Talking About Silents with the New Yorker

My “right brain theory” about silent film resonated with a journalist recently. It doesn’t usually happen, and I was pleased as punch that this core aspect of the Silent Film medium got included in the video profile made by the New Yorker Magazine, posted in October 2019.

It’s the notion that art exists in a taking-away, the quote from Mary Pickford in Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By re-quoted in Kerr’s The Silent Clowns, that it would have been more logical for the silent-to-sound progression to have gone in the opposite direction, that is at the core of the course I teach at Wesleyan. What makes silent film a universal language is what’s missing, what everyone in the audience is filling in an synthesizing with their right hemisphere, is why it still works and holds up instead of being an antique.

I’m always happy to explain my history and my process, and the basics of what silent film accompaniment was and is, for interviews. I never know which parts of what I throw out there are going to wind up in the final piece, and I don’t have input or influence on this. And so, it was really interesting and pleasing to so see what “made the cut” for the video profile that the New Yorker posted last October.

Here it is, Enjoy!


MoMA’s online Magazine posted both a text and audio interview in January 2019. The two only overlap a little. Read and/or listen to Hearing Silent Films with Ben Model on the MoMA Magazine.

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