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Local Musician Provides Authentic Silent Film Experience for Moviegoers

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A silent film festival kicks off this weekend at the Museum of Modern Art, and despite the name, there's a lot to listen to, as a local musician who allows moviegoers to have an authentic silent film experience. NY1's Stephanie Simon filed the following report.

If you're a fan of silent films, then Ben Model is playing your tune. Actually, he's playing his tune. Most of the time, Ben is improvising the entire score.

"It's a tradition that I learned from a man named Lee Erwin, who was a film organist in the silent era, and he taught me how to do this," Model says.

A silent film historian and accompanist, Model regularly brings to life silent films at MoMA and other venues around the city.

It's entertaining to watch Model, but he tries to fade into the background.

"The thing is to stay in the era and avoid recognizable music," he says.

He says that silent film accompaniment is not about the notes. It's about the mood, like romantic, scary and, of course, the chase scene.

In fact, trying to hit certain notes is another no no.

"I don't do sound effects when people get hit or fall on the floor because you either nail it or it just looks like you've missed it," Model says.

When NY1 first met Model back in 2000, he was doing shows intermittently, but with the availability of cheaper projectors and even a silent film app that Model consulted on, interest has exploded. He plays regularly. Plus, he's produced several DVDs celebrating the genre.

"The silent film experience itself, it's partially a performance, because there's somebody in the room with you playing piano or organ, helping you to connect with the film and connect with the emotions and the fun of the film," he says.

Click here for Model's silent film website. To learn more about his upcoming shows at MoMA from April 1 through April 17, click here. To learn more about the silent film app, click here.

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