Thursday, July 31, 2008

Berkshire Jewish Film Festival pics

Here are photos from the Berkshire Jewish Film Festival.

At right is the upright piano and piano stool (first time I think I've ever used this kind of stool at a show). Kudos to Al Saldarini of the Duffin Theater at the Lenox Memorial Middle & High School for all the tech-spertise and piano wrangling on the show.

Pictured below are, L to R, Susan Geller, me, and Margery Metzger. Margery is the festival director, and Susan is her co-film-selector. I've already received in today's mail a very nice thank-you letter from Margery along with the show disc.

Gotta run...need to pull out one of the 21.5 fps Eiki's for tonight's Chaplin show at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, make sure I have the lenses and zooms for it, change, and skedaddle.

See you at the silents!


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

DeMille, Dreyer, Lubistch and Chaplin

Today's post is a videoblog:


See you at the silents!


Friday, July 25, 2008

Ten Commandments, perf #1

I've now completely recovered from Slapsticon and am back in the swing of things. Bookings continue to come in nearly every day. Today I got a show at a library in East Meadow (L.I.) that'll happen in November, which I'll be doing with (and thanks to) Dylan Skolnick of the Cinema Arts Centre.

This evening I did show #1 of
The Ten Commandments at MoMA. I was able to figure out a way to change the percussion/toy-counter soundfont for the Miditzer so I could replace the doorbell with a chinese gong, and was able to use it in one spot in the film where a giant gong is struck several times by Pharoah. I also used a new diapason soundfont and am not sure how wild I am about it, but I may just be used to the one I've been using until now. The show went over quite well, and while I'm never completely satisfied with my playing, the audience really enjoyed the film and the music.

Tomorrow I tune the
Fantasticks piano again, and then Sunday is the repeat of 10 C's, but this time in the Bartos theater (tonight we were in the giant Titus 1).

See you at the silents!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Slapsticon 2008 photos

Haven't had a chance to post since returning from Slapsticon, and am squeezing this post out. There's lots to report, but this posting of photos taken last week will have to suffice and I'll post again soon.

Here are (L to R) yours truly, Richard Roberts, Philip Carli and Andrew Simpson posing at the Kohler & Campbell grand piano used at the Spectrum. The piano's action seemed a bit looser this year (whew!) and held its tuning quite well considering Philip, Andrew and I beat the @#$% out of it accompanying comedy shorts and features for 4 straight days.

Here's another photo of we accompanists three – L to R Simpson, Carli, Model – plus Chris Daniels on the right. Chris is the festival director for the Bristol Silents' annual Slapstick shows. Chris was visiting from the U.K., and attended the entire Slapsticon, his first trip to "the states".

Pictured here are Rob Stone (formerly of UCLA Film & TV Archive, now of L.O.C. in Culpepper), Uli Ruedel (Eastman House), and Steve Massa (Silent Clowns etc etc). Steve and I got word during Slapsticon that a course that Ron Magliozzi, Steve and I proposed to MoMA was given the thumbs-up by the education department and is now slated for Nov/Dec. Click here to see the course listing (scroll down till you see something called "Cruel and Unusual Comedy").

Here I am with David Kalat, he of AllDay Entertainment fame. David announced officially at Slapsticon that he is releasing a DVD box set called "Becoming Charley Chase" in the coming months. This is the AllDay set I've been doing several scores and commentary tracks for over the past few weeks.
Bottom line, the festival was great and I didn't feel as exhausted as usual. Having a third accompanist made a big difference this year, and I really enjoyed all the great films I got to see and play for.

Ben Model
silent film accompanist

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

(Safety Last + shorts show) x 2; AllDay recording

July 15 – yesterday I accompanied Safety Last (plus the Lloyd 1-reeler Luke's Shattered Sleep) and a shorts program at MoMA on piano. I'll repeat the shows tomorrow on theatre organ. Safety Last knocked the audience out, as usual, and I was pleased to see a number of kids and younger people in the audience. The Lonesome Luke short is yet another instance of Earl Mohan as a mild-mannered guy with horn-rimmed glasses. The shorts program went well; I introduced the show since the Langdon short is missing its beginning and part of its ending, and only has flash-titles in Czech. While I was at it I plugged the fact that MoMA's print of The Floorwalker, the other half of the bill, had a few minutes of footage you can't see anywhere else.

