audiences. Last week was our "Excessive Violence" program with guest speaker Trav S.D. and, after the Thanksgiving break we have two more sessions – "Kids and Animals" and our program of ethinic/race humor.

I'm accompanying the films with a virtual piano...using the M-Audio controller MoMA bought for Miditzer use and connecting it to a laptop. I'm using Garageband for the piano sound, but am using a better piano sound than what comes with it. I found some samples sold a few years ago of Bosendorfer, Yamaha and Steinway samples made for use with GB. Theyr'e an improvement, but I'm still not crazy about them. Puchasing a real-deal virtual piano software that has multiple-velocity samples (like my Kurweil PC2 keyboard does) isn't in my budget right now, and I'm hoping the samples I'm using made by PM Piano (2005, I think) sound okay.

One of my idiosyncracies using a digital piano, whether virtual or something physical like a Clavinova, is that the longer I play and hear it during a show the more aware I become of the fact that it's not a real piano. It's one of those little things that only I notice, and only during a show, when I'm really listening to myself and to the sound of the instrument. I'm sure it's fine for everybody; it's one of the quirks of being a creator of things...you only see the mistakes and problems and things you wish you could've done better, things which the audience never notices (even when you ask them about it).

Sunday begins two solid weeks of shows where my weekends will actually be during the calendar week, a total of 13 shows...most of which are at MoMA. My January is now pretty much booked up, although (luckily) there's a week or so in the middle where I'm not performing. I have to be more diligent and conscientious about a lot of things...working full-time at this is something I'm still getting used to, and occasionally things I need to take care of fall through the cracks of my brain. Still, a nice problem to have.

Happy thanksgiving!

Monday, November 10, 2008

an "educational" week

Yesterday was the Silent Clowns program of shorts released by E.W. Hammons' Educational Pictures. We'd planned 5 shorts, but then I turned up a lost one-reeler starring Wallace Lupino on eBay a couple weeks ago, and we threw it into the program. So, our audience was the first to see this film in several decades.

The program's challenge for me was not so much scoring 6 shorts as it was the difficulty I had seeing the screen; my mistake, though, for not remembering an extra extension cord for the video camera for my monitoring set-up (it's a baby monitor with video…the piano at the N-YHS can't be moved all the way out so it faces the screen properly), so the camera wasn't far back enough. I though it'd be okay, but since I was "sight-reading" several of the films it was a little trickier that unusal. I'll be prepared next time. Actually our next show will have me seated in a different spot, using the Miditzer.

Today we had another screening at MoMA checking prints for our class. This afternoon I'm recording the last of the commentary tracks for the Chase DVD set with some colleagues. Tomorrow I've got 2 Immigrant shows at AMMI, and Weds I've got an Immigrant show at AMMI, then a 3pm showing of An Unseen Enemy with Lillian Gish at MoMA (a last-minute booking), and then Cruel and Unusual at MoMA, with our guest speaker Trav S.D. Thursday I've got two more Immigrant shows.

Big news is that I've submitted my programming list for the Kovacs DVD set, and now we can start bringing film elements and videotape masters to NY from LA for re-mastering.

See you at the silents!


Friday, October 31, 2008

Spooky Silents '08

October is wrapping up, and I've just wrapped up a slew of shadowy, creepy silent films: Barrymoore's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Sun 10/26 @ Silent Clowns, on piano), the Chaney/Browning West of Zanzibar (Tues 10/28 @ C.A.C., on Miditzer VTPO), Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera (Weds 10/29 @ Church of St. Paul the Apostle, on a 4/89 Möller pipe organ), and last night was the Conrad Veidt/Paul Leni The Man Who Laughs (Thurs 10/30 @ Walter Reade, for the Young Friends of Film of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, on Miditzer VTPO).

Visible above is a great photo of me and Bruce Lawton shot by our photographer friend (and silent film fan) Steve Friedman. This was taken at a show of Chaplin shorts Bruce and I did at St. Pauls this past June. (The reason the two 16mm's look different is that one is an Eiki which I've converted to run at 21.5 fps and the other is a standard 24 fps machine).

The J&H show went well; not as big a turnout as we usually get at the Silent Clowns, but that's often how the dramas we show work out. Felt much better about my playing for both this picture and the one I'd played the day before – a new print of the Lubitsch Lady Windermere's Fan at MoMA. Both shows were on piano, and I've been trying to find new things to do musically, to continue to develop my accompaniment vocabulary. I'm never really crazy about my playing anyway, and am getting a little tired of what I've been playing. Just in case everyone else is, too, I've been pushing myself at shows and feel like the weekend's films were a bit of a step forward.

