Thursday, February 21, 2008

Next week...Langdon, Chaplin, Wings and Ben Hur

Spent the afternoon yesterday recording a piano score for The Gusher (1913) for Kino. Am assuming the set this is for will come out later this year. An interesting and fun short, one of those Keystones where you really have to watch everybody to see what the story is, as much of the plot is contained in talking. Used the music to help follow this and to point the audience in the right direction. (Click here for another post on this topic, discussing scoring an Edwin S. Porter western.) I finally got Ford Sterling's persona last summer at Slapsticon: he's sort of a comedy or satiric version of the villain of melodrama...except that he's usually the "good guy" in the films he's in. Mabel has little to do in this short; I spotted Charles Inslee as the bad guy, plus Polly Moran, Hank Mann, and Mack Swain in the background. Lots of great locations, out in oil fields (Edendale? L.A.?) too.

Here's a trailer for the Houdini set:

Homework: review Langdon shorts, Wings, and Ben Hur for next week's shows. The Immigrant at AMMI will take care of itself (playing once on 2/28 and twice on 2/29).

Oh yeah, are photos taken by Melissa Harris, Boise State Univ. Photographic Services, of me showing how the theatre organ works to attendees of the reception for the launch of the Nell Shipman Scholarship Fund at the Egyptian Theatre in Boise.

Will report again next week if/when I come up for air...

See you at the silents!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

films booked for Huntington; "It" unavailable

BTW, click on the image at the right to pre-order your copy of Kino's new 3-disc DVD set Houdini: the Movie Star. Checked my copy and was glad to see everything was in synch. The menus are great, and that front cover artwork is real eye-catching.

Several of the films I'll be accompanying in Huntington, NY at the Cinema Arts Centre for their monthly series called "Anything But Silent" have now been booked. Dylan Skolnick and I sat down and made up a list of what we'd like to show this year, rather than going month-to-month as we have in the past year. Here's what's lined up so far:
  • Feb - Wings
  • Mar - The General
  • Apr - Seventh Heaven
  • June - Phantom Carriage
  • Aug - Flesh and the Devil
  • Oct - West of Zanzibar
All the other months are TBA (and I'll post these when they're ready), although I suspect we'll be doing Peter Pan again at holiday time; this has become an annual event out there.

Another silent film now "off the menu":
One odd snag that has come up is that in order to show It with Clara Bow one must not only license the film through Kino, but Kevin Brownlow's Photoplay Productions must be contacted for a license to have live accompaniment of any kind, regardless of who is playing and what the score is. This was to be our May program, but we will be picking something else. This is the first I've heard of someone having the rights to live accompaniment of a silent film, and it makes no sense to me. I can understand the Chaplin family's insisting on orchestral performance of Chaplin's own score as a proviso to allowing you to license a Chaplin film, but to charge extra just to be able to accompany a film is a new one on me. I don't think this condition existed during the silent era, and am not sure how this is possible now. When I find out I will post it here.

k k k k k

This week:
  • recording a score for a Mabel Normand short for Kino
  • previewing and preparing music for next week's shows of Ben Hur and Wings
  • more to come...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Andrew Simpson (from DC)

Today got to hear and hang out with Andrew Simpson, a film accompanist from Washington DC. I'd met Andrew, who's been playing for silents for a few years, at Slapsticon last year. Andrew and his "Snark Ensemble" recorded scores for many of the films on the new Harry Langdon DVD set, and has played for silents at the National Gallery and the AFI Silver Theater in DC, as well as a number of other theaters. When Joe Yransky told me several months ago he was looking for out-of-town, non-NYC accompanists to play for his annual "Meet the Music Makers" series at the Donnell Library, I recommended Andrew as well as Jeff Rapsis from New Hampshire, who played at the Donnell last week (I missed the show bec of my Boise gigs). Andrew played for Little Orphant Annie (with Colleen Moore, and yes...that's the correct spelling of the title) plus The Fairy and the Waif with Mary Miles Minter. Films were shown in 16mm prints.

Seen below are, from L to R: me, Andrew Simpson, and Joe Yransky (the first "Y" is silent, BTW):
Coming up next at the MTMM series (Weds'es at 2:30pm in Feb) are Frederick Hodges (CA) and David Drazin (Chicago).

