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 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 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 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.