The three organ shows went well, also, with the church pipe organ Phantom going the better of the bunch for me, although this could be that it's a film I know awfully well and so the concentration balance during the performance of watching and absorbing the film vs. creating music was different. Zanzibar I sight-read, and the Veidt/Leni was something I'd seen and played a couple times. The scores went well for all of these shows, but as an accompanist, sometimes how well I know a picture makes the experience different. [The exception for me being The General, which I know inside and out and have personally never been happy with what I've played for it. Go figure. But, as other accompanists will tell you, usually when you do what you feel is a terrible score the audience response is the complete opposite…and I've learned to remind myself that a terrible performance usually means the score was actually quite good.]

Fortunately we got enough people to sign up for the MoMA class (actually, as of now the # is well over the minumum) and Cruel and Unusual Comedy is going to start next Wednesday. Ron, Steve and I have been rescreening the prints and making adjustments to the running order and in one or two cases film selections. Last week's screening had a bit of a nice surprise: one of the films we're running is Lizzies of the Field, a Sennett car-gag picture, for Eileen Bowser's program (on Nov 19) and a 35mm print as well as a 16mm came in. The 35mm turned out to be a really nice print of the first reel. Which none of us had ever seen. This film generally exists and circulates in an abridged edition with a complete reel two and a much-truncated reel one. So, it may be that we've found the lost first reel. We're going to try to run the 35mm and then switch to the second reel from the 16mm print (which is a Blackhawk/Killiam print). It also turns out that the Ham & Bud short we'd selected for the "excessive violence" program (guest speaker Trav S.D., on Nov 12) is a gorgeous and 100% complete 35mm print, with all original titles…and is also a really funny Ham & Bud. It was fun revisiting all these shorts, as there were a bunch of them we hadn't looked at in a few years.

November is looking like it will be a more academic month for me, between the first three sessions of Cruel and Unusual at MoMA, six AMMI education screenings of The Immigrant, beginning to work on a book of – and about – silent film music for G. Schirmers (who, ironically, published the Erno Rapée silent film music book back in 1925), and finalizing the selections for the Ernie Kovacs DVD set from Koch Entertainment that I've been hired to curate. Hopefully I'll have time to add another score to my altscore.com website…

See you at the silents!

Ben Model
silent film accompanist/historian

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

silent film poster exhibit opens at MoMA

I played at a press screening yesterday for the new poster exhibit at MoMA organized by Ron Magliozzi and Jenny He. The posters are all one-of-a-kind hand-painted posters from the Eastman Theater in Rochester. George Eastman didn't care for the posters the studios were sending out...so he hired Rochester artist Batiste Madalena to create posters for each release that played at the theater, from 1924-28. The exhibit runs from Oct '08 to March '09, and each month a few of the silents depicted in the posters will be shown, with accompaniment by me or Philip Carli. This month, I'm playing (next week) for Hotel Imperial and Sally of the Sawdust.

Here's a sample of a few of these magnificent posters, and a link to an online article about the exhibit.

Click here to read the article
– and –
Click here to go to MoMA's page with film schedule for the exhibit

Sunday, October 12, 2008

October 2008 shows posted

Had a great Charley Chase show at the Silent Clowns this afternoon. I have digested and recovered (mentally) from my 3-day trip to L.A. for the Ernie Kovacs project, and don't have to get on a plane or pack for quite some time.

Have just finally had a moment to post my October 2008 performance schedule on my website. 19 shows in all, two of which I don't have to go to (they'll be in Hot Springs, SD...my concert band score for "The Adventurer").

Click here to go to silentfilmmusic.com and then click on the performance schedule button.

See you at the silents!

Ben Model

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Adventurer" in Hot Springs, SD

My concert band score for Charlie Chaplin's "The Adventurer" will be performed this week by the Hot Springs High School Band and Community band in the town's original 1920's movie theater. The school's conductor, Truman Savery, found me online just as I was finishing up the concert band (re-)arrangement of my orch score for the film for the Jonathan Law High School in Westport CT.

Here's a photo of the theater:
Click here to read an article from the Hot Springs Star (newspaper) about the events!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

photos from Cinesation

Flight slightly delayed (weather conditions in NYC) so it turns out I have a moment or two while still in Canton/Akron to upload and post these photos...

