Friday 19 June 2020

On Blu-ray - David Hare exalts a new edition of Buster Keaton's THE CAMERAMAN (USA, 1929

Screens of Buster Keaton from the superb new restoration (Warner/MPI/Ritrovato Bologna) and Criterion Blu-ray of his last of two final silent features at MGM under that poisonous old bastard Louis B Mayer. 

It’s The Cameraman from 1929. Included amongst the screens his co-star in mayhem Josephine, (actual name was "Chicago") the Capucin monkey (below) who also graces movies from Harold Lloyd (The Kid Brother), Chaplin (The Circus) and another Buster Keaton picture, Steamboat Bill Jnr.

Keaton’s persona is the closest thing any actor came to expressing existence in a possible Paradise, even while his face is always cautioning reserve for anything so impossibly hoped for. And thus it is he never imagines "getting the girl". 

She is, as it turns out, attracted to him from early on, but thanks to the conflations and twists and turns of movie making every single effort Keaton makes to save her neck is done while she's unconscious, so the hunky "hero", Harold Goodwin who is the original "real" cameraman takes credit for Buster's work, until he finally gets credit for all this in the last act, thanks largely to the help of his guardian angel, Josephine the Monkey who had earlier become his assistant on the award winning Tong Wars newsreel footage. 

Only the opening in two color Technicolor of Seven Chances from 1927 comes close to such a glorious epiphany, in which static picture postcard-like tableaux declare on the title cards how much he loves his girl, as the images of that picket fence opening shift across the seasons and the years, as the two strip colors gently mutate from season to season, and her puppy grows into a huge, superb dog, while Buster and his beloved are still stranded in singlehood. I cannot think of a more beautiful opening to any movie in the history of cinema.

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