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ep. 35: Pottery at the Met, Behind the Door in Nebraska, Eisenstein in Bklyn, Clair on Long Island, plus FAQ

On this episode, Ben Model talks with co-host Kerr Lockhart talk about a cancelled gig at the Metropolitan Museum of Art turning into an online one, Gage County Nebraska and Hollywood, accompanying Russian silent films, scoring a French film for an audience with live-translated intertitles. Plus: using leitmotifs, finding a lost reel of a Baby Peggy comedy, piano tuning and this week’s silent film book recommendation. You’ll hear excerpts from Ben’s last show before the pandemic shutdown, a screening in Brooklyn and one with theater organ on Long Island.

Episode 35 Show Notes

  • Ben talks about accompanying two short documentaries for  the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Pottery Maker(1926) directed by Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North); and A Visit to the Home of Childe Hasam.
  • Ben discusses accompanying Behind The Door, a film with Nebraska roots at a screening in Beatrice, NE on March 7, 2020 hosted by the Gage County Historical Society and Film Institute. He talks about making an effort to play more simply to match the broad melodrama of the film.
  • We reflect on the number of very famous performers from Nebraska, Henry Fonda, Marlon and Jocelyn Brando, and Johnny Carson, who gave his name to the performance arts center at the University of Nebraska, where Ben appeared on the local public radio performing arts program. Another Nebraska notable — George D. Baker, prolific director for Vitagraph.
  • Ben introduces his February 11, 2020 live performance of Strike at St Francis College in Brooklyn for Prof. Scott Weiss. The challenges include (a) how much should the accompaniment indicate the national or ethnic setting of the film; and (b) how does the accompaniment deal with Eisenstein’s associative montage?
  • Kerr asks Ben how he keeps mind and fingers nimble during this stay-home time. Ben has renewed his skills at tuning and repairing his piano. Also, he keeps working on how to play for an audience of one over the internet on the Silent Comedy Watch Party, and on developing new musical phrasings and ideas.
  • Ben introduces his December 11, 2019  performance to support Rene Clair’s Les Deux Timides at The Cinema Arts Center at Huntington, Long Island. He talks about how loyal and receptive the Cinema Arts audience is to lesser-known titles. Ben also explains how they perform live spoken titles for foreign-language titled films.
  • Ben talks about how strong audience reaction at the live exhibitions of unusual films and new restorations can often drive home video release.
  • FAQ: How important is the use of motifs to accompany silent film. Ben talks about how there often was overuse of the idea in the silent era; but when they are used to represent not only the characters, but the character’s journey, the judicious use of themes, perhaps three times in a film, help the audience follow the progress of the film; he talks about the trap of making the audience overly aware of the motifs.
  • Recommendation: Kerr recommends Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle by Steve Massa.

Links from the episode:


  • Steve Massa’s Rediscovering Roscoe: the Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle is available from BearManor Media.

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