Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Cameraman (1928)

In 1928, after writing, directing, and starring in many films, and against the advice of his friends, Buster Keaton signed on with MGM Studios.

Keaton's gradual loss of autonomy in the filmmaking process marked a sharp decline in his career. Despite having to relinquish control to the studio and having to script many of his gags-- something in the past he'd relied heavily on improvisation for, The Cameraman is an excellent film.

Turner Classic Movies recently released on DVD a 2 disc set with 3 films and a documentary of Keaton's work with MGM studios including The Cameraman. The restoration is crisp and rather clean. The acting is superb, and Keaton, if not at his absolute best, was certainly at his best within the confines of the studio system.

Perhaps what is most poignant about this classic is the chemistry between Keaton and his completely captivating leading lady, Marceline Day who manages to capture the viewers attention and never truly let go, even in the scenes in which she is absent. For even when Day's character is absent-- everything Keaton's character does-- he does for her.

Some of Keaton's better gags, riding a double-decker bus on the wheel well OUTSIDE the bus, sharing a small changing room with another man, and his filming of a gang war in Chinatown with the "help" and distraction of a small spider monkey.

This film provides a rather interesting capsule of the state of film at the end of the silent-film era just as the "talkies" were starting to come into play. To watch it within the context of modern films, one might get bored-- but to fully appreciate silent film is to view it within the context of the time in which it was created-- a simpler era, before the Great Depression, before World War II, before the Hayes Code. Film is similar to music in its evolutionary scope and watching classic Buster Keaton is akin to listening to the music and musicians which inspired and paved the way for The Beatles.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

In my opinion Buster Keaton was always funnier than Charlie Chaplin. His faces were wonderful. However, my very favorite comedy movies from the early days are after the talkies came of age. The Marx Brothers were hysterical. If you've never seen Duck Soup you've mised one of the funniest movies of all time.