The Lions Lincoln Theatre in downtown Massillon. Wish I'd gotten a night shot because the marquee is beautiful. (search for my entry from 2007...there might be one there).

This is what the theatre looks like from the inside. You can see that the original proscenium is intact. Because the light from the screen illuminates it, you are always aware of the space you're in when watching movies, which makes watching classic (and especially silent) film a real treat.

Here are yours truly, Dr. Philip Carli and Terry Hoover; Terry is the guy who runs the festival, and a real nice guy.

Here I am at the mighty Miditzer. This year I didn't bring a laptop shelf – we bought a piece of pre-made melamine shelving (under $5 and it comes in black!) made by Rubbermaid at the local Home Depot.

I brought slides from the Silent Cinema Pres. collection. People see these at all our SCFS shows, and I brought these last year as well. They looked great on that big screen.

Shown here is Eric Grayson, instroducing his color rarities program.

Here is James Cozart, of the L.O.C., introducing All Quiet:

Here is the entryway to the theatre; the Massillon Lions Club saved the theatre from being torn down or taken over several years ago.

Fall Cinesation in Massillon, OH 2008

Am posting from the Canton/Akron airport, where I've arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare, courtesy of Philip Carli and his merry Oldsmobile. Nice to see the airport has complimentary wi-fi (ya hear that, LGA & EWR?!)…

Saw a lot of great film, missed a few good ones too probably (I've learned that surviving these festivals often means missing films instead of seeing everything), and got to visit with some people I haven't seen in a while, and got to meet a few new folks as well.

Thursday eve:
Throwing the Miditzer together was a breeze, as always. The Cinesation arranged to rent a MIDI keyboard from a local music shop, through whom they also purchased the OnStage keyboard stand I've found most affordable/suitable for Miditzer use (thank you, R&H Music on Lincoln Way East!). Philip took the first film, the 1926 Viola Dana / Kenneth Harlan The Ice Flood, which was a nice backwoods logging camp type melodrama. I've gotten to see more Viola Dana in Massillon than anywhere else. I then played for a Ken Maybard western called The Grey Vulture a western a la A Modern Musketeer where Maynard keeps fantasizing himself as medieval hero "The Grey Vulture" so there were cowboy horse chases as well as a couple done in armor.

The morning kicked off with one of my fest highlights (not counting the (sound) films I missed) – Soul of the Beast, in which Vernon Dent is seen in the opening sequence as comedy releif, looking like his goofy bumpkin character I've seen him portray in a couple of shorts from a solo series he did before his stint at Sennett. The print was a gorgeous old 16mm original, and the film was fun; Oscar the elephant had a nice showdown with nasty villain Noah Beery toward the end, and Madge Bellamy is adorable.

Then a show I missed (a 1930's western), followed by another highlight -- the Eric Grayson technicolor rarities show. One of the nice things – for me anyway – about the Cinesation is that it's a place I get to see a bit of real Technicolor every year. After this I accompanied Olive Thomas's last film Everybody's Sweetheart (1920), which was a real rarity. It was an okay drama, and a little out of character from what I usually expect from a Ms. Thomas picture, and had a number of unpredictable story turns.

I was a little weary (not from playing, though) and skipped the rare Hayakawa silent The Typhoon, which I understand went over well.

Following Friday evening's 7pm show of Lillian Gish in Sold For Marriage a woman came up to me to complement me on my playing for the film. What was unusual (and special, I think) was that she said she was 90 (didn't look like she was over 80) and that her cousin has played for silent movies back when they were just called movies. Her cousin played piano and also organ at the Ritz theatre in NYC. She was visiting family in Massillon and came to see the show, and said some nice things abot my playing and how well the score fit the picture.

I missed the late show of For Whom the Bell Tolls (but probably shouldn't have)...


Slept in, missing the Burns & Allen College Swing and most of the silent False Faces, which we ran at the Silent Clowns some years ago. I ducked in and out of the theatre while it was running and caught a few bits and pieces of it, and was reminded there is NYC location footage, but ultimately the projection speed of 17 fps made it too hard for me to watch.