The Langdon short went over really well, in spite of its being first on the program and a little choppy. Considering it's Harry's 3rd starring short for Sennett there is a bit of room given to him to stand there and think things over. The Floorwalker played really well, and – especially with the extra footage that sets up Edna's and Lloyd Bacon's stories more fully – I was really impressed with the film. When Chaplin goes into his dance, twirling and flitting about when confronted by Eric Campbell in the 2nd half, I went into a tango without thinking and it really worked. I've found over the years that tangos work better than other more obvious choices in certain bits of Chaplin films. The whole routine with the old actor in The Pawnshop, for example works better when followed with a tango than with what you'd expect to use...melodramatic music that matches the old actor's storytelling. By 'works better' I mean that the sequence gets its laughs much better than it does with other musical choices. Go figure.

This afternoon and evening I spent a little time recording scores for a couple shorts for an upcoming AllDay Entertainment release (can't say what it is, but I hear it will be announced at Slapsticon later this week). I put the Miditzer together here and had some fun. I'm starting to really prefer the organ to piano accompaniment, the more practice I get and the more fluent I am with the orchestrating-on-the-fly aspects of organ improvisation. I'm much more able to hear a sound or sound combination and immediately find the stops on the touchscreen and make musical shifts so one hand is playing while the other taps a stop or two on or off. It's just nice to hold notes and not have to tap them over and over as you might with a piano.

Tomorrow I may do more recording if there's time. Mostly I need to pack and finish burning CD's to take to Slapsticon of my scores. Also I may try to swing by the Donnell library where my pal/colleague Philip Carli is playing for a Talmadge picture at 2:30. [Philip is also playing at Slapsticon.] All this before my double-header at MoMA at 6pm & 8pm.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

ad for St Pauls show

Just picked up a copy of "The West Sider", a free weekly paper that I'd heard that Father Gil had placed an ad in for the St. Paul the Apostle silent film programs. I was looking for somethinga few inches square, but was surprised to find a half-page full height ad in the paper's what-to-do-this-weekend section. That explains our big turnout Friday. I expect we'll get an even bigger crowd for the show on July 31, which is Chaplin shorts and also on a Thursday night when more NY-ers will be in town looking for something to do.

5 shows performed, 2 bass strings replaced, 1 recording for Kino

July 12 – Weds and Thurs I played to Keaton's The General, Lloyd's The Freshman, and Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. in the Titus 1 theater at MoMA. The Miditzer theatre organ sounded great in there (T1 is the bigger of the three theaters at MoMA). Shows were well-attended, and I saw some familiar faces who brought kids, friends, or friends of their kid's to the shows.

Thursday morning I had an emergency call to replace a bass string at "The Fantasticks". We had ordered a complete set of bass strings before the show opened so I was ready with a replacement. Another broke the next day and I was in this morning to replace that one, and also do my regular Sat AM tuning. [This is nothing unusual for a piano being used for a musical; my friend/teacher/mentor in piano tuning/tech tells me a piano he services for one Broadway musical running right now is breaking strings all the time.]

Friday afternoon I recorded a score for the 1909 D.W. Griffith short Edgar Allan Poe, for a DVD release by Kino; the short will be on a disc with The Avenging Conscience, which Kino put out on VHS some years ago and already has a score.

That evening Bruce Lawton and I did our NYC-themed silent film show at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Father Gilbert Martinez and arts director John Znidarsic were there and really enjoyed the program. Father Gil gave us a nice intro, speaking about the church and the Paulist fathers and tying it all in to the program, and John made sure the big 9 x 12 screen, the organ and A/C was all set, as well as coordinating everything else about the show with us. It's a beautiful church, and the organ Рa 4-manual 89-rank M̦ller, with several Nave ranks and a few midi voices Рsounded amazing, and I had some fun creating moods and settings for the films we showed. We had a real nice turnout, maybe a couple hundred, and most of the faces were new to both Bruce and me as well as to John.We'll be back at St. Paul's on July 31 for a Chaplin program (something Father Gil requested we present).

