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Raj Tawney

Ben Model at the historic Wonder Morton Theatre Pipe Organ at The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in 2014. Photo by Steve Friedman

By Kevin Redding

As a film production major at New York University in 1982, Ben Model sat in a film history class and watched a series of silent movies with his peers. The early 16mm prints had no sound tracks backing them and Model felt the disinterest of his classmates.

“It really bothered me that these movies were bombing in front of film students every week,” said Model, 55, who grew up enchanted by three things: silent movies, the art of filmmaking and music, having started piano lessons when he was 5. “So I figured, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but it’s got to be better than nothing.”

Photo by Larry Smith
Ben Model at the Library of Congress Packard Preservation Campus Theater. Photo by Larry Smith

So he approached his professor and offered to play piano during the screenings to liven the experience for the audience — an idea the professor loved. From then on, until he graduated two years later, Model (pronounced Moe-del) served as the maestro for two to three film screenings per week in the basic cinema history class as well as a film historian’s class — providing the music for many of the earliest movies ever made, from Auguste and Louis Lumière’s 50-second-long actuality films depicting military events and everyday scenes to Thomas Edison’s studio films to the works of pioneer filmmakers D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein.

Through his new gig, he met and befriended renowned silent film accompanist Lee Erwin, who was an organist in theaters during the 1920s and was, at the time, playing the giant Wurlitzer organ at Carnegie Hall Cinema in Manhattan, one of the few repertory theaters back then. Erwin served as Model’s mentor, someone whose brain the young college student often picked, learning what works, what doesn’t, what to do, what not to do.

While Model only started doing this to engage his peers in early films, he wound up turning it into a career spanning more than 30 years. He currently serves as one of the leading silent film accompanists and most well-respected silent film historians, traveling around the world in a wide variety of venues presenting silent films and providing unforgettable live scores for hundreds of them.

Ben Model at the Egyptian Theatre, Boise Idaho. Photo by Paul Collins

Model has been a resident silent film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art since 1984; the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre since 2009; the Silent Film Days in Tromsø portion of the Tromsø International Film Festival in Norway, home to Verdensteatret, Norway’s oldest cinema in use, dating back to 1916, for 12 years; the historic Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Idaho, where he performs scores with a full orchestra; recently played in theaters in Connecticut, Maryland and Ohio and frequently performs at museums and schools; will be playing at the Turner Classic Movies film festival next month; and, since 2006, can be seen locally at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington once a month during the theater’s Anything But Silent program.

Model is also a lecturer, film programmer and visiting professor of film studies at Wesleyan  University in Connecticut, as well as the creator of New York City’s Silent Clowns Film Series, launched in 1997 as the premiere, regularly scheduled showcase for silent film comedy, from Buster Keaton to Laurel & Hardy. 

“There’s something so immersive about the experience of silent films, especially when you see it with live music,” Model said. “It’s ironic that because of what’s missing from the film, you’re actually much more involved and engaged, because the imagination is filling in everything: the sound, the colors, pieces of the story, the gags. You’re assembling them in your head, in a group setting. You can get lost in it; you feel like you’re almost part of what’s going on — it’s like a trance.”

A trance, he said, he’s long been in. “When I started doing this, I realized that throughout my life, anything surrounding silent film kind of just worked out for me,” he said.

It all started with Charlie Chaplin. While some little kids were obsessed with dinosaurs and others with trains and trucks, young Model gravitated toward The Tramp, consuming all his films he could find and reading biographies and film books on his craft. That paved the way for Chaplin’s contemporaries like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

When he was 12, Model, who grew up in Larchmont in Westchester County, received a book called “The Silent Clowns” written by Walter Kerr, a New York Times theater critic in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and silent film fanatic himself, which became something of a sacred text to the young boy. Because Kerr lived close by, and had amassed a huge collection of these movies he wrote about, Model’s parents encouraged him to reach out to the author.

