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The Cameraman: Criterion Collection (1929) - Blu-ray Review

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The Cameraman (1928)

The Cameraman is the film in which Buster Keaton’s character (accidentally double exposing some pretty hilarious images over each other) discovers the avant-garde on accident.  All joking aside, this comedic masterpiece from the silent era - with one scene hilariously depicting Keaton having to share a cramped changing room with a total stranger - never disappoints.

"Buster Keaton’s love letter to the camera and the profession of film is a glorious offering of silent comedy"


 

Beginning with a tintype photographer who fails to get a man’s picture taken before a ticker tape parade hilariously interrupts the proceedings, Buster Keaton’s love letter to the camera and the profession of film is a glorious offering of silent comedy made all the more richer thanks to the creative control that MGM granted him . . . unfortunately, that contract was short lived.

The Criterion Collection, using three different sources to create this new 4K digital restoration, do not miss a step in showcasing Buster Keaton at the pinnacle of his slapstick skills with their presentation of The Cameraman.  Starring Keaton, Marceline Day, and Harold Goodwin, Keaton’s first film for MGM would prove to be fatal for his career as MGM would soon revoke that deal, crushing his freedom and his inspiration.

Directed by Edward Sedgwick and an uncredited Buster Keaton, The Cameraman is the story of a sidewalk portrait photographer in New York City whose crush on Sally (Day) leads Keaton to take all his money and buy a camera so that he can be one of  MGM's newsreel filmers. His competition, Harold (Goodwin), finds the young man’s ambition hilariously misguided as Keaton continues to mess up, recording himself playing baseball (in all the positions) when the team plays in St. Louis instead of New York.  

But that’s not the end of his woes.  When he shows the footage - most of it backwards and double exposed, showing a US battleship steaming up 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles - to MGM, they laugh him right out of the building, but Sally takes pity on him and - knowing that he is penniless and without a job at MGM - tells him that he must always push forward and inspires him to try again.  And so he does . . . asking her out on a walking date.  She can’t go, but she asks for his number.The Cameraman (1928)

You can guarantee, with a skip in his step, that Keaton will absolutely be waiting for her to call.  Let the domestication begin!   The gag - as he sits next to the door with an alarm clock on his dresser waiting for her to ring his apartment - is both hilarious and heartfelt.  He picks up his tiny bank and shakes it.  There’s money there!  But getting it out involves breaking his bed, the wall of his house, and so forth.  

And then there is the gag where he keeps running up and down stairs to get to the phone.  He either goes up too many flights of stairs, ending up on the roof, or down too many, winding up in the basement, but either way, he’s just way too excited for her to call and before she can even end the call with him, he is right there by her side.  The sequence - involving a stairs set piece that the camera glides down to show Keaton running either up and down - is a masterpiece of timing.

The Cameraman, now fully restored to a 69-minute running time, is yet another priceless addition to your blu-ray collection and a testimony to Keaton’s timelessness.

5/5 stars

The Cameraman (1928)

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Criterion
Available on Blu-ray
- June 16, 2020
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
Music: LPCM 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Buster Keaton is at the peak of his slapstick powers in The Cameraman—the first film that the silent-screen legend made after signing with MGM, and his last great masterpiece. The final work over which he maintained creative control, this clever farce is the culmination of an extraordinary, decade-long run that produced some of the most innovative and enduring comedies of all time. Keaton plays a hapless newsreel cameraman desperate to impress both his new employer and his winsome office crush as he zigzags up and down Manhattan hustling for a scoop. Along the way, he goes for a swim (and winds up soaked), becomes embroiled in a Chinatown Tong War, and teams up with a memorable monkey sidekick (the famous Josephine). The marvelously inventive film-within-a-film setup allows Keaton’s imagination to run wild, yielding both sly insights into the travails of moviemaking and an emotional payoff of disarming poignancy.

Video:

The new 4K digital restoration undertaken by the Cineteca di Bologna, the Criterion Collection, and Warner Bros is a sheer marvel of unseen depth and shadows, looking far richer than thought possible thanks to their collaborative efforts to restore the silent comedy.  The new 4K digital restoration from three elements preserved by various sources and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The transfer is crisp with only a few areas where things get a little blurry. The black levels are strong and detail ripe. Everything has been cleaned-up nicely, preserving filmic qualities.

Audio: 

There is a musical score presented in uncompressed stereo by composer Timothy Brock and performed by the Teatro Comunale di Bologna and I Virtuosi Italiani from 2020.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • There is an audio commentary from 2004 featuring Glenn Mitchell, author of A–Z of Silent Film Comedy: An Illustrated Companion.

Special Features:

Purchasers of this blu-ray get Split Marriage from 1929, Keaton’s second film for MGM, a new documentary on Keaton, a documentary from 2004, new interviews concerning Keaton’s doomed deal at MGM, and another documentary from 1979.

  • Spite Marriage (1929), Buster Keaton’s next feature for MGM following The Cameraman, in a new 2K restoration, with a 2004 commentary by film historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance
  • Time Travelers, a new documentary by Daniel Raim featuring interviews with Bengtson and film historian Marc Wanamaker
  • So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM, a 2004 documentary by film historians Kevin Brownlow and Christopher Bird
  • The Motion Picture Camera (1979), a documentary by A.S.C. cinematographer and film preservationist Karl Malkames, in a 4k restoration
  • New interview with James L. Neibaur, author of The Fall of Buster Keaton: His Films for MGM, Educational Pictures, and Columbia

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 5/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

5/5 stars

The Cameraman (1928)

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime:
76 mins
Director
: Edward Sedgwick
Writer:
Clyde Bruckman; and Lew Lipton
Cast:
Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin
Genre
: Comedy | Drama
Tagline:
BUSTER KEATON WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH 'TILL YOU CRY in THE CAMERAMAN.
Memorable Movie Quote:
Theatrical Distributor:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Official Site:
Release Date:
September 22, 1928
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
June 16, 2020.
Synopsis: Buster Keaton is at the peak of his slapstick powers in The Cameraman—the first film that the silent-screen legend made after signing with MGM, and his last great masterpiece. The final work over which he maintained creative control, this clever farce is the culmination of an extraordinary, decade-long run that produced some of the most innovative and enduring comedies of all time. Keaton plays a hapless newsreel cameraman desperate to impress both his new employer and his winsome office crush as he zigzags up and down Manhattan hustling for a scoop. Along the way, he goes for a swim (and winds up soaked), becomes embroiled in a Chinatown Tong War, and teams up with a memorable monkey sidekick (the famous Josephine).

The Cameraman (1928)

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