Have booked two showing in May (5/1 and 5/2 at 1:30) of a repeat of the Bert Williams program. It will include Fish, Natural Born Gambler, plus the first 10 mins of the work-in-progress assembly of the unreleased BW film that was shown in raw unedited takes at the Feb 2 show. Anyone who missed the Feb 2 show and is available for the repeats should come. The prints are incredibly sharp and, seen on a big screen at the right speed, really show Williams's talents.

Sunday's Silent Clowns show was a big hit...especially considering it was Chaplin. We've often had lite turnouts for Chaplin programs, but we had a pretty full house. Hopefully we'll do well with our next, a program of Langdon comedies.

Am looking forward to some downtime...have been performing almost daily for two weeks, and the Langdon show is Feb 24. Week of 2/24 finds me with 7 shows in 6 days: Langdon, Wings, and Ben Hur, plus 4 Immigrant shows at AMMI. Have some recording to do in the next week or so (more about that when I can talk about it).

See you at the silents!


Friday, February 08, 2008

Boise day 3 - evening

Well, the Musical Movies event was a big success. We had a great crowd, the orchestra sounded great, Dr. Saunders kept the group in synch with both films, and the Arbuckle film Love went over big time, as did the sound of the theatre organ. After the audience was greeted by local TV channel 7 (ABC) meteorologist Rick Lantz, Dr. Saunders (in top hat and tails below) spoke about the orchestra and their upcoming comcerts, and then turned the program over to me. I did my usual Robert Osbourne thing, introducing each film and giving some points of interest about each. In my intro for One Week I gave a thumbnail sketch of Keaton's career beginnings and the link to Roscoe. Nice to see that Nell Shipman got a nice round of applause just on mention of her name.

After the Keaton and Shipman shorts, I talked a little more about Roscoe (no mention of the scandal...why bother?) and his work as a filmmaker/comedian, then hopped onto the organ bench and did a brief explano-demo of the instrument, then we went into the film. Always nice to see an Arbuckle short go over like gangbusters on an untested audience. The crowd really enjoyed the organ as well.

The show was a success -- Zane, Destiny and the rest of the Egyptian crew did a great job making the show go smoothly and professionally. [BTW, they do have 35mm and even 16mm capabilities there, and show a lot of first run films.] Pictured below are - L to R - Dr. David Saunders (conductor), me, and Rick Lantz.
Friday's sched is a little lighter (don't have to start till 12noon, and only playing for two films, one at noon (The Trail of the North Wind, 1924) and at the big evening event at 7pm (The Grub Stake, 1922). No spoken intros, just me and the Robert Morton...and Ms. Shipman onscreen.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Boise day 3

Arrived at the Egyptian bright and early (well...early) for set-up. Shown here is the video projector rented for the events of both Thursday and Friday. All the Nell Shipman films are being shown from DVD', the new ones just out from Boise State, so I made show discs for the shorts I'll be accompanying rather than bring film. Knowing the shows were being done on video was a factor in my choosing to accompany an Arbuckle short on the organ for the Thurs evening show (it's the restored Love).

Introducing the morning programs was Channel 7's meteoroloigist Rick Lantz (no relation to Walter), who also covers education and/or arts events. Rick greeted the kids then handed the mic over to me.

In three hours (at 9.30, 10.30 and 11.30 am) we showed silent films to 2,100 6th graders this morning. The 3 programs included both the Shipman and Keaton shorts; no time for me to use the organ. Kids were focused, even riveted, for both shorts. We opened with the Shipman, and even though it was a drama it really held the kids' attention.

The TVYS is seen setting up here -- you get a good sense of the Egyptian decor of the theater, and also can see the organ console.Seen below are photos of the Treasure Valley Youth Symphony performing my orchestral scores to The Light on Lookout starring Nell Shipman (score world premiere!) ---- and to Keaton's One Week (which the TVYS premiered in 2004).The kids sounded great at all 3 shows, and Dr. Saunders (the conductor) really had the scores in synch with the films. Tonight is the big "Musical Movies" event, where I'll talk about the organ and demonstrate it a little before running the Arbuckle picture.

Boise day 2

6:45am - here I am just after doing a live TV segment on KIVI channel 6's "Good Morning Live"with Melissa Paul. Just made it in time, thanks to snowfall and fog etc. Then I was whisked off to...

