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Dave Drazin
Lights, Keaton, 'Cameraman'

EVANSTON REVIEW -- April 8, 2004 (excerpts)

David Drazin - PO Box 267831 - Chicago, IL 60626-7831 carseymour@aol.com




Lights, Keaton, 'Cameraman'

We can think of at least two good reasons to see Buster Keaton's silent comedy "The Cameraman" at 8 p.m. tonight (Thursday) in Northwestern's Block Cinema. 

First, "The Cameraman" (1928) is one of Keaton's more rarely screened feature films, the first he made at MGM, where he essentially had been sold into servitude by his producer/father-in-law Joe Schenck, and where he would soon suffer a precipitous decline in fortunes, his glory years behind him. 

Second, though Keaton technically served only as star, he is unofficially credited as a director and writer of "The Cameraman," which is generally considered one of his funniest and most emotionally satisfying films -- as well as a companion piece to his classic commentary on the nature of movie reality, the amazing "Sherlock, Jr." (1924).

"'The Cameraman' is the movie that began his decline," said professor Thomas Simpson, a senior lecturer in Northwestern's department of French and Italian, who will introduce "The Cameraman" tonight as part of the ongoing Professor's Pick series at Block Cinema. "Yet, it's a terrific film. It covers all the requisite bases for a romantic comedy with a happy ending, but nothing about it is routine." 

Except for the bare-bones outlines of the plot. Buster plays a tintype photographer who falls for a girl (Marceline Day), who works in the newsreel department at MGM -- and he determines to impress her by overcoming his woeful ineptitude to become an intrepid newsreel cameraman.

"It's basically the usual Keaton story about a guy who's a schlump who falls in love with a girl and that makes him a hero," Simpson said. "It's a comedy and it has the required happy ending. (MGM, in an early display or their incomprehension of what made Keaton great, insisted that he end the film with a smiling close-up, which horrified audiences in test screenings and resulted in the reinstatement of his usual stone-faced expression in the final shot, ed.) Yet, there's a greater level of pathos in "The Cameraman" than in Buster's previous films -- the pathos of an artist who may have realized he was coming to the end of the line." 

Professor Thomas Simpson introduces Buster Keaton's 1928 silent comedy "The Cameraman" at 8 p.m. today at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston. Silent film accompanist extraordinaire Dave Drazin provides the live piano score. Admission is $6, $4 for students and seniors. Call (847) 491-4000. 

-- Bruce Ingram

source: http://archives.pioneerlocal.com/cgi-bin/ppo-story/archives/diversions/2004/ev/04-08-04-265182.html

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