Then lunch, and the catching of the last chunk of the feature Captain Marvel. The matinee was me on Miditzer accompanying, first, a newly restored Educational kids 'n aninals 2-reeler called Billy Believes starring a young Jackie Condon (of Our Gang). Jackie eats too much cake and has nightmares in which a bear and a lion terrorize him and his parents and the African-American handyman in the building. This nugget was followed by a picture I'd recommended for the Cinesation, the Connie Talmadge Her Sister From Paris, which I'd seen at Joe Yransky's "Meet the Music Makers" series in NY this past February. The film went over really well – a lot of nice buzz from attendees afterward – and was the first show I played at the fest where I felt a little magic happened during the score for me.

The evening show was the silent version of All Quiet on the Western Front. I'd never seen this film (amazing, huh?) and this film impressed the heck out of me, and made me want to see the original sound version, although I don't know if I'll be able to watch it on a television set after seeing this beautiful 35mm print in a 1916 movie house.

No more silents today, and I skipped The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and caught the first ten minutes of the Lee Tracy Crashing Hollywood (mainly becuase it was preceeded by L&H in Twice Two, where they play each other's wives). After a final cartoon – the Fleischer sing-along Ain't She Sweet which had a lot of great cartoon gags – it was time to pack up the Miditzer and my pedals and say good-byes.

* * * * *
Had a great time this year as always. It's kinda neat that I play two festivals in September that are held in 1916 movie theaters (the Cinesation and "Silent Film Days" in Norway) to kick off the year (yes, my calendar year starts in Sept in my head, because of the school year and the SCFS season). A number of people asked me about future offerings on altscore.com and it reminded me that I've been meaning to post a score for the Helen Gardener Cleopatra that I'd recorded for a friend a few years ago.

I've got 7 shows in the next 5 days, all at MoMA (except Tues):
  • Mon - Monsieur Beaucaire and Janice Meredith
  • Tues - The Cheat at a film history class at Pratt
  • Weds - So's Your Old Man and Zaza
  • Thurs - So's Your Old Man
  • Fri - Humoresque
I'll post again with photos from the Cinesation, when I get a moment...

See you at the silents!


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jekyll & Hyde and Green Goddess

Okay, okay, I know the image at right is for the 1930 talkie remake of the 1923 silent, but you get the idea. I played for a double-header at MoMA last night (Sat 9/20): John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (gorgeous new 35mm print from Eastman House) and George Arliss in The Green Goddess (1923, a new restoration from UCLA Film & TV). It was great to see a really nice print of J&H; it was shown at 21fps which looked a bit too slow, but just a hair. Maybe 22fps would've been OK.

Green Goddess was also run at 21fps, and was too slow. You could lip-read all the actors and everything felt a tad sluggish or off...too close to real-time speed. This should be run at 24fps. The film also had one of those accompanist nightmare sequences where you have to play a piece of recognizable music, and see it's coming and are just praying "I hope I know the piece!" Arliss has his guests for dinner (well, he's sort of holding them hostage, really). Arliss opens the Victrola, cranks it up, takes out a record, wipes the dust off it – come one, just get to it and show me the label! – puts the record on the turntable and puts the needle on – this is usually where we get a close-up of the record, but no dice – then sits down at the table. We watch Arliss and company listening to the music – and I'm just playing and guessing that it's some kind of pleasant little waltz or fox-trot. This is driving me crazy...Alice Joyce asks Arliss "What is that piece of music?" Arliss takes his time and finally admits that "It's 'The Funeral March of a Marionette'" and makes a comment about how eerie the piece is. So I quickly swing into what everybody knows as the theme from "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (that TV show used Funeral March of a Marionette for its theme). There was no way around this one, because of the long delay of the devulsion to the onscreen characters and the audience what the piece was. Oh well. This happen sometimes.

Today was opening day at the Silent Clowns Film Series, and we had a real nice crowd for Harold Lloyd in Grandma's Boy. Man, does that film slay an audience. Ran my nice 16mm print, plus an Oswald Cartoon and a Chase one-reeler The Fraidy Cat which is basically GB with Charley Chase. Had a lot of kids (there was a birthday party for one of our under-twelve regulars) and the show went really well. Our next show is on Columbus weekend, a Chase program.

Thankfully I have the night off tomorrow. But after that I've got performances every day for the ensuing week or so. *Whew!*

See you at the silents!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

prepping for Die Nibelungen parts 1 & 2

Well, I've now screened both part 1 and 2 of Lang's Die Nibelungen on DVD in prep for my playing for these two at the Burns Film Center on Weds and Thurs. Got these out of the NYPL; I don't own DVD's of silents, just reserve 'em and check 'em out of the library when I need to screen one for a show.

