Sunday, November 30, 2008

Madalena weekend at MoMA

Here's a photo of the Miditzer set up in Titus 1 theatre at MoMA. I accompanied The Last Command (2 times), Old Ironsides (2 times), Sally of the Sawdust and Hotel Imperial over 3 days on Thanksgiving weekend, using the Miditzer. MoMA's projectionists and A/V staff were terrific getting the sound right, and we had great crowds at all 6 shows.

Out of all the films The Last Command affected me the most. When I accompany a film you go on the journey, emotionally, with the actors and when it's a really strong performances – like in this picture, with amazing performances by Emil Jannings and William Powell – I found myself in an emotional state at the end of the picture...both times. While accompanying this film I remembered Lee Erwin talking about holding back during the romantic scenes, because you've got this heavy-set older guy "making love" (in the 1920's sense of the phrase) to Evelyn Brent, and you need to watch out for iadvertent laughter. The connection they have is about how much they both love Russia, and so you have to underscore that somehow while not sounding too romantic so no one chuckles.

Old Ironsides is an okay-to-good big-budget Paramount helmed by James Cruze. I'm glad I got to see it and play for it twice – spotted Spec O'Donnell in an unbilled bit part in the last third of the film – but I have yet to be really impressed by Cruze's dramas. Sally played much bhetter than I expected it would with the crowd; it's not a film I'm wild about, between Dempster's lack of screen presence and Griffith's mis-handling all the comedy, but the audience was really into it and cheered at a few moments and laughed at a lot of Fields' business.

Miditzer sounded great, and I added a piano rank for the last day of shows. There's a nice sense of whimsy in adding a piano to an organ registration, and it was nice having that in the "orchestra".


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

William S. Hart DVD of "SAND" now available

A DVD that I scored for Unknown Video about a year ago has just been released (on Nov 15). It's the William S. Hart film Sand (1920), mastered from a real nice, sharp color-tinted print. I did a Miditzer theatre organ score for it, as well as for the disc's two extras – a gallery of Mary Thurman stills and a Snub Pollard & Marvin Loback short No Kidding (Weiss Bros., 1928). Click here to go to UnkVid's site to order it (just $18.95!).

Last night's show of The General went well. A rather light turnout, but I felt better about the score than I have the last few times I played for it. Managed to make myself play a little less busily than usual, one of the upgrades I'm trying to make.

Tonight I'm back on L.I. for Langdon's The Strong Man at the C.A.C – will be bringing a short to open. Walter Kerr always said that when he showed Langdon to people he'd run a Keystone or two first, to warm them up and to put Langdon's comedic style in context. I'm bringing a Larry Semon short that's quite funny. Semon's films play well with an audience, and I figure Larry and Harry are both white-face silent clowns from opposite ends of the slapstick spectrum and of the silent era. There's a late '20s Semon that Steve Massa and I screened at MoMA where Semon is clearly trying to "do" Langdon...stopping, thinking things over, blinking, etc. instead of dumping barrels of molasses or tar on people willy-nilly.

After turkey-day, I'm on at MoMA for two-a-day on Fri, Sat and Sunday for the Batiste Madalena series. BTW, if you're in the NYC area and want to see more Madalena posters than what's on display at MoMA, the Hirschl & Adler Gallery has an exhibit running now through mid-January.

See you at the silents!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Three Musketeers @ SCFS

Yesterday's showing of Douglas Fairbanks' The Three Musketeers went quite well. Much better crowd than I'd expected, as usually dramas mean a dip in audience turnout at the Silent Clowns series. Getting the Miditzer to the N-YHS and back was as much of a snap as posisble, as I've really gotten the packing and unpacking of it down to a science. Steve Massa swung by the apt to help me get my three cases of stuff into a cab, and Rob Arkus came early to the show to help man the audio mixing board and set levels. Miditzer behaved itself just fine and sounded great in that auditorium. I'm not sure how excited I was about my playing (par for course, as you'll note from previous posts), but I'm sure it was great for the audience. I made mental notes during and after the show, since I'll be playing for this again in a few weeks at MoMA.

It was nice to hear a round of applause for Doug when he showed up on screen, and a couple audience members hissed at Cardinal Richelieu. I remember back in the '80s when people did this routinely at silent film shows, but it doesn't happen much anymore. Although last week at the MoMA class, when Sunshine Sammy turned up in Get Out and Get Under there was a nice round of applause from class members who knew who he was.

Also in the audience were Dave Stevenson, of Loose Than Loose Publishing, who provided his rare 16mm prints for our Educational Pictures show two weeks ago. Dave came down from Manchester, NH along with Jeff Rapsis, who is another film accompanist who started a few years ago. He's in a good position to learn and play, teaming up with Dave (as I did with Bruce Lawton back in the 1990s) to make silent film shows happen, and he's doing a show or two a month up in the Manchester area where there are a few nice venues for this. I'd connected him with Joe Yransky for a show at the now-defunct Donnell this past year, and then wound up being in Boise, ID when his show happened, so this was our first in-person meeting. See photo below.

Tonight I'm off to the East Meadow Public Library on Long Island to play for The General (one of these days I'm going to get this score right), and then am back on L.I. tomorrow for Langdon's The Strong Man at the Cinema Arts Centre. I am trying to come up with a good short to open for the Langdon. Walter Kerr told me he always ran a Keystone short or two before showing people Langdon, which I believe makes sense, and so I'll come up with something frenetic and slapsticky either in 16mm or on DVD. Maybe an Arbuckle...

