Saturday, May 31, 2008

Harry Weiss, new altscores, band premiere

Had a nice long chat with 91-year-old silent film accompanist Harry Weiss the other day. When I began accompanying silent films at the Cinema Arts Center (formerly known as the New Community Cinema) in Huntington, NY, Vic Skolnick spoke fondly of their first accompanist, Harry Weiss. Harry played piano for their silent film shows for about 15 years, starting when they opened in 1973. Someone posted a link to this article in a Bangor, ME paper on the silent film newsgroup a couple weeks ago and I recognized Harry's name. I sent a note to him through the cinema he was playing at (for Potemkin), the River City Cinema. Turns out he'd gotten the message (yes, he's on e-mail!). Apparently he called the Skolniks and had been tickled to hear from me, especially since I was carrying on in his footsteps. Dylan gave me his # and I called Harry the other day.

Harry is very energetic, and sounded like he was at least 20 years younger than his real age. We spoke at length about film accompaniment. He and I have identical theories and practices - heavy on improvisation, recognizable music is a no-no (unless called for on screen), etc etc. I look forward to continued chats with Harry. Now I just have to find a way to get myself booked in Bangor so I can meet him!

Released two theatre organ scores on, one for Lon Chaney in The Penalty and
one for Buster Keaton in The Cameraman. These two, as well as the piano scores for disc one of the Langdon set, are selling well – with new customers buying a few scores at once – and the Sherlock Jr and Houdini scores continue to do well. Will release another score or two in June, but may have to hold off for anything in July as I now have a rather heavy performance schedule in July. Including two shows at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle (58th St & Columbus in NYC) that have just been confirmed I've got a total of 25 shows in July.

On Monday I'm taking the early eyeball train to Milford CT to attend a morning rehearsal of the Jonathan Law High School band and two history classes there. The JLaw band's spring concert on Friday, June 13 at 7pm will premiere my concert band arrangement of my orchestral score for Chaplin's The Adventurer. Another high school in South Dakota has found me online and is interested in performing this score in the fall at their local historic movie theater.

Also chatted by phone with two of the "newbie" accompanists, Andrew Simpson from Washington DC and Jeff Rapsis from New Hampshire. They've both been playing for films for a few years. I got both of them gigs here in NYC, accompanying new preservations by the LOC of Norma and/or Connie Talmadge films at the Donnell Media Center this past February, in the series curated annually by Joe Yransky. My ploy to get to hear them play live didn't quite work out, as I got booked to play somewhere else when they were in town.

June will find me busy recording several scores for a new silent comedy DVD set from AllDay Entertainment, due out later this year (not to be confused with American Slapstick 2, due out July 22...those scores are already in the can), as well as getting in musical/physical shape for Slapsticon, held in Arlington VA.

Next performance in Monday, June 16...accompanying a newly-formed musical improv troupe that calls themselves "M.C. Hammerstein".

See you at the silents!

Ben Model
silent film accompanist/historian

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Radio City Music Hall

I made my Radio City Music Hall debut yesterday, playing for the graduation ceremony of the School of Visual Arts. I improvised 90+mins of music while the graduates came up and received their diplomas...17 groups in all. I used the RCMH's 9-foot Steinway grand, which was placed extreme downstage right, where I had a clear view of the stage and a jumbotron over the audience that showed a closer view of the proceedings.

RCMH house organist George Wesner played the Wurlitzer theatre organ for the processional and recessional of the ceremony. I got a chance to meet and chat with Wesner as well as Richard Bishop, who maintains the organ, before the "show" got started. Everyone working behind the scenes at Radio City was great to work with -- very friendly, efficient and professional. Here's a photo of the organ console.

The challenge in doing a program like this was in coming up with enough of a variety of music so it wouldn't all sound this same while still having a reverent feel. It all worked out fine, and I managed to improvise a number of themes, and also used an "alma mater" motif I'd come up with for SVA earlier in the week.

In other news, I've released another score on -- actually six scores for shorts on disc one of the Harry Langdon Collection: Lost and Found DVD set. I've also just found out that the Kino DVD due out in June of the Langdon features The Chaser and Three's a Crowd have Lee Erwin's organ scores on them. None of the scores Lee recorded for Raymond Rohauer in the 1970s and 1980s for the Keaton shorts and features as well as the Arbuckle/Keaton shorts, are available on home video, and so these I believe are the only ones of these recordings Lee to become available. Lee's scores for the Killiam editions of Thief of Bagdad and The Eagle are on DVD releases.

Up next this coming week are shows of The Kid Brother with Harold Lloyd at the Cinema Arts Centre, and a couple of shows at the Museum of the Moving Image for groups of school kids and seniors, plus some more recording for altscore.

See you at the silents!

Ben Model

Thursday, May 08, 2008

undercranking clip: Keaton

Don't know if I've mentioned this here before, but I've been making a study of silent comedy filmmaking and how undercranking was utilized. I've discovered the comedians not only knew the film they shot would be shown faster, but they used this to their advantage, making many of their gags dependent on the increased speed as part of the humor.

Here is my latest study in the illusion of split-second timing, a sequence from Keaton's Sherlock Jr.:

There are four other clips on YouTube, and you can bookmark the playlist for these by going here.


Friday, May 02, 2008

7 shows in 6 days

Played for seven shows in the last six days. Performing every day for a stretch like this happens every once in a while. A little traveling involved, but not way far out of town.

Sunday afternoon was the final program for The Silent Clowns Film Series, and we had a real nice turnout...around 80 people. We've figured out a way to move the piano into a spot on the stage where I can see the screen now, so I haven't used my video camera+monitor (actually a wireless baby monitor) the last couple of shows.

Monday found me playing at the Museum of the Moving Image for two screenings of The Immigrant, for an ESL group of teenagers. The Museum is closed for renovations, and the theater itself is closed, but the galleries are still open for school group tours and so for now we show the film on DVD in the "King Tut Movie Palace" in the gallery area; it seats 30 and was designed by Red Grooms...sort of a movie palace that looks like PeeWee's Playhouse.

Tuesday I was out on Long Island for a showing of Seventh Heaven at the monthly silent series I do at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. 35mm print came from Fox, and I used the Miditzer; the CAC bought all the hardware for it in January. Up next at the CAC in May is Lloyd's The Kid Brother (my request).

On Wednesday I presented a school program at the Town School on E 76th and York. This was my 2nd time there, presenting to 4th and 6th graders. Showed A Girl and Her Trust and One Week to cover story-telling conventions and sight-gag comedy.

On Thursday and Friday I accompanied a program of films starring Bert Williams (shown above) at MoMA, playing Miditzer for both shows (MoMA purchased the rig in fall 2007).


More later...