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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Irish Film Studies: The Colleen Bawn

This semester, I’m attending a course on Irish cinema. Each week, we are expected to write a blog-like journal about the film we watched in class and/or our class discussion about the film. I’ve decided to include those entries to my blog, so it would be more agreeable to read than a Word document. This is the first journal entry I wrote, about our class discussion on The Colleen Bawn (week 1).

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For our first class of Irish Film Studies, we were introduced to the Irish world with the screening of three films by the O’Kalem Company. One of them, The Colleen Bawn, led us to a little and rather interesting class discussion where we had to answer the following question: “Imagine that you are screening The Colleen Bawn here in Montréal. What can you do at the level of exhibition to render your screening a rival to classic or contemporary cinema?”

I first have to say, it’s lucky our teacher explained the entire film before the screening, because this strange love triangle (was it a triangle? I’m not even sure anymore) based on a true story involves a complicated plot that can be pretty hard to follow. The screening itself was not the best experience (in a class not very well organized for screenings). So, the part I enjoyed the most was the class discussion after it. Indeed, how can we attract a contemporary public who is much more used to American blockbusters to see The Colleen Bawn? Well, the good and original ideas weren’t missing. What I’m the most thankful about this discussion is that it was a way for us to develop our creativity, which is something that can sometimes be lacking in Film Studies courses (if we compare to Film Production for example).

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There will be a lot to do to attract everyday people to see such a film. Because we, of course, have to make the distinction those who study films and those who don’t. What I first thought about is the fact that, here, in Quebec, about 1/4 of people have Irish blood. It’s somehow part of our culture, so why shouldn’t it be part of our cinematographic culture too? And as it is an “old movie”, it can become part of our historical culture as well.

The Colleen Bawn is a film that surely needs to be presented with a minimum of external entertainment to become something cool. Things such as special guesses or special settings are always welcomed. Among the ideas that were discussed, I think my favourite one was to transform the movie theater in one of the movie sets so it would really make us “feel” the film.

But overall, I think the priority to enjoy any cinematic experience would be to present the film in the best visual and sound conditions.

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Words: 400

Images sources:

“Blazing the Trail to Ireland: The Kalem Film Company.” Irish America, Jan. 2012, http://irishamerica.com/2011/12/blazing-the-trail-to-ireland/

“The Colleen Bawn, Sidney Olcott.” Irish Film Institute, n.d, http://ifi.ie/film/the-colleen-bawn/.

Before Lassie there was Rover!

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Even if they are not human actors, animals sometimes have an important place to play in movies. They can represent friendship, danger or simple company. With her blogathon The Animal in Films Blogathon, Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood allows us to celebrate our furry friends and what they brought to the art of films.

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For the occasion, I decided to focus on the British silent short Rescued by Rover directed by Lewin Fitzhamon in 1905.

The story is simple, a baby (Barbara Hepworth) is kidnapped by an alcoholic bigger (Mrs Sebastian Smith) during a ballad in a park with her nurse (May Clark). The family dog, Rover (Blair) will save her.

Of course, Rescued by Rover was made long before Lassie, but just like the famous dog, Rover is a Colley. The film is often considered to be the first fiction film made in the UK and the first fiction film to use a dog in its story. On its release, “Rover” became a popular dog name. The film was written by Margaret Hepworth and it’s her own dog, Blair, who was used for the role of Rover. Blair itself is considered to be the first canine film star. Blair was also seen in the 1903’s version of Alice in Wonderland, Rover Takes a Call (1905) and The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper (1908).

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The film is, of course, a family affair, not only because it stars Margaret Hepworth’s dog, but also because it stars the writer herself in the role of the mother, her husband Cecil Hepworth in the role of the father and their daughter, Barbara, in the role of the baby. Were the actors paid? Well, an article from the BFI informs us that Rescued by Rover was made on a seven pounds thirteen shillings and sixpence budget. So, probably not. 😉

Rover is, of course, a very brilliant dog. It has a perfect flair and it doesn’t take it long to find the baby. Rover can open doors (which turns out to be very useful in this situation), swim (well, like most dogs) and remembers its way.

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When we watch this film, we become quite fond of Rover (or Blair) as it seems to be the perfect dog. It doesn’t even bite the kidnapper! What a gentle dog. What an absolutely adorable pet! Of course, another thing I love about this film is the baby. Seriously, even if we don’t see her very often in the film, little Barbara Hepworth really is one of the cutest babies I’ve seen on screen. With her little white dress and her round cheeks, she is nothing but absolutely sweet. We are glad Rover is here to save her! The movies stars with a medium shot of her and Rover.

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Narratively, Rescued by Rover remains a very simple film. Where it becomes interesting, it’s on the technical aspects, particularly the editing. The film contains a total of 22 shots, which was rare at the time, especially for a five minutes feature. Movies were more often made in a more “theatrical” approach where the camera was static, filming the subject in a long shot or medium long shot. But here, the characters move out from the space where they initially were, and the story has a certain physical evolution. Also, we don’t need much information to understand what’s happening. When we see Rover running in the street, we immediately know it’s on its way to save the baby.

So, Rescued by Rover is a simple, but important film. The most interesting fact on how it influenced history is that, the film inspired D.W Griffith, who also used parallel cutting in his films. And that’s still often used today. Kidnapping also was the main subject of his first film, The Adventures of Dollie (1908)

If you haven’t seen Rescued by Rover yet, I highly recommend you to do so. It’s very short and worthy. You can watch it here:

Many thanks to Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting this very original blogathon!

Of course, I invite you to read the other entries as well:

The Animals in Films Blogathon

See you!

Sources:

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sauvée_par_Rover

http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/514859/

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Rover (Blair) and Barbara Hepworth in The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper

Life According to Buster Keaton

Here is the fun we can make with some (ok, many) Buster Keaton’s gifs.

Learn how to be like Buster Keaton, for better or for worst!

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Build a house
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Be in love
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How to catch a bus
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Teen attitude
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Again
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Yesss sir!
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“You want my picture?”
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Bike- Old fashion style
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How to kiss a lady
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How to dance, with style
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How to eat spaghettis
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How to play music
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Try something else…
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How to drive a car
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How to smile (without motivation)
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How to smile (with motivation)
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Laugh (Yes he could!)
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Find a nice spot to sleep
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Scream
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Gone With the Wind (Buster before Scarlett)
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Wink (to a girl?)
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Be rejected
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Be Celebrated
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Be saved
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Be discouraged
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Read about politics…
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Find a solution to everything
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“What do you want?”
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Make an end to all this folly

Hope you enjoyed this little entertainment!