I'm going to burn a bunch of CD's of my scores to bring to Slapsticon to sell. This was a suggestion by Rob Farr, and I think it's a great idea. There are probably a lot of fans who may like the concept but are technically challenged, and the idea of downloading an MP3 and then making a CD of it is something they can't handle. I've resisted offering to take orders online and then burn and mail CD's, but it's possible this may be a viable way of getting more orders out there. Let's see how it goes at Slapsticon.

Monday night I play a MoMA for Safety Last and a program of comedy shorts. I'm going to introduce the shorts show, as one of the comedies being shown is a rare Langdon 2-reeler and MoMA's print has Czech titles and is missing the film's opening and ending. The other short is MoMA's restoration of The Floorwalker, which has 4 mins of footage at the beginning I and a few others who've seen it haven't seen anywhere else. I'll do these two shows on piano, and then will do the repeats of the two programs on Weds on the Miditzer, and then leave for Slapsticon on an early eyeball Amtrak Thursday morning.

See you at the silents!

Ben Model
silent film accompanist/historian

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Max Davidson and Dmitri Kirsanov

Here's a shot of the Yiddish Book Center, on the campus of Hampshire College. Nearly every summer for the last 5 years or so Bruce Lawton and I do a show there. This year was (yet) another program of Max Davidson comedy shorts. At right you see Bruce, me, and Jane Gronau, Director of the Visitors Center. Jane helped get us settled in the theatre and did a very nice intro before the show. Not shown is Nora Gerard, Program Director, who wasn't at the center that day. She'd contacted us initially after a colleague saw Pass the Gravy in Pordenone and raved about it and Max to her.

The theater is very nice, and their Knabe baby grand is always tuned the day of the show. Because the screen is right at the lip of the stage, just downstage of the piano, I use my special high-tech video monitoring system. Okay, it's a baby monitor that has video (so you can watch your baby sleep). The monitor sits on the piano and the camera is in the booth (it's the little item at the bottom of the picture on the right that looks like a Martian flying saucer).

The show went over quite well. The program was part of the opening weekend of the Yiddish Book Center's annual "Paper Bridge Summer Arts Festival".

We only had time to run three 2-reelers, because I had to hop into my Avis rent-a-car (a convertible!) and drive from Amherst to Annandale-on-Hudson for a 7pm show at Bard Summerscape.

The next town over from Bard is Red Hook, where I stopped to stretch my legs after a 2.5 hr drive. I remembered from two years ago – I did the same double-header in '06 – an antique center that was the town's original movie theater:
It was closed this time but when I passed thru in 2006 I went inside, and some of the decor is still intact. But get this…way in the back, behind the theater is a real single-screen platter theater showing first-run films.

Anyhoo...the show I played at Bard went great. The place was packed, and it was great to see John Pruitt again. John is one of the film teachers at Bard and, over the years, I've played for silents at his classes. John also programs the summer film series that runs alongside Bard Summerscape. Piano was a Yamaha upright that probably hadn't been tuned in a while but played fine. The films – Menilmontant and Brumes d'automne – shown in nice 35mm prints from the BFI went over well as did the scores. Stayed overnight with friends in Garrison, then headed back to NYC next morning...for a double-header at MoMA Monday night (piano) of Sherlock Jr. and The General.

Can't believe Slapsticon is a little more than a week away! Still have eight shows at MoMA, a show at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, and a bunch of shorts to score for AllDay and Kino before I take the Amtrak to DC on Thursday the 17th.

See you at the silents!

Ben Model
silent film accompanist/composer

Friday, July 04, 2008

Recording; Kirsanov prep

July 3 – watched Menilmontant and Brumes d'automne this morning; these films are on one of the discs of Avante Garde, a multi-disc DVD set of experimental and avante garde art films in the Rohauer collection that came out a couple years ago. Watched them films with sound off, to better hear any music or thoughts that might bubble up while watching the films.