“So I wrote him a letter telling him I was interested in seeing more silent films,” Model said, explaining that, in the mid-70s, he had to wait for them to show up on television and there was a lot of movies he read about that he just couldn’t find. “Walter Kerr called me four days later. Over the next 15 to 20 years, a few times a year, I’d go over and he’d say, ‘So, what do you want to see?’ So I grew up going to the guy who literally wrote the book on silent film comedy.”

Model said in terms of his performances, he’s primarily an improviser — relying on his background as a silent film devourer and improv comedian in college to let things come to him naturally, he said, like musicians do in jazz. But if he hasn’t seen the film before, he’ll watch it in advance to take note of different story and action beats in order to stay ahead of the movie and provide certain underscores when needed.

“Ben is creating a virtual time machine of the original movie-going experience and transporting our audiences to another era,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for Cinema Arts Centre, adding that audiences during Anything But Silent nights are always fully engrossed: laughing, shrieking and hooting and hollering. “There’s an undeniable respect for Ben’s choice of film, his vast historical knowledge, and the commitment to giving the best performance to each film. He’s a rock star in his own right.”

Model said he loves performing at Cinema Arts Centre because of its monthly embrace of these old films.“You’d be hard-pressed to find a suburban art cinema that thinks silent movies are worth showing,” Model said. “At Cinema Arts Centre, they recognize that sound is only part of the film landscape.”

He encourages people of all ages to come and experience a silent film. He recalled the impact a screening of Keaton’s 1928 film “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” from 10 years ago had on an 8-year-old girl, whose father later told Model that the film, its presentation and her experience that night was the subject of her college essay.

“Everyone involved with these films is dead, but even one from 100 years ago is just as entertaining as it was when it was first released,” Model said. “Silents are able to make the trip across several decades sometimes better than sound movies. It’s just so rewarding to be able to help these films live again, and build the next audience for them.”

‘Child’s Play 2’ starring Chucky will kick off the annual Horror Movie Marathon at the CAC.

By Kevin Redding

As summer winds down, the Halloween season sets in and nobody kicks off the spookiest time of the year better than the folks over at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. In collaboration with Retro Picture Show for the second year in a row, the theater unleashes its 13th annual “Pay To Get Out” Horror Movie Marathon to the masses on Saturday, Aug. 26, starting at 10 p.m.

For 12 hours, moviegoers will be treated to a blood-splattered serving of six horror films, ranging from the popular to the forgotten and spanning the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, all shown in glorious 35mm.

Stephen King makes a cameo appearance in ‘Pet Sematary

The night’s lineup includes everybody’s favorite killer doll in “Child’s Play 2” (1990); Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” (1989); horror legend John Carpenter’s overlooked “Prince of Darkness” (1987), celebrating its 30th anniversary; “Blackenstein” (1973), the blaxploitation sendup of Mary Shelley’s classic tale; the once-X-rated “I Drink Your Blood” (1971); and Grindhouse Releasing’s “Trailer Apocalypse,” a feature-length compilation of creepy and nauseating trailers sure to thrill each and every horror lover in the crowd.

Plus, as is tradition, there will be a bonus mystery film that won’t be revealed to the audience until it starts.

The idea is that each film will get increasingly more and more deranged as the marathon goes on — an endurance test of which Jigsaw would surely approve — until those in the audience who have “survived” the experience emerge from the theater the next morning. Anyone who does will receive $10 back on their ticket and a free breakfast of bagels and coffee in the Sky Room Cafe after the final feature.

John Carpenter’s ‘Prince of Darkness’ wages war on mankind.

In typical Retro Picture Show fashion, five raffle winners will be announced at the top of the evening, with prizes including an official “I Drink Your Blood” collectible toy to coincide with its Blu-ray release, a brand new “Blackenstein” Blu-ray, the vinyl soundtrack of “Pet Sematary” and a CD soundtrack of “Prince of Darkness.”

“It’s a special year for us because 13, in horror movie terms, is a moment to celebrate,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for Cinema Arts Centre. “I always encourage everybody to give it a shot but I think you have to be a horror movie fan to sit through these kinds of films. Anybody else wouldn’t really appreciate the artistry these films have to offer.”

