An article appeared in this weekend’s edition of the Idaho Statesman. Click here to read the whole piece. Below is the section about my end of things:
IDAHO’S MAID OF SILENT FILM
There are two people linking the Musical Movies Project and the Nell Shipman Film Festival: Shipman herself and silent film composer and accompanist Ben Model.
Let’s start with Shipman (1892-1970), a little-known Idaho legend of silent film who eschewed the slapstick of Chaplin and Keaton movies for dramatic works featuring heroic women in the outdoor splendor of northern Idaho and eastern Washington.
“She was an indie before Sundance,” said Tom Trusky, BSU English professor, Hemingway Western Studies Center director and head of the Idaho Film Collection. “She believed in local shooting, not studio back lots or soap detergent snowstorms.”
A Shipman film, “The Light on Lookout,” will be part of the Thursday’s Musical Movies Project. So will Model, who also is performing at Friday’s Nell Shipman Film Festival.
In both cases, Model, the Museum of Modern Art’s silent film accompanist, will be playing the Egyptian Theatre’s famed organ, one of a few original theater organs still in operation in the United States. Not even New York City, where Model lives, has an original working theater organ.
Model composed scores for three movies showing at the Musical Movies Project as well as “The Grub-Stake,” which will be screened at the Shipman festival.
He will play the Egyptian organ during a screening of Fatty Arbuckle’s “Love.”
The goal of performing music for a silent film, Model said, is to support the on-screen action, whether it’s the rhythm and flow of a physical gag or something with a more dramatic flare, such as Shipman’s work.
In composing a piece, Model develops a few leitmotifs, or themes, that he weaves together with improvisation during the performance, being mindful of the vibe of the audience and careful not to draw attention away from the movie.
“Each silent film showing is a unique experience,” he said. “The key is to take the film as seriously as the people who made it. When the lights go off, I’m working for them.”