I don't know how I got through these films back in my early days of playing when I was at NYU; I remembered having played for them in one of Everson's classes. The films are very long and feel sluggish – at least on a computer monitor in my apt with the sound off. There isn't a lot of drama happening on screen and the stories are pretty simple. Granted, these look as though they were transferred at 18 or 19 fps, and we probably won't have that "luxury" at the Burns Center (fine by me). The film is, however, extremely well photographed and staged; the settings and costumes and uses of locations are amazing, and I think the film will come to life in a theatre with an audience. This kind of film will be one of those where I'll get to do a lot of creating melodies – and even finishing them and repeating them – while we wait for things to happen. A nice change of pace and a good challenge to have every once in a while. The films have original scores by Gottfried Huppertz - which are on the Kino DVDs, performed by the Munich Radio Orch – brooding and Germanic and full of whole-tone scales. Will really give the Clavinova at the Burns a workout (also forearms).

Friday I play for Destiny at the Burns as part of the Lang series there. Will have to look at that DVD soon. They've also booked me and Bruce Lawton for a program of Chaplin shorts on Dec 30th. We've done a silent comedy program for them every late Dec since they opened. Those shows are always fun and we get a lot of families and seniors as well as their usual film crowd.

Saturday at MoMA is Jeckyll & Hyde and The Green Goddess, which I'll do (both) on piano. Sunday is opening day at the Silent Clowns series, showing Lloyd's Grandma's Boy – my print (hey, I better dig that out!), a nice 16mm which Bruce filled out with some footage from another print that was missing in mine. Making some progress on dealing with the fact that the N-YHS auditorium side door is out of commission because of renovations to the museum, and that people will be entering in the back door (which lets light onto the screen). We should have blackout curtains hung by our second show, in Oct, unless something amazing happens in next coupla days. The N-YHS staff have been great about helping us with this.

See you at the silents!


more photos from Stumfilm Dagere i Tromsø

This is the Verdensteatret Kino ("kino" means cinema), with banners hung for the festival. I love their logo of a dialog balloon with an "X" where dialog would be. This is the oldest kino in Norway.

Here is a photo of one of the murals that line the walls of the Verdensteatret (translated: "World Theater"). These were painted in 1921 and were restored in 1997. Each mural depicts a well-known Norwegian folk song and there are 6 of thes on either side of the theater. Visible also is one of the theater's older RCA projectors.

Here you see my Miditzer set up for my performances on the last day of the festival. I brought the MIDI organ pedals (Roland PK5) and converter boxes plus my laptop (and touchscreen overlay from Magic Touch), and the festival rented the keyboard and stand. The sound system was excellent – you really felt the 32' bass – and the sound of the mighty Wurlitzer really blew everyone away. (The speakers you see were monitors set up for me.) Nell Shipman made a nice impression on everyone as well; we showed Something New in a nice 35mm tinted print from the National Library of Canada.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Tromsø school show photos

Here you see me and Martha Otte, festival director, presenting stumfilm to a group of 5th graders at Verdensteatret on Fri, Sept 5th. Each student got a piece of 35mm film so we could explain what film itself was and (briefly) that our brains turn a series of still pictures into moving images. I had done this at a presentation I did at my daughter's school a couple years ago and it was very effective.

Here I am playing a short piece of on-the-spot music; we did this a few times, asking the kids after each one what kind of movie scene it sounded like. This is something I do at some of the school programs at the Museum of the Moving Image.

We screened A Reckless Romeo for the school groups. The kids loved the slapstick in it, but some elements of the storyline were a bit tough to grasp for them. We'll go back to The Cook next year, unless there's a good print of one of the Chaplin Mutuals we can run.
Below you see Martha Otte, yours truly, and Nina Mathisen who was a festival volunteer two years ago and this year was the education coordinator between the festival and a government-funded project called "The Cultural Back-Pack" which brings school chilcdren and culture together.

Later that afternoon, one of the festival workers/volunteers took me and Neil Brand on a hike up Mt. Fløya. The views along the way and from the top were spectacular. Will write again with reports about this afternoon's pair of shows, which I accompanied: a program of 3 shorts for kids, and the archival "Frosty Celluloid" program of films from the Nationalbiblioteket (or Nationakl Library of Norway). Gotta go get dinner and see tonight's big show, the 1922 Norwegian film Pan, with a new score by and ensemble of Tromsø are musicians.

