September 22 is the anniversary of the release date of Buster Keaton’s comedy The Cameraman (1928).
The Cameraman was Keaton’s first film as an MGM contract player (technically the director of record was Eddie Sedgwick). The change in Keaton’s circumstances would rapidly prove to be a bad career decision, but nevertheless The Cameraman is one of Keaton’s best films. Like Sherlock Jr, it is a film about film. Keaton plays a still photographer who wants to be a movie cameraman for newsreels. He’s terrible to begin with – his first attempts are a chopped-salad of double exposures, backwards footage and erratic film speeds, a kind of marriage of One Week’s cockamamie house and the cinematic tricks in Sherlock Jr.
By the movie’s end he will not only perform a daring rescue, but get footage of it, securing the girl (Marceline Day) and the coveted job all in one fell swoop. This is awfully close to Lloyd territory, but Keaton manages to own it with many deft touches. Some of his most famous moments are in the film.
Eager to get footage of a disaster in progress, he leaps onto a passing fire truck…only to have it pull immediately into the fire station.
And there is another scene where he goes to Yankee Stadium to cover a game…but it turns out to be an “away” day. Undaunted, he mimes an entire baseball game by himself, an homage to the famous circus clown Slivers Oakley. Keaton fans can’t watch this film without an added skein of melancholy; it is his last truly great film.
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The Camerman and Spite Marriage are interesting betwixt- and- between films. Both have clear studio doctoring which pulls the films into odd corners and yet there’s a half dozen personal best routines in each. One thing is clear; Buster is no longer a “boy” in these films. This is not a complaint and as that lumpy transition into sound began, it seems to me that was the unspoken issue. What do we do with Buster? He was more than fine on his own and one wonders how he would’ve matured as an independent.