Monday, December 12, 2011

New audiobook on/of Francis X. Bushman

I've long been a fan of Ben Ohmart's "BearManor Media" book publishing outfit, and when I heard about what he had up his sleeve for the imprint about a year ago, I was re-impressed.  After self-publishing a book on The Great Gildersleeve in 2001 he established BearManor, doing for other authors of books on classic cinema/radio/TV what he'd done for himself -- put out a quality niche-market book that had an appreciative audience by using 21st century micro-publishing production techniques.

Lon and Debra Davis, authors of "King of the Movies: Francis X. Bushman"(BearManor, 2009), contacted me a year ago telling me my score for the DVD of "The Extra Girl" was one of their favorite scores of mine, and letting me know BearManor was putting out their tome as an audio CD. I thought to myself, "Wow!  That's amazing! Did I score "The Extra Girl"? Lon reminded me it was a score I'd done for the now-OOP (out of production) DVD-R label "Unknown Video".  (If you've got one or two of their quality releases, you've got the fridge magnets to prove it.)

Apparently, Ohmart's new scheme was to gradually release some of BearManor's titles as audio books, which is another move that I think is a great way to stay ahead of the digital curve in providing access to new content and information.  Lon wanted me to do musical underscoring for their book which, as it turned out, was to be more than just having Lon or Debra read their manuscript.  They had recordings of Bushman himself telling his stories, which were a major resource for their book.  So, this new edition would segments from these tapes, bridged by narration...and piano music.

And so, nearly a year later, the new "audio documentary" has just been released. Even if you already have the book (a know, two covers with pages), you'll want to order this new version to hear Francis X. in his own voice and inflections regaling you with the stories of his amazing screen career that spans the nickelodeon era through television.

Lon sent me sheet music to "My Ship O' Dreams", a piece of popular sheet music first published in 1915 which had lyrics by Bushman and became his theme song when he made personal appearances.  I recorded the tune for the project, and you'll hear this as well as interstitial music culled from my score for "The Extra Girl" on the release.  "Ship O' Dreams" is also heard on the trailer for the "audio documentary", seen below.

You can order "Francis X. Bushman – In His Own Words" on the GotMyAudio website for $19.99.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Newsday's video on Cinema Arts Center's "Anything But Silent" series

Newsday sent a videographer, as well as a reporter and a (still) photographer to last night's show.  The video piece is up on the Newsday website, and I'm posting/embedding it here.  We show silent film once a month, always on 35mm and always with theatre organ accompaniment.  In 2011 we presented: Picadilly, Why Worry, Battleship Potemkin, Chicago, Her Night of Romance, slapstick rarities from Library of Congress, The Freshman, Sand, Strike, October, Upstream and Seven Chances.  This is my sixth year doing the "Anything But Silent" series at the C.A.C., and I'm looking forward to our 2012 series!
(yes, I know...they misspelled my name, and also misspelled "Manhattan" as "Glen Coove"…and the videographer asked me to spell my name out on camera for him!)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

talking with Joe Franklin

I was interviewed by the one and only Joe Franklin for his radio show a week or two ago, and the segment aired today on his weekly segment on "Bloomberg on the Weekend" on WBBR-AM and on Sirius XM radio. Listen to my appearance on the radio with Joe here:

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Fall Cinesation is a great way for me to enhance my bag of tricks.

(scroll down for photos…) Sharing accompaniment duties with Phil Carli at the Fall Cinesation every year is one way I stay fresh as an accompanist. Listening to someone else's playing – especially someone whose style and philosophy mirrors mine – helps me push the boundaries of my own scoring vocabulary. Listening to myself all the time is not the easiest way to self-improve, although I'm always on my own case about this, and this is one of the things I like about playing silent film festivals.

This year I used the Miditzer for nearly all the shows I played, and playing the organ for two shows/films a day for a few days for the same audience is another good way to expand the vocabulary. You 're aware that everyone in the house has heard your music already – often just a few hours previous – and so the impetus to avoid repeating what have become your own stock phrases is even greater.

The Cinesation is a great festival, with variable-speed 35mm and 16mm at all shows, and lots of archival prints plus rare collectors' titles. My favorite draw of the fest – all shows take place in Massillon's original 1915 Triangle movie theater (saved from the wrecking ball a few decades ago by the local Lion's club) and not in a hotel ballroom. When you watch vintage films in a vintage cinema, the light from the screen illuminates the proscenium and walls and you are aware, while watching a film, of the space you're in.

Ben Model
New York, NY

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stumfilmdager in Tromsø - radio interview

I spent a great week in Tromsø, Norway (it's above the arctic circle, cartographers) last week. I shot video and, while I'm waiting for it to get developed, here's a radio segment on the "Stumfilmdager" festival ("Silent Film Days") recorded at one of the senior centers I presented a program at in the days leading up to the the festival. Snakker du Norsk? Enjoy.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Happy birthday Alice Guy Blaché! (new video)

One of the perks of accompanying silent films is the opportunity afforded to discover directors whose work you have heard of or seen a little playing for a retrospective series of their films.

In May 2009 I accompanied several silents in a retro at MoMA of French director Julien Duvivier, and was really impressed with his work. Going on the journey of his "La Vie Miraculeuse de Therese Martin" found me floating on a beautiful tone poem of a character study, and I looked forward to the repeat show.