Tawney said the horror movie loyalists who come to the marathon year after year are among the most passionate audience members ever.

“Those that come out are such big fans, we always get a packed house,” he said. “They bring pillows and blankets from home to get themselves comfortable all night and many do make it through the entire event. People have a great time.”

Returning as curator of the marathon is Retro Picture Show, a Long Island-based revival screening series focused primarily on horror, sci-fi and exploitation films. Run by husband and wife team Michael and Nina Ciani, the company hosts monthly series at the theater, most recently a special “Sleepaway Camp” triple feature last month that included a special guest appearance by actress Felissa Rose. Back in May, Retro Picture Show launched its online store and will be selling event T-shirts and posters during the marathon.

“I’m excited for the entire lineup [this year],” Michael Ciani, who curates all the company’s programs, said. “Curating the lineup is probably my favorite part, then announcing it and seeing everyone’s reaction. It takes hours of dedication over the course of a few months, many factors are taken into consideration … it’s definitely not a simple process.”

‘Child’s Play 2’ starring Chucky will kick off the annual Horror Movie Marathon at the CAC.

Among the movies Ciani’s most looking forward to screening with the crowd are “Blackenstein” and “I Drink Your Blood,” by far the least known and strangest entries of the night. “[They’ll] give the evening a nice exploitation and grindhouse feel,” he said. “These movies are crazy and perfect for an all-night marathon. Dozing off in your seat and waking up to the insane sights and sounds of ‘Blackenstein.’ That’s what it’s all about.”

Although the marathon has had a handful of different curators since it began, Tawney said Ciani brings a special touch to the event.

“He puts so much passion and thought into the movies that he’s showing and kind of takes you on this roller coaster ride throughout the evening,” Tawney said. “So much effort is put into his design and artwork and into the culture he’s cultivating through these screenings. He’s really developing a brand here and we’re really happy to be part of that experience. We’re kind of giving Retro Picture Show the forum to experiment and develop their film exhibition.”

And to also scare the living daylights out of people.

The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave. in Huntington. Tickets for the 13th annual Pay to Get Out Horror Movie Marathon are $45 per person, $40 for Cinema Arts Centre members. To order call 631-423-7610 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org. For more information on upcoming Retro Picture Show events, including its 2017 Halloween Horrorthon, visit www.retropictureshow.com.

Photo by Joyce Ravid

Former New York Times columnist and best-selling author to come to Huntington

By Melissa Arnold

Growing up, Anna Quindlen’s one and only dream was to write. Her life was flooded with the written word from the very beginning. Quindlen described herself as “a difficult child,” but teachers praised her for her writing skills. That encouragement led her to study English and creative writing at Barnard College in New York City and then on to a career in journalism.

“I always intended to be a novelist,” Quindlen said in a recent interview. “I only went into the newspaper business to pay the rent, but I loved it so much that I just stayed and stayed.”

Anna Quindlen will hold a special book signing at the Cinema Arts Centre on June 8.

Quindlen paved an extensive career as a columnist for the New York Times and Newsweek, even earning a Pulitzer Prize along the way. But then she returned to her first passion — fiction writing — and hasn’t looked back. Her beloved novels, including “One True Thing,” “Blessings” and “Black and Blue,” have amassed a dedicated fan base and time atop the New York Times Best Seller List. Her book, “A Short Guide to a Happy Life,” has sold more than a million copies.

Now, Quindlen is celebrating the paperback release of her latest novel, “Miller’s Valley,” with a stop right here on Long Island.

Long Island LitFest will host Quindlen on Thursday, June 8, at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. The evening will include an intimate reading from “Miller’s Valley,” a meet-and-greet, a signed copy of the book and refreshments.

The LitFest, which launched in 2015 as an annual event bringing lauded authors to the area, has now grown to include occasional Long Island LitFest Presents evenings with a single author.

Claudia Copquin, the festival’s producer and foundress, calls it a labor of love. “My friends and I are avid readers and booklovers, but we’ve had to leave Long Island to go to book festivals and the sort,” she said. “We saw a need for something like this at a local level, and Long Islanders are well-read and very cultured. Authors are usually excited to get involved [with us].”