Menilmontant has a lot of abrupt and extreme mood shifts, especially in the the first 10 mins. I grabbed a couple pieces of cover stock (lighter than card stock but thicker than regular paper, great for notes or printing out music that doesn't flop around or fall off the music rack) and a sharpie, and made a list of the moods and the last thing that happens in the scene just before the mood shift. I know I'll be able to create music during the show, but don't want to get caught with my pants down - several times - being behind the picture when it shifts mood drastically...that would call attention to the music and to me, and that wouldn't serve the picture and the work Kirsanov and he crew/actors put in 80 years ago.

Not worried about Brumes d'automne; it's a 12 minute mood piece and will take care of itself.

Spent part of the afternoon recording a score for a Keystone one-reeler, one of several comedy shorts I'm doing for a set AllDay will release before the end of the year. Sometimes these just happen, and sometimes they take several takes. Depends on the day, my energy, focus etc and just luck. David Kalat did a nice job on the transfer speed on this one; most Keystones when run at the right speed (21fps or thereabouts) are actually a lot of fun and have more levels of character to bring out, and aren't just a lot of scenes of people throwing stuff at each other and falling into lakes. By holding back a little musically, and finding ways to draw the viewer in to the characters and what they want and not just playing ragtime or mickey-mousing the action, a 1914 Keystone short can really come to life.

Also recorded a "freebie-of-the-month" for a music score for Knight Duty (1933) starring Harry Langdon. Yeah, I know it's a talkie, but most earlie talkie comedy shorts have long stretches of pantomime that cry out for underscoring. Bruce Lawton and I included a Keaton Educational on a program a couple years ago, one that has very little dialog and I played for it, ducking out of the way when there was talking, and it was very effective. In my spoken intro to the Knight Duty track I said that the score isn't necessarily the answer to everything, but is an experiment to see if having musical underscore here and there helps the film's energy and flow. I'd mentioned in my phone interview with Donna Hill for her podcast that I might be doing one of these and thought I'd better record one before the podcast airs, so it's already in place. I doubt I'll have time to record a score for this month with all my performing and other recording commitments.

The side desk (Quik-Lok WS-550) for the keyboard stand used for the Miditzer has arrived at MoMA, that's the last of the Miditzer equipment. Can't wait to use the organ in T1 this month.

Probably won't post again for a couple of days; tom'w is 4th of July, then Saturday I travel to Berkshires before heading to Amherst on Sunday for Yiddish Book Center show (followed that evening by a show at Bard).

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"De Luxe Annie" - audio clip

July 2 - De Luxe Annie at the Donnell Media Center went well today. We had around 175 people and the film went over really well. Piano sounded great; they have a nice Steinway D, which is moving to the Bruno Walter auditorium after the Donnell closes. My talk may have been shorter than I'd anticipated but most of the people in the audience knew me and my work already so there weren't a lot of questions. I dedicated my performance to Joe Yransky, who's done so much to keep silent film part of the library's collection both in 16mm and on video.

Here's a brief sample of my score, which I recorded with my minidisc recorder at the show today:

Need to take a look at those Kirsanov silents, Menilmontant and Brumes d'automne, which I'm to accompany at Bard on Sunday evening...

last minute prep for Donnell show

July 1: Took a little time this afternoon to take a second glance at the screener of De Luxe Annie with Norma Talmadge, which I'm accompanying tomorrow at the Donnell Media Center auditorium. The show is part of the "Meet the Music Makers" series curated by Joe Yransky (the "Y" is silent, FYI) which is on every Weds this month.

Still ruminating on the film's plot's dramatic elements, letting them hover in my consciousness; watching the tape again close to the show – since I had the time – helped refresh my memory about sudden twists in plot, certain subtle elements in the story, and about where the 4 minute hunk of decomp is.

I've also made up program inserts that have my summer schedule on one side and promo info for on the back. Will bring the copy of American Slapstick 2 that I got in the mail the other day to wave around at the show and plug.

Booked 6 shows for the fall today, and another possible one for February. Will post more about these as they get closer.