I was aware of Alice Guy Blaché (1873-1968) and her films and place in cinema. From December 2009-January 2010 I played for a number of screenings (as did David Arner and Donald Sosin) at the Whitney Museum during a two-month retrospective of Blaché's films.

Reading the essays in the book published by Yale University Presss in conjunction with the film series -- Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer -- as well as watching and accompanying her films from the 1890s through the 'teens, was a real eye-opener for me. I gained great appreciation for her work as a filmmaker and pioneer in the industry.

She worked in a number of genres, and her dramas were just as well-made as her comedies, several of which explore gender roles in a way that's still funny today. I was impressed especially with her direction of exterior scenes and use of locations and camera when out-of-doors.

One of the dramatic one-reelers I was most struck by was "Falling Leaves" from 1912. In anticipation of Mme. Blaché's birthday on July 1st I decided to find one of her films to score and upload to my YouTube channel. I searched the Internet Archive and found a couple of her films in awfully dupey editions with ragtime piano slapped on, and a beautiful transfer of "Falling Leaves" with no audio.

Here is my new "release" with a piano score recorded on the occasion of Alice Guy Blaché's birthday. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy birthday Harold Lloyd - watch "Bliss" (1917)

In honor of Harold Lloyd's birthday, I've uploaded a fun, rarely seen early "glasses" one-reeler with Harold to my YouTube channel. I scored this in 2008 for the American Slapstick 2 DVD set from AllDay Entertainment. The set is still in print and you can order the whole 3-disc set from them by click on the link here. The short is seen here, restored on video from a print at Library of Congress and from the private collection of David Kalat. Enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

new Chaplin clip deconstructed - "The Immigrant"

I sit about ten feet from the screen when I play for Chaplin's "The Immigrant" at the Museum of the Moving Image at their education programs. Watching this film in a sharp 35mm print several times every year, I'd started thinking about the shot of the rocking boat in the film's opening. Not the one with Henry Bergman in drag sliding back and forth below deck, the shot taken on deck.

"Unknown Chaplin" and David Robinson's book both state that this was shot with the camera on a pivot, so it could swing back and forth and create the illusion that the boat is rocking wildly.

So, then if the boat isn't really rocking, how is it that Charlie slides back and forth. Sitting where I do I can tell you he's not on a wire. I've looked. A few weeks ago I took the clip and slowed it down and then, using the rotation and positioning features in Final Cut, straightened the shot out.

Take a look at what I discovered.

Amazing, right?

Happy birthday, Charlie.

Ben Model
silent film historian & accompanist

Thursday, February 10, 2011

video blog posting - riding the rails to Astoria for a Chaplin show

Here's my latest video blog. Take a ride to and from the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria with me on the N and the R as I head out to play for a school group screening of Charlie Chaplin's "The Immigrant".

Friday, February 04, 2011

belated blog post from Eldridge St, Indian Lake and Astoria

Here's a new installment of my video blog, in which we visit the historic Eldridge St Synagogue for a Max Davidson show, the 1938 Indian Lake Theater and "Safety Last", and the gala re-opening of the Museum of the Moving Image.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

was this sequence timed to music? could be...

I've found in numerous in Chaplin films that certaiin sequences and routines fit a musical beat and structure, that a bit of business will fit nicely an 8 or 16 bar phrase. It may have been an innate thing with Chaplin, and he may not have intended this at all. First time it popped up was when I wrote my orchestral score to "The Adventurer". The sequence in which Charlie is at the cocktail party and, while chatting with party guest Marta Golden, swipes a drink from Loyal Underwood standing next to him. The piece of music I wrote, in a moderato 4/4 meter, fit the rhythm of the routine just right. Playing for "The Immigrant" a couple times a year at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY I found the same to be true of a few sequences in that film as well.

Well, I've been meaning to post video this for some time. Some years ago when Bruce programmed "The Scarecrow" at The Silent Clowns Film Series I discovered the meal sequence fits a beat and musical structure, and this became part of the score. While I'd found that numerous Chaplin scenes did this, but it was fun seeing this in Keaton, beyond the obvious, deliberate musical numbers in Buster's films (e.g. Steamboat Bill, Play House).

While it's possible (probable?) that Buster had music played on set to keep a beat for this sequence, what ever it was wasn't a waltz. Remember, what we're watching (at 24 fps) is sped up about 50% from the speed it was shot at (16 fps).

I also think Roscoe Arbuckle unofficially co-directed much of this short. "Life of the Party" was released Nov 1920, and "The Scarecrow was released Dec 1920, so Roscoe may have had the down-time...besides his dog Luke is featured in most of the film and you don't think Roscoe just dropped Luke off and went fishing do you? Big Joe Roberts is practically a stand in for Roscoe, character-wise, rather than being the menacing villain he usually plays. Anyway, it's just a theory...

The audio you hear in this clip was recorded live in performance at the Egyptian Theater in Boise, ID in September 2010, when I accompanied a couple of shorts on the theater's original-installation Robert Morton theatre organ. Click here to see my video blog post from that event.

Here's the newly uploaded video:

Playing for "Speedy" tonight at the Riverdale YM-YWHA. Have chosen "All On Account of a Transfer" as an opening short, since it concerns trolleys and was shot at/near the Edison studios in the Bronx, not too far from the Riverdale Y.

See you at the silents!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Here's a rare 1927 comedy short that I've just scored and uploaded to YouTube. I used a virtual piano software from Native Instruments, and chose the Steingraeber upright instead of one of the grands (e.g. Steinway D), as it seemed like a good fit.