Copquin and members of the festival’s advisory board work to identify authors that would have an interest in making an appearance here. Many of the selected authors are preparing for or on a promotional tour for a book release, Copquin explained. In past years, they’ve hosted writers including Alan Zweibel, Adam Resnick, Dave Barry and many more.

Quindlen described “Miller’s Valley” as “set in a small farming community threatened by a government plan to dam and flood the valley, and its action stretches from the ’50s to the present. It’s about that period when Americans learned that their government might not have their best interests at heart. It’s also a period when the lives of women changed radically, and those changes are embodied in the book’s protagonist, Mimi Miller.”

Above, the cover jacket of Quindlen’s latest novel.

The book has received much praise. The Washington Post has called it “stunning,” USA Today writes it is “a breathtakingly moving look at family” and The New York Times Book Review calls it “overwhelmingly moving.”

Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions at the Cinema Arts Centre, said the venue is thrilled to welcome Quindlen as part of a wide spectrum of events held there.

“While the [center] is more about film, we’re here to service the entire community and deliver them all kinds of opportunities in arts and culture,” Tawney said. “We’re a sanctuary for artistic and creative people, and Anna Quindlen is such a renowned, accomplished creator. She’s an artist in her own right. It’s fitting to have her come out here.”

Long Island LitFest Presents Anna Quindlen will be held at 7:30 p.m. on June 8 at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Tickets, which must be purchased in advance, are $35 for members and $40 for the public. For more information, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org. To learn more about Long Island LitFest, visit www.longislandlitfest.com.

A scene from David Cronenberg’s ‘The Brood,’ one of six horror films to be screened on Aug. 27. Photo courtesy of Cinema Arts Centre

Above, a scene from David Cronenberg’s ‘The Brood,’ one of six horror films to be screened on Aug. 27. Photo courtesy of Cinema Arts Centre

By Kevin Redding

Summoning all horror lovers!

As summer creeps to a close, the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington — in collaboration with Retro Picture Show — sets its sights on the Halloween season and revs up the scares in its 12th annual Pay to Get Out Horror Movie Marathon.

Saturday, Aug. 27, starting at 10 p.m., moviegoers will be treated to six vastly different and obscure horror films from the ’70s and ’80s, which will get increasingly more and more deranged as the marathon goes on, until those in the audience who have “survived” the whole experience emerge from the theater at around 6 a.m. the next morning.

The whole night will be an endurance test of sorts: How much blood and guts and horror can you handle? And, how long can you stay awake? In fact, anyone who stays for all six films will receive a refund of $10 back and a free breakfast courtesy of the theater’s Sky Room Cafe.

For further incentive, all films and accompanying trailers will be shown in glorious 35mm, there will be free giveaways and raffle prizes and one of the six films has purposefully been kept a mystery to the public.

'House by the Cemetery' is part of the line-up this Saturday night. Photo courtesy of Cinema Arts Centre
‘House by the Cemetery’ is part of the line-up this Saturday night. Photo courtesy of Cinema Arts Centre

“If this is your genre, I recommend you come down, absolutely,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for the theater. “I think when we’re talking about classic cinema and movies that stand the test of time, horror often gets left out of the mainstream. Horror movies are just as important … the people who come are really passionate and care so much about these movies and that’s why the horror marathon has lasted so many years. They’ll come and stay up all night.”

This year marks the theater’s first Pay to Get Out collaboration with newly formed Retro Picture Show, a Long Island-based revival screening series focused on classic genre films. The two groups have worked together before, most notably in bringing “Friday the 13th” and “Friday the 13th Part 2” to the big screen for the original film’s 35th anniversary in May. Following the success of that screening, Retro Picture Show was asked by the theater to co-present the marathon.

“The response from the horror fans in the area has been overwhelming to say the least,” said Michael Ciani, founder of Retro Picture Show. “They come out and spend their hard-earned money to watch films that they have probably seen and most likely own on Blu-ray, so it’s an amazing thing. We truly appreciate it.”

