Wednesday, December 14, 2005

our unwitting hero: "the cameraman"


I rented the TCM Archives: Buster Keaton Collection with my Netflix subscription recently and finally sat down to watch the DVD this evening. The Buster Keaton Collection contains 3 films in which the legendary comedian starred: "The Cameraman," "Spite Marriage," and "Free and Easy." The sole onscreen performance of Keaton that I had seen prior to checking out this DVD was an appearance he made in an episode of Rod Serling's 1960s The Twilight Zone called "Once Upon A Time." (I'm a HUGE Twilight Zone fan.) Interestingly, in this episode Keaton does what he is best-known for which is acting in a vaudeville-like, silent episode very reminiscient of his early films in the 1920s. I knew that he was a contemporary of the other silent film legend, Charlie Chaplin, but that's it really.

Of the 3 films in the Buster Keaton Collection, I watched The Cameraman" and "Spite Marriage" only. I started to check out "Free and Easy," which is the only non-silent film of the series, but it failed to get my attention from the start. Compared to the others it began quite slowly. More importantly, I was a bit tired and wasn't quite up to watching another 90 minute movie after having just seen one. Nevertheless, "Cameraman" is described as one of if not the cinematic legend's best film. There's no doubt in my opinion that it's at least the best of the DVD collection bar none. What a charming movie it is! Being so used to non-silent movies with all the effects and gadgets of contemporary movie making, it's such a refreshing pleasure to sit back and enjoy a classic gem, such as "Cameraman." Made in 1928, it has all the curious characteristics of the culture of that time: flapper girls, strange slang, top hats, and the Model T. One of the most delightful characteristics of this film is its wonderful score, which is new apparently. The music adds such a colorful flavor to the film. "Cameraman" also has some interesting settings.
Buster visits Yankee Stadium, for example, and to someone like myself who lives a mere 3 blocks from it, I was very interested to see how different it looked in the 1920s. Any Yankee fan would notice the obvious differences in the Stadium's appearance, however, some things remain the same. The "El" or elevated train, which still runs behind the centerfield wall, is visible in the film. I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that in the film I was seeing the Stadium as Babe Ruth himself knew it.

In short, it's both a story about love and perseverance. It's about a struggling clumsy street photographer of "tintype," who is bedazzled by a young and attractive secretary, who works in an office of MGM News. Smitten by her great looks, Buster's character tries to get a job offer at MGM as a newsreel cameraman, but finds obstacles in every corner. No one gives him a chance. They all underestimate him even the girl. To make matters worse, Buster's character isn't the only one after her. She's sought after by a bombastic newsreel cameraman, who works in the same MGM News office. The film is full of awesome shots and stunts as Buster tries to get that coveted dream job and in the process, the woman of his dreams. In the end, he gets both.

The film ends in an especially charming way. At the film's conclusion, the manager of the MGM News office finally realizes the potential of Buster's character and tells the girl to find and bring the discouraged street photographer back to the office for a job offer. She, then, finds him on the street back at his usual work. She goes on to tell him of the job offer and the great reception awaiting him back in the office. As they walk back together, a large energetic crowd gathers in the streets suddenly throwing confetti and begins to cheer. In usual Buster Keaton humor, our unwitting hero thinks these people are there to greet and congratulate him on his new found fortune and so he waves back to the masses. However, it so happens that Buster's character and his new love find themselves in the midst of a crowd, which has just gathered to greet the approaching victory parade of Charles Lindbergh.

The movie had me laughing from the start and I never stopped.

2 Comments:

Comment Anonymous Anonymous said...

Duane, by all means rent some other Keaton silent films. I recommend "Our Hospitality," "The General" and "Steamboat Bill, Jr." Also, treat yourself to the new Harold Lloyd silent movie collection out this year. Harold was the third great silent movie comedian, and actually released more films than Keaton or Chaplin in the 1920s. The work of these masters is a revelation to me, making me realize just how much comedy was possible WITHOUT the verbal jokes we are accustomed to now.

A silent movie fan in Florida

2:15 PM  
Comment Blogger Duane said...

I'll be sure to check out the films that you recommended. Buster Keaton has ignited my desire to watch more of his films as well as those of his contemporaries. Thanks again!

2:02 AM  

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