ClassicFlix (Teen Scene)- Review #6: The Cameraman (1928)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My sixth review was for the 1928’s classic The Cameraman directed by Edward Sedgwick and starring Buster Keaton. Enjoy!

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It’s time for me to review a movie from the 1920s and, more precisely, a silent film, to prove to teens that they might like silent cinema despite their prejudices towards that it. Let’s face it, if you are interested by cinema or curious about it, you have to see some silent film. The first films, until 1927, were all silent. So, seeing them is nothing but beneficial to your general culture and, of course, even if they are silent, they can be very entertaining.

During the era of silent film, one of the most popular genres was the burlesque comedy. Since there was no sound to create jokes from dialogue, the comedies were more physical and inspired by vaudeville theatre. Of course, the most famous star of that genre was Charlie Chaplin, but he was not the only brilliant burlesque actor. Harold Lloyd, Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton were also part of the lot.

I remember the first time I saw a Buster Keaton film was in a museum in Shawinigan (Quebec). My parents, my sister, and I were visiting the exhibition. The artist decided to show us one of Keaton’s films on a little television. It was part of his exhibition because he was a fan of Keaton’s personality. Suddenly, our attention was grabbed by this funny little man trying to build a house (not without any difficulties). Of course, the film we were watching was the short One Week, one of Buster Keaton’s best short films. We watched it twice. We then got interested by the amusing actor and, despite not knowing much about him, we knew he was a genius. Not long after, my parents gave me a little DVD box set with three of his films for my birthday which is how I discovered The Cameraman.

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Buster Keaton wasn’t just an actor but also directed many of his own films. However, he co-directed The Cameraman with Edward Sedgwick (in 1928) and was uncredited as one of the directors. I chose to review this one instead of more popular titles like Steamboat Bill Jr. or The General (two very famous Buster Keaton films), not only because it’s my favorite of his, but also because it was his last success. Buster Keaton made one last silent film after this, Spite Marriage (which is good too) and then moved to the talkies, which was not a big success for him. He was quickly forgotten and appeared in more minor roles. That’s probably why he’s not as well known as Chaplin, who also starred in some noticeable talkies (The Great Dictator and Limelight). Nevertheless, he highly deserves the honor.

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What is nice about Buster Keaton’s films is the fact the stories are quite simple. They are not too long, so you don’t get lost watching them. The plot of The Cameraman goes like this: Buster (Buster Keaton) is a simple photographer who takes pictures of people on the street so they can buy them as souvenirs. During a celebration where he is invaded by a crowd and the MGM News team, he notices a beautiful girl (Marceline Day), proposing to take her picture. She accepts, but when he’s looking somewhere else, she goes away with a cameraman from MGM News. Buster wants to find her to give her the picture, so he goes to the MGM News office to see if they know her. Luckily, Sally (that’s her name) is working at there as a secretary. He gives her the photo and asks no charge. It’s a gift. We have no doubt he is in love with her.

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He then asks her boss (Sidney Bracey) if he has a job for him. He will have to buy a camera so he can film stuff and prove he’s a good cameraman. This should be easy, but Buster is quite clumsy. He is watched constantly by a cop (Harry Gribbon) who thinks he’s crazy. Concerning his love for Sally, he has to compete with another MGM cameraman, Harold (Harold Goodwin). Fortunately, despite his failures, Sally will always be there to support Buster.

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After seeing the film, teens will understand why Buster Keaton is a genius. The Cameraman is not only one of the most entertaining films of all time, but one of the funniest. Each time I watch it, I have a smile on my face. It is the kind of film that makes you feel good because of Keaton’s inventive gags, Keaton himself, the hilarious cop and boss’s facial expressions, the lovely Marceline Day, the little monkey, and the music! The Cameraman has very entertaining music that fits perfectly with the film. Too bad a soundtrack doesn’t exist!

The film begins in force with an interesting concept. We see some professional cameraman filming serious events, like a war. During this sequence, the music is quite stressful, adding excitement to the action. Then, the music changes, becoming sympathetic and innocent. We then meet another cameraman, a much more common and simple one. This is how we are first introduced to Buster. The opening catches the spectator’s attention in a great way, beginning with some very powerful and impressive images which make us think of Dziga Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera. Then, it slows down and we know we are about to watch something nice, not stressful. We are more ready than ever for a big laugh.

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This may be insignificant, but something that aids my enjoyment of the film is the little monkey. Seriously, how can you resist this adorable animal dressed up as a sailor, who claps hands when she (it’s a girl named Josephine) is happy? Josephine adds a lot to the film and is a much-appreciated character. It’s also because of her that we have a happy ending!

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If teens who watch this film after reading my review never saw a Buster Keaton film before, they will notice his trademark; he never smiles. Buster Keaton’s nickname was The Great Stone Face. However, he is capable of sharing many emotions, even happiness, through his gestures. That’s probably why he has such a great chemistry with the leading lady, Marceline Day and also makes an incredible duo with Harry Gribbon as the cop.

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The Cameraman has everything you can expect to have a good time, even a banana peel gag! Once you have seen a Buster Keaton’s film, you’ll be willing to see more. The Cameraman is definitely a good start.

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