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Ben Model brings music to the silent silver screen

Ben Model plays during a Buster Keaton short at Willsboro Central School.

Ben Model plays during a Buster Keaton short at Willsboro Central School. Photo by Keith Lobdell.

— Ben Model has had two passions in life — cinema and playing the piano.

It was during a college class on the former where he first combined his love of both.

“When I went to film school we were watching these silent films without a soundtrack and it bothered me that these films were dying in front of the students,” Model said. “I went to the head of the department and asked if I could play during the movies, and he loved the idea.

“It was a Reese’s situation — I got piano playing on my silent film and silent film on my piano playing.”

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Ben Model talks to the audience.

For the third time, Model brought his piano and films to the Champlain Valley Film Society, playing for the Buster Keaton classic, “The Navigator,” Oct. 20 at Willsboro Central School.

“There is a freshness to the storytelling and the gags that are a part of silent films,” Model said. “It’s exciting to see people reacting. One of the things that I am always aware of in the room from the beginning is how much fun it is for the audience. It’s a style that people are not used to and a very different vibe.”

Model said that it was his opportunity to play for the silent films in school along with meeting a silent film artist that fueled his passion for the genre which became his career.

“I had loved silent films since I was a toddler and had been playing the piano almost as long when this chance came up,” he said. “I met this guy who performed for silent films in the 1920s and he became a friend and mentor for me.”

Model said that he has enjoyed each time that he has performed in the North Country and the chance to bring the genre to a new stage.

“People will return and bring friends that have never experienced it before,” he said. “It is always nice when people bring kids as well. I think that having kids see this is very important when it comes to film preservation.”

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