Sunday, June 23, 2024

NFR Project: 'The Cameraman' (1928)

The Cameraman

Dir: Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton

Scr: Clyde Bruckman, Lew Lipton, Joseph W. Farnham

Pho: Reggie Lanning, Elgin Lessley

Ed: Hugh Wynn

Premiere: September 22, 1928

76 min.

Sad to say, this is the first film in this series that I have run across that I do not feel merits inclusion. While it is an accomplished comedy, in comparison to Buster Keaton's previous features, it is unimaginative and rote.

In 1928, Keaton joined MGM. Unfortunately, he was hired as a performer, not as a writer or director. MGM’s assembly-line approach to making a film was in direct conflict with his previous method of creation, in which he had the ability to alter the movie or improvise as he went along, as he saw fit. He was locked into the studio’s way of doing things.

Fortunately, his director, Sedgwick, could not get the results that he was after onscreen, and he finally ceded some responsibility to Keaton, who quickly got the project back on track. It would be the last film project he had even nominal control over.

In this film, Keaton plays a street photographer, who falls for a pretty girl. He follows her to her workplace, the MGM newsreel department. Seeking to impress her, he becomes an aspiring newsreel cameraman. There are the usual jokes concerning double exposures and the like – Buster’s work is worthless.

The girl gives him a tip and he races to capture a riot on film. He gets the footage, which is then misplaced. Seemingly a failure, he prepares to walk away from the profession until the lost footage is screened and he is lauded for his ability (and he gets the girl as well).

Although it is decently scripted, it does not have the thrill of Keaton’s earlier films. While in them he indulged in epic feats of surrealism, full of camera tricks and outstanding physical stunts, here he is simply a clown, clumsy and impotent. The direction of the film is uninspiring and conventional. The movie is simply too safe.

This was Keaton’s last silent feature. He and Sedgwick would make six more films; slowly Keaton descended into alcoholism and mediocrity. Decades later, Keaton would recover and become a lauded legend, but this film marks the oncoming of his lowest period.

The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: The .Crowd.

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