Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Harold Lloyd in "For Heaven's Sake" Sun 10/20 *FREE*

On Sunday, October 20th at 7:00, the Emmanuel Presbyterian Church (NYC) is hosting a free evening of silent comedies! Wind down your week – or kick off the one that's starting – with two solid hours of belly-laugh-inducing classic comedies.  These 1920s films will be presented with live musical scores by renowned silent film accompanist Ben Model.

The main feature on the program is Harold Lloyd in FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE (1926). "A man with a mansion…and a miss with a mission!"  Spoiled rich man Harold inadvertently falls for a pretty young woman whose father's skid row mission is threatened by gangsters. Harold's pals try to stop him from marrying her, but on the wedding day there's a hilarious drunken race to the altar.  Preceding the feature are the shorts: THE SCARECROW (1921) with Buster Keaton, LIMOUSINE LOVE (1927) with Charley Chase, and BACON GRABBERS (1929) with Laurel and Hardy.

The films will be accompanied on the James Chapel's
3-manual/44-rank Holtkamp pipe organ
The film prints are courtesy of archivist Bruce Lawton, who will also project them. Ben Model will perform his original accompaniment on the St. James Chapel's 3-manual 44-rank Holtkamp pipe organ.

Sunday, October 20 – 7:00pm
James’ Chapel, inside the
Union Theological Seminary
enter on Broadway at 121st St
** admission is free **

Union Theological Seminary entrance, on Bway nr W 121st St.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Undercranking's "smoking gun" courtesy of Milton Sills

I knew it.  I just knew it. I've been looking for years for written evidence that silent film actors had to adjust the way they moved to compensate for the speed-up of silent film.

It has always appeared to have been the case to me when I've slowed down silent film segments to the speed they were shot at. (See examples here.) It's the reason silent film, despite being shown 30-50% faster than taking speed, still reads just fine…and most people's attempts at silent filmmaking today just look like they're being shown too fast. (Yes, there are a handful people who are working with the speed properly; then there are also the people who think the speed-up is a mistake and do everything in real-time. But that's another topic.)

In June 2013, I gave my lecture "Undercranking: the Magic Behind the Slapstick" at the Library of Congress' annual unidentified silent film conference "Mostly Lost".  Afterwards, while debriefing with fellow historians in the lobby, Richard Koszarski mentioned to me that Milton Sills had written a piece on motion picture acting for Encyclopedia Brittanica that discussed exactly what I was describing.

Here it is, from the 1929 edition:

"While the normal speed of the camera in filming a performance is 16 pictures a second, or 60ft. of film per minute, when the picture is projected in a theatre, it is the custom to run it at the rate of 24 pictures per second, or 90ft. per minute. This, together with the fact that the film does not record movement as adequately as the eye, makes it necessary for the actor to adopt a more deliberate tempo than that of the stage or of real life. He must learn to time his action in accordance with the requirements of the camera, making it neither too fast nor too slow – a process of education only to be acquired through experience in the studio. The first mark of a novice is the rapidity and jerkiness of his movements, registered upon the screen as blurred and meaningless streaks. Another essential feature of the screen actor’s technique is a careful spacing of significant items which constitute the sequence of the scene. One thing and one thing only must be done at a time, and this in a clean-cut and distinct style with no distracting, irrelevant or unnecessary movements."
-- Milton Sills, writing on "Motion Picture Acting"
in the 1929 edition of the 
Encyclopedia Britannica, pp 860-862.

Sills is inaccurate, however, in stating that 16fps is the "normal speed of the camera", as a few different speeds were usually used throughout a film, and the standard cranking speed had crept up to 18 or 20 fps (or more) by the year this article was written.  Also, by the mid-to-late '20s, there were theatres running pictures closer to 100ft per minute (26 or 27 fps).  

These numbers aside, the point here is this: anyone performing before a camera during the silent era compensated for this speed-up by developing a modified physicality, speed, and timing.

If you are interested in silent film and especially in making silent films, read this...print it out...memorize it.  

I am not crazy.  Silent film actors knew the film was being shown faster than the speed it was being shot at and created a new, modified form of movement and pantomime to compensate.

Thanks for reading.

Ben Model

Monday, March 18, 2013

episode 5: marathon of shows, music for Doug and Mary, of benches and lights, and more

episode 5: marathon of shows, music for Doug and Mary, of benches and lights, and more
A whirlwind week of performances and travel - 7 shows in 8 days
Live performance: "The Mark of Zorro" at Central Baptist Church
Preparing for a performance: music prep, bench height, piano light, etc
Live performance: "My Best Girl" at Port Washington library
Upcoming performances, including a week of Mary Pickford in April.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Monday, January 14, 2013

episode 4: "Accidentally Preserved" Kickstarter, getting clues from film intros, return to Boise, and more

episode 4: "Accidentally Preserved" Kickstarter, getting clues from film intros, return to Boise, and more
Playing the organ at the Library of Congress theater
My Kickstarter project to release rare/lost silents on DVD and YouTube
Live performance: "You'd Be Surprised" at Silent Clowns
Listening to a film's spoken intro can give clues for a score
Thoughts on scoring "Oliver Twist", "It's the Old Army Game" and "The Wizard of Oz"
Live performance: "Oliver Twist" at MoMA Upcoming performances and orchestral scores in Boise.

Click here to listen to the podcast.