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...