See you at the silents!

Ben


Friday, November 21, 2008

Westchester Magazine: "Top 5 picks"

The December 2008 edition of Westchester Magazine has a piece on me in it. They'd contacted me about this in September; they have a profile in each monthly issue of a local (or hails-from) resident who then recommends his/her top 5 picks of something in their field. Chef recommends restaurants, golf pro recommends golf courses, etc. I was about to play 3 shows at the Burns Film Center, all Fritz Lang films, so it looked like we'd have to wait until I got another Westchester booking. A couple weeks later the JBFC contacted me about the annual end-of-December silent comedy program that I do with Bruce Lawton there (we've been doing this since the place opened some years ago), and so the piece would now go into the Dec issue of the magazine.

I didn't want to list a top 5 silent films, or even top 5 comedies. That was too easy and too general, so I went with a list of 5 silent comedy DVD's that wouldn't be obvious first choices but should be, figuring the readers of this magazine would be people who'd go for The General, Safety Last, The Gold Rush etc on their own. I picked 5 releases, none of which have my scores on them, of films with well-known comedians, lesser-knowns, plus an Ozu film.

Click here to see the piece in the magazine, which was just posted online and will probably hit newsstands, people's mailboxes, and doctors' waiting rooms in the next week or so.

The article also plugs the Dec 30th Chaplin shorts show at the Burns Film Center, which I understand is prominently featured (according to my parents) in the Burns' Nov/Dec printed calendar. Click here for the web listing for the show.

See you at the silents!

Ben Model

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cruel and Unusual @ MoMA Nov 19

photo of our Nov 19th class with guest speaker Eileen Bowser, MoMA senior film curator emerita. L to R: Eileen Bowser, Ron Magliozzi, Steve Massa, Ben Model

Last night was our third class session for Cruel and Unusual Comedy at MoMA. The class is going really well, and we've got 20 people in the class. A little more than half the people are silent or classic film fans who were attracted to the class by the title list and rarities, and the other half are people new to the genre. Everyone's enjoying the class and the films. Our progam last night featured guest speaker Eileen Bowser, MoMA's senior film curator emerita, and her talk was titled "Mack Sennett vs. Henry Ford", and focused on automobiles in slapstick comedies and also covered the way both Ford and Sennett innovated and utilizied assembly-line production methods to make their product accessible to mass audiences. Last week was our "Excessive Violence" program with guest speaker Trav S.D. and, after the Thanksgiving break we have two more sessions – "Kids and Animals" and our program of ethinic/race humor.

I'm accompanying the films with a virtual piano...using the M-Audio controller MoMA bought for Miditzer use and connecting it to a laptop. I'm using Garageband for the piano sound, but am using a better piano sound than what comes with it. I found some samples sold a few years ago of Bosendorfer, Yamaha and Steinway samples made for use with GB. Theyr'e an improvement, but I'm still not crazy about them. Puchasing a real-deal virtual piano software that has multiple-velocity samples (like my Kurweil PC2 keyboard does) isn't in my budget right now, and I'm hoping the samples I'm using made by PM Piano (2005, I think) sound okay.

One of my idiosyncracies using a digital piano, whether virtual or something physical like a Clavinova, is that the longer I play and hear it during a show the more aware I become of the fact that it's not a real piano. It's one of those little things that only I notice, and only during a show, when I'm really listening to myself and to the sound of the instrument. I'm sure it's fine for everybody; it's one of the quirks of being a creator of things...you only see the mistakes and problems and things you wish you could've done better, things which the audience never notices (even when you ask them about it).

Sunday begins two solid weeks of shows where my weekends will actually be during the calendar week, a total of 13 shows...most of which are at MoMA. My January is now pretty much booked up, although (luckily) there's a week or so in the middle where I'm not performing. I have to be more diligent and conscientious about a lot of things...working full-time at this is something I'm still getting used to, and occasionally things I need to take care of fall through the cracks of my brain. Still, a nice problem to have.

Happy thanksgiving!

Monday, November 10, 2008

an "educational" week

Yesterday was the Silent Clowns program of shorts released by E.W. Hammons' Educational Pictures. We'd planned 5 shorts, but then I turned up a lost one-reeler starring Wallace Lupino on eBay a couple weeks ago, and we threw it into the program. So, our audience was the first to see this film in several decades.

The program's challenge for me was not so much scoring 6 shorts as it was the difficulty I had seeing the screen; my mistake, though, for not remembering an extra extension cord for the video camera for my monitoring set-up (it's a baby monitor with video…the piano at the N-YHS can't be moved all the way out so it faces the screen properly), so the camera wasn't far back enough. I though it'd be okay, but since I was "sight-reading" several of the films it was a little trickier that unusal. I'll be prepared next time. Actually our next show will have me seated in a different spot, using the Miditzer.

Today we had another screening at MoMA checking prints for our class. This afternoon I'm recording the last of the commentary tracks for the Chase DVD set with some colleagues. Tomorrow I've got 2 Immigrant shows at AMMI, and Weds I've got an Immigrant show at AMMI, then a 3pm showing of An Unseen Enemy with Lillian Gish at MoMA (a last-minute booking), and then Cruel and Unusual at MoMA, with our guest speaker Trav S.D. Thursday I've got two more Immigrant shows.

Big news is that I've submitted my programming list for the Kovacs DVD set, and now we can start bringing film elements and videotape masters to NY from LA for re-mastering.

See you at the silents!

Ben