Friday, September 05, 2008

3 school shows in Tromsø

Sept 5 '08 - Tromsø, NORWAY -- Photo above is of me holding yesterday's "Nordlys" daily paper, showing the big spread given to "Stumfilm Dagere". Notice the photo of Buster Keaton in Seven Chances, which I'll be accompanying on Sunday with the Miditzer. The kino (Norwegian for cinema, or movie theater, pronounced "CHEE-noh") has a new piano, a nice Steinway grand, and it plays and sounds great.

Arrived Weds afternoon and after checking in, met Martha Otte (festival director) at a senior residence to do a showing of The Cook, which went well. A Young Chang upright with an incredibly bright sound, but it was fine. After dinner with Martha, her husband Hermann, and UK "stumfilmpianist" Neil Brand it was off to bed...

Thursday morning, bright and early I was up to play for two school shows, both of 5th graders, at the Verdensteatret. One of the percs (no pun intended, buit it's there...) of playing outside the U.S. is that I don't need to bring my own coffee. This year we showed A Reckless Romeo to the students; we've used The Cook for the last two years and I wanted to try this one for a change...plus it's the other missing Arbuckle short that turned up here. This year we handed out pieces of film to all the students and explained briefly what film is and how there are still images projected rapidly that our brains turn into moving pictures. Since the students have only just started to learn English, Martha translated for me and, because we do a few of these every year, Martha does more of the talking since she knows what I'm going to say anyway. We also had mne do the thing where I play a couple of short moods on piano and have the kids guess what kind of scene it would go with. The kids really liked the film and had a lot of great questions. We will probably go back to The Cook for next year, as it's more slapsticky and easier to understand.

Last night was opening night, and Neil Brand performed...an amazing job and a great score. Afterward there was a reception at the cinema's cafe/bar.

Looking forward to tonight's programs of Korkarlen (pron. shor-KAR-len, or "The Phantom Carriage") score by Matti Bye and ensemble, and then Hitchcock's The Lodger with Neil Brand on piano. I played for this many times while at NYU and haven't seen or played for it since, but remember it being a great silent Hitchcock.

I don't play again until tomorrow - I have two shows Sat and two on Sunday - and am being taken on a sightseeing excursion up a big mountain and will post photos if I can. I am able to do most online things but seem to have difficulty occasionally when uploading photos to the blog site and esp to Facebook.

Gotta run...

Ben Model
silent film accompanist (stumfilmpianist)

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Phantom" in the Berkshires

Well, folks, I'm off to Tromsø again tomorrow, and am quickly filing this report on the Aug 23 show of Phantom of the Opera at the New Marlborough Meeting House's Music and More series, curated by Harold Lewin. This year was the rain check for last year's show – which got unbooked by the series because of scheduling. What wound up working out in everyone's favor is that the meeting house's vintage reed organ was now in working order! David Hosford, also President of the New Marlborough Association, was there at my load-in and told me the organ was now working. Even the blowers were running (so no foot-pumping necessary). David had rebuilt the organ, removing mouse nests, releathering things etc etc, and the instrument sounds terrific. I used my digital keyboard for piano for most the film, and switched over to the reed organ -- which had some really big sounds for something its size -- for the scenes when Erik the Phantom plays the organ. It was really effective. I made sure to tell the audience about all this before the show, so they wouldn't get distracted by the instrument switch when it happened.

Here you see our pair of Elmo 16-CL's set up in the back of the meeting house, which is an historic building over 100 years old. The projectors are nice and bright -- both have 2-blade shutters (33% brighter than standard 3-blades). My daughter ran the projectors and as usual did a great job staying in focus, framing, and switching from one machine to the other at the reel break.

Below is a panorama shot from the balcony/choir-loft that I made by taking three pics and joining them in photoshop. Click on the image to see it bigger (you'll see one of the joins is a little sloppy. Sorry...)

Gotta go make sure I've got everything I need for the trip all set to go. Will post festival reports and pics, as I have the last two years.

See you at the silents!

Ben Model
silent film accompanist

PS – I've added a link at the top right of the blog for you to subscribe so you don't have to keep checking the site, since my posting schedule varies.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tromsø Norway fest announced online!

Stumfilmdagere i Tromsø has just been announced online. Click here to see the website (and make sure to click on "Enlgish" in the upper right corner of the webpage).