Top 5: Ben Model

Composer/musician Ben Model has been a silent film fan all his life. The Larchmont native discovered the Charlie Chaplin classics at the age of three, went to New York Times drama critic Walter Kerr’s house to watch silents when he was in his teens, provided piano accompaniment for film class when he was in college, and went on to score hundreds of silent films. He’s currently one of the main accompanists for MoMA and runs the Silent Clowns Film Series in New York City. To hear him provide live music for a set of Charlie Chaplin shorts, head to the Jacob Burns Film Center on December 30. Here, Model lets us in on his favorite of the lesser-known silent film comedy DVDs.


1) The Circus (1928), Warner Home Video
Model says this Chaplin film often gets overlooked in favor of favorites like Gold Rush and Modern Times. “It has some brilliant slapstick set-pieces—the sequence in the fun house is amazing—and its statements about comedy and what is funny are timeless and powerful,” Model says. “The film has a musical score that Chaplin himself wrote, with collaborator Eric James, in the 1970s.”

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2) Seven Chances (1925), Kino Video
Even though “Keaton himself doesn’t list it as one of his favorites,” Model says, “this is definitely one of Buster’s best and contains probably one of the greatest slapstick chases of the silent era.” 


3) The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle,
Laughsmith Entertainment
Model notes that Arbuckle was “neck-and-neck in popularity with Chaplin for seven years and the man who discovered Buster Keaton and taught him everything he knew.” While he can’t put his finger on a single Arbuckle film to name as best—”although Fatty’s Tintype Tangle, Fatty and Mabel Adrift, and Love are excellent starters”—you don’t have to choose with this boxed set from Laughsmith Entertainment.


4) The Charley Chase Collection, Kino Video
Though his name is not well known, “Chase is ripe for rediscovery,” Model says. “In some ways he is like a silent comedy version of John Cleese: tall, thin, dapper but still average-guy-underdog persona whose short comedies are very tightly structured—think of Fawlty Towers. After working at Keystone and then directing a variety of comics, he helped shape the character/situation-based comedy style of the Hal Roach Studios in the early twenties.”


5) I Was Born, But… (1932) from Silent Ozu: Three Family Comedies, Criterion
“This is a brilliant, funny, 1932 Japanese silent film directed by Yasujiro Ozu that took me completely by surprise the first time I played for it at MoMA,” Model says. “It’s a wonderful tale of suburban life.”


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