“Our events offer genre fans the opportunity to experience the films they love on the big screen in 35mm,” said Ciani. “I use the word ‘experience’ because that’s what it is: an experience. We encourage people to get there early, choose their seats, meet with friends and other horror fans in the cafe before the film begins. Drink a few cocktails, discuss old horror films. It’s very social.”

Ciani, who has loved horror for as long as he can remember, says that finding good film prints takes a lot of hard work and research.

“Some of these prints are old, over 30 years old,” he said, “so a lot of them are in bad shape. We try to find the best ones available. Sometimes you have to find 35mm print collectors, sometimes the studio [and original distributors] will have it.”

But for him, it’s all worth it.

“I love old films. I feel like there’s nothing quite like sitting in a theater packed with like-minded fans watching a print of a film we all love,” said Cinai, adding “It’s really an amazing experience for everyone. I’m looking to re-create what it was like in the theater watching these films back in the ’70s and ’80s. I want everyone to have a great time. I love the cheering, the screaming, the laughing.”

The marathon’s selection of films cover all the bases of horror, from mutant children to werewolves to scary basements and more. But in true Cinema Arts Centre style, the choices are obscure and less heard of than, say, “Halloween” or “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

The event’s lineup includes “The Hidden” (1987), David Cronenberg’s “The Brood” (1979), “The Company of Wolves” (1984), “Vampyres” (1974) and Lucio Fulci’s “House by the Cemetery” (1981), plus the sixth mystery pick — which has been kept so secret that not even Tawney knows what it is.

“We spent a lot of time selecting this year’s mystery film and put a lot of thought into it,” said Ciani. “The goal is to make the audience ‘lose their minds’ with excitement the second it begins … something immediately recognizable. I definitely think we nailed it.”

Tawney says that even though Retro Picture Show will eventually branch out and do these types of programs at different theaters, he’s beyond pleased that they’re getting their start in Huntington.

“Right now we’re currently giving them a home to really prove themselves and test ideas out,” he said. “Most of the time they handpick the films, curate the events and they bring in a lot of personalized promotional materials and posters and prizes, which they create themselves. They give a real personal touch to the event.”

In terms of the prizes, Retro Picture Show will certainly deliver for horror fans.

“For the raffle prize … I’ll be giving away three of the “House by the Cemetery” soundtracks on vinyl, so there will be three winners for that,” said Ciani. “And the free giveaway will be at the end of the night. I’ll be giving away a coupon code for an all-access pass to our Shocktober events that we have every weekend in October. People can buy tickets for all 5 events and get a free poster.”

The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave. in Huntington. Tickets for the 12th annual Pay to Get Out Horror Movie Marathon are $40 per person, $30 for Cinema Arts Centre members. To order call 631-423-7610 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org. For more information on upcoming Retro Picture Show events, including its Shocktober events, visit www.retropictureshow.com.

Cinema Arts Centre photo by Victoria Espinoza

Looking for a more exclusive way to enjoy movies in Huntington? The Cinema Arts Centre has just the fix.

The Preview Club is a new program opening in March that will allow a select amount of people to attend advance screenings of new films before their New York release dates.

David Schwartz, chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image in Manhattan, will be curating the program and will also design the program from audience feedback. After every show, a guest speaker — for example, the producer of the movie — will lead a discussion with the audience related to the film shown. The audience will also be given cards for comments, which will aide Schwartz in his development of the program going forward.

Preview-Card-Raj-wThere is a maximum of 270 members allowed in the club, and Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions at the Cinema Arts Centre, said the club already has about one hundred members after just announcing the program last week.

“The exciting part of it is you as an audience member won’t know what you’re seeing until you sit down in the theater,” Tawney said in a phone interview.

The films shows will be a range of major independent and international movies and will be shown about once or twice a month.

The first showing is Mar. 16, and the following few include April 16 and 27.

The Preview Club is not only a ticket to new movies but also a social club meant for fellow film lovers to interact.