Silent comedies coming to campus


Courtesy photos: SDSU’s School of Performing Arts welcomes silent film historian and organist Ben Model back to campus next weekend for two presentations featuring two historic and hysterical period comedies.

Event promises big laughs, pipe organ accompaniment

BROOKINGS – Silent film historian and organist Ben Model is returning to South Dakota State University for two encore presentations in Founders Recital Hall next weekend.

Under the concept of “Inspired by Woodbine Productions – By Special Request,” the School of Performing Arts welcomes Model with shows at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center.

Each presentation will feature two historic and hysterical period comedies where, while the film is silent, the pipe organ will sing, and the audience will find themselves laughing at the slapstick and predictable plots.

“The Floorwalker” is a 1916 American silent comedy film, starring the silent film giant Charlie Chaplin. The film features Chaplin, in his traditional tramp persona, as a customer who creates chaos in a department store and becomes inadvertently entangled in the nefarious scheme of the store manager and the store’s floorwalker to embezzle money from the establishment. The film is noted for the first “running staircase” used in films, which is used for a series of slapstick scenarios that climax with a frantic chase down an upward escalator, wherein the cast finds themselves remaining in the same position on the steps, no matter how fast they move. 

“The Freshman” is a 1925 American silent comedy film that tells the story of a college freshman, Harold Lamb, trying to become popular by joining the school football team. Lamb, played by Harold Lloyd, decides that the best way to ensure his popularity at school is to emulate his movie idol, The College Hero, down to mimicking a little jig The College Hero does before greeting anyone and taking his nickname, “Speedy.” However, the College Cad quickly makes him the butt of an ongoing joke, of which the freshman remains blissfully unaware. Lamb thinks he is popular, when, in fact, he is the laughingstock of the whole school. “The Freshman” is widely considered one of Lloyd’s most hilarious, well-constructed films and was his most successful silent film of the 1920s. 

Model is one of the nation’s leading silent film accompanists and performs on both piano and theatre organ. Model works full time, presenting and accompanying silent films in a wide variety of venues around the country and internationally, carrying on a tradition he learned from silent film organist Lee Erwin (1919-2000). 

Over the past four decades, Model has created and performed thousands of live scores for several hundred silent films. Model is a resident film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre. He performs at theaters, museums, schools and other venues around the U.S. and internationally.

David Reynolds, director of the School of Performing Arts, said he is pleased to welcome Model back as a special guest and notes that his interactions with students, in addition to the public performances, are part of what makes this engagement extra special. 

“Last year, when we hosted “Phantom of the Opera” for Halloween weekend as the first silent film with pipe organ, we learned that many students had no knowledge of the silent film era. Basically, the work Ben Model is doing is keeping an important art form alive, and his musical skill and ability to feature our pipe organ helps the community and students hear our magnificent instrument in a different way. We are excited for this double feature in Founders Recital Hall and are grateful for the continued support of Doug and Sandy Oleson – such a wonderful partnership.”

Promising to pair original music and ultimate hilarity with classic silent films, this “By Special Request” artist in residence performance is supported by Brookings residents Doug (’81) and Sandy Oleson through a gift made through the SDSU Foundation, along with a matching gift from Boeing made possible from Doug Oleson’s 31 years of service and Boeing’s retiree charitable matching gift program. Tickets for both showings, $25 apiece, are available now at