This week in Film — THE CAMERAMAN and the silent clowns

The lament of a summer sans silents under the stars continues into the Weekly with a review of Criterion’s latest Blu-ray/DVD release and four silent comedies to stream at home. First up, Buster Keaton’s first film for MGM and his last masterpiece, The Cameraman:

MGM was The Tiffany Studio, full of glitz and glam, and “more stars than there are in heaven.” It was also the studio where comedy went to die. MGM handcuffed Keaton with insipid plots and weak scripts, restricted his ability to do his own stunts and paired him with comedic foils that went together like peanut butter and sardines. And Keaton was slipping down the bottle, further dulling his ability to keep up. In 1933, MGM cut Keaton loose. It took only four years to bankrupt the Great Stone Face.

In between the peak and the fall came 1928’s The Cameraman, Keaton’s first film for MGM and the last one where he had any control. Keaton plays Buster, a small-time photographer who falls for Sally (Marceline Day), a secretary at a newsroom. Smitten, Buster pawns his tintype camera for a newsreel version and hits the streets looking for a story. If he lands the gig at the newsroom, he’ll also land Sally as his belle.

Boulder Weekly Vol. 27, No. 44, “The last masterpiece

The Cameraman is currently available only for purchase (in its new 4K restoration). For those looking for some silent comedy to stream right here and now, how about The Gold Rush? The General? Big Business? Or maybe you’d like to watch Safety Last! — a Harold Lloyd classic:

Harold Lloyd’s Glasses character was a real go-getter. The middle-class boy next door could accomplish anything  he put his mind to. And it made him immensely popular with the rah-rah-rah mentality of the Roaring Twenties. 1923’s Safety Last! might be his best, and funniest, showing off skills in pantomime and daredevil theatrics. The first half of the film finds Lloyd working behind the counter in a chaotic department store — it’s a cyclone of women fighting for bolts of fabric and Lloyd’s attention. The second half of the movie finds Lloyd clinging to the outside of that store, inadvertently free climbing it as a stunt to drum up business. Everything imaginable gets in his way: Clocks, windows, robes, poles, ladders, pigeons… It’s a riot. Streaming on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Home viewing: Silent cinema