KBOI radio. We did 5-6 mins talking about what I do and what the TVYS will be doing on Thurs night. Show is simulcast on teevee. Next up? Drive-thru breakfast and back on the road to Nampa for --

South Middle School. A gymna-torium with a couple hundred sixth graders, a digital keyboard, me and Buster Keaton in One Week. Big hit. Kids loved the film, and the show really got me pumped.

After that I was at the College of Idaho, doing a lunch roundtable with music composition students and then a one hour talk/demo (with BK One Week again) for a music history class. All went well. Talked up the Miditzer. Done yet? Nope, off to the Egyptian theatre for some getting acquainted time on the Robert Morton theatre organ:

Took a little bit to get my sea-legs on this, but everything clicked and I had a great time. After rehearsal, off to dinner at a local restaurant, then to the TVYS rehearsal. Hadn't heard my orch score ot One Week in a couple years (although I use the themes from it when I accompany it) and hadn't heard the Shipman Light on Lookout since I finished it, and certainly not with live musicians. The students are doing a great job, and the school group shows at the Egyptian tom'w should be great.

Afterward, before heading back for shuteye, I had a nice surprise on the marquee of the theater:

Tomorrow's gonna be another long day, but luckily I don't have to perform at the school shows in the A.M (9:30, 10:30 and 11:30), just talk a little. I play at the evening program.

More to report tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Boise day 1

Well, I just flew in from New York and boy are my arms tired. Was picked up at the airport and taken straight to NBC affil KTVB to be on News at Noon, along with Dr. Paul Collins (seen above, with me and host Larry Gebert on set), Tom Trusky and Jim Ogle to promote the Nell Shipman events on Friday Feb 8. The segment went well and hopefully will generate some b.o. for the shows.

Tomorrow is a whirlwind: early am TV appearance, followed by a radio segment, then a presentation at a middle school in Nampa, then off to College of Idaho for a roundtable lunch with music students, and a presentation to composition students. After that I'll get a chance to play the Robert-Morton theatre organ at the Egyptian in the afternoon. Looking forward to getting reacquainted with the instrument. That evening I'll be at the dress rehearsal for the Boise Phil's youth symphony, who'll be putting finishing touches on their concert pieces and my orch scores to One Week (Keaton) and The Light on Lookout (Nell Shipman). Then I go back to where I'm staying and...will probably plotz.

Am weary right now, but am having a great time, and happy to help support these two wonderful projects. And so the silent film 'missionary work' continues...

Sunday, February 03, 2008

article in "Idaho Statesman" - Boise shows

An article appeared in this weekend's edition of the Idaho Statesman. Click here to read the whole piece. Below is the section about my end of things:


There are two people linking the Musical Movies Project and the Nell Shipman Film Festival: Shipman herself and silent film composer and accompanist Ben Model.

Let's start with Shipman (1892-1970), a little-known Idaho legend of silent film who eschewed the slapstick of Chaplin and Keaton movies for dramatic works featuring heroic women in the outdoor splendor of northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

"She was an indie before Sundance," said Tom Trusky, BSU English professor, Hemingway Western Studies Center director and head of the Idaho Film Collection. "She believed in local shooting, not studio back lots or soap detergent snowstorms."

A Shipman film, "The Light on Lookout," will be part of the Thursday's Musical Movies Project. So will Model, who also is performing at Friday's Nell Shipman Film Festival.

In both cases, Model, the Museum of Modern Art's silent film accompanist, will be playing the Egyptian Theatre's famed organ, one of a few original theater organs still in operation in the United States. Not even New York City, where Model lives, has an original working theater organ.

Model composed scores for three movies showing at the Musical Movies Project as well as "The Grub-Stake," which will be screened at the Shipman festival.

He will play the Egyptian organ during a screening of Fatty Arbuckle's "Love."

The goal of performing music for a silent film, Model said, is to support the on-screen action, whether it's the rhythm and flow of a physical gag or something with a more dramatic flare, such as Shipman's work.

In composing a piece, Model develops a few leitmotifs, or themes, that he weaves together with improvisation during the performance, being mindful of the vibe of the audience and careful not to draw attention away from the movie.

"Each silent film showing is a unique experience," he said. "The key is to take the film as seriously as the people who made it. When the lights go off, I'm working for them."