Ben Model’s Accidentally Preserved, Volume 1
Our culture has been disposable for much longer than people realize. Before the era of cellphone upgrades, Ultra HD and other forms of planned obsolescence, there was disposable entertainment like comic books and movie advertisements – some of which have become extremely valuable because of so few were rescued from the dustbin. There have always been throwaway artifacts that later prove to be extremely telling, just as there has always been a select few that recognized their intrinsic value and decided to preserve them for future generations. Ben Model is one such person and he’s fighting the good fight with his hot-off-the-presses DVD release Accidentally Preserved, Volume 1.
Model is a film preservationist and a renowned silent film accompanist who has created new scores for Turner Classic Movies as well as the Library of Congress and curated exhibitions about silent film at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Pretty impressive stuff. Over the years, Model has amassed a sizable stack of 16mm reels currently unavailable to the public which may no longer exist anywhere outside of his collection. Unloved and abandoned, Model took pity on these causalities of the silent era and has since made it his passion project to resurrect them. In this instance resurrection takes the form of a new high definition transfer complete with historical annotation, a newly composed musical score and, as of last year, a YouTube channel to share this rare and restored footage with others who are devoted to the history of film.
The subsequent positive response led to the launch of a crowd-funding campaign on kickstarter.com which last November raised $4,639 in 30 days toward the continuation of Model’s film restoration project, now called Accidentally Preserved. The name of the project comes from the fact that many of Model’s prints are 16mm safety film stock created into the 1940s for in-home use – that is, if your family was lucky enough to have your own projector. These 16mm prints made for rental were considered more disposable than the original 35mm reels, but with the originals now lost it is only the lesser quality throwaway prints that have saved the footage from nonexistence. Since launching last year, Model has been contacted by other preservationists who have also collected extremely rare prints that are in dire need of restoration. So the project seems to keep expanding the more people learn about it.
The first collection of films from Accidentally Preserved is available on DVD from retailers like Amazon.com as of this week and, according to his website, Model plans to post more restored films on his YouTube channel throughout the year. The collection is mostly comedy shorts, including one from Hal Roach, an early cartoon from animation pioneer Max Fleischer and an extremely thorough in-house promotional spot for the Elgin National Watch Company. The one-reelers are alive with silent era comedy in all its slapsticky glory, such as a disobedient washing machine in The Lost Laugh (1928), an buffoonish duck hunter in Shoot Straight (1923) and a gypsy wearing a gorilla costume in Wedding Slips (1928). Throughout the collection, Model’s expert accompaniment maintains a musical spirit in-keeping with the early 20th Century by using either piano or pipe organ – the instruments that would have been used for live accompaniment in the early days of the cinema. The films themselves are not long lost masterpieces by Erich Von Stroheim or King Vidor and they are not the camera tests for Rudolph Valentino or Douglas Fairbanks – and that’s actually the most admirable thing about Model’s entire endeavor. Beyond their contemporary entertainment value, ironic or otherwise, these silent shorts are invaluable historical documents and Model deserves some serious adulation for his dedication to preserving the entirety of film history, including that which may seem unremarkable. After all, it is a special kind of historian who dedicates her or himself not the celebrated and familiar, but instead to the unfamiliar artifacts most in need of their attention. Ben Model is one such person.
The films included in Accidentally Preserved, Volume 1:
Wallace Lupino in THE LOST LAUGH (1928) – 9 minutes
Jack Duffy in LOOSE CHANGE (1928) – 11 minutes
Monte Collins in WEDDING SLIPS (1928) – 9 minutes
Paul Parrott in SHOOT STRAIGHT (1923) – 10 minutes
Elgin Watch Company – THE HOUSE OF WONDERS (ca. 1931) – 23 minutes
Clyde Cook in THE MISFIT (1924) – 12 minutes
Cliff Bowes in CHEER UP (1924) – 10 minutes
Koko the Clown in MECHANICAL DOLL (1922) – 7 minutes
Billy Franey in THE WATER PLUG (1920) – 12 minutes
Get your very own copy of Accidentally Preserved, Volume 1 at amazon.com right now!
Check out the original pitch video from Model’s kickstarter campaign: