The Cameraman: Review
Like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton was a comic genius and cinema pioneer who, despite playing the same basic character over and over, managed to capture the imagination of audiences time and again and continues to entertain fans decades later.
Although less recognized by the average audience today, Keaton (along with Harold Lloyd) was just as revered as Chaplin back in the day. Like Chaplin’s “Little Tramp”, Keaton developed a fixed character that changed very little from film to film. Dubbed “The Great Stone Face” because of his immovable expression, Keaton played off the expectations of others, presenting the same external reaction to every situation. Therefore, if the event was truly funny to moviegoers, Keaton was funny. If a scene generated an honest response of sadness from the audience, Keaton then appeared to be sad. Keaton’s idea is brilliant in concept yet difficult to pull off, unless of course you happen to be an exceptionally well-trained mime artist with years of vaudeville under your belt.
As successful as his endearing personae was, it was a stroke of inspiration when Keaton placed his empathetic man into the character of a freelance cameraman capturing the events of the day. The premise leads the naïve young man into a series of hilarious and often dangerous situations that result in cinematic gold, complete with a stream of startling shots that will take your breath away and make you roar with laughter. The film is especially impressive when you stop to realize that it was produced long before the days of special effects. Every one of Keaton’s visual tricks was generated on site and in camera (basically what you see is what you get), relying on shear ingenuity and the raw elements at hand.
Some people think of Silent Films as an acquired taste, but a few minutes watching The Cameraman will make anyone realize that that’s really selling the form short. After all, most modern comedies include segments of physical and/or situational comedy that require no dialogue at all. Try watching your favorite comedy sometime with the sound turned off and you’ll become acutely aware of just how much silence there is even in today’s most successful films. Other examples of this concept would include Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, Jack Lemmon in the opening sequence of The Odd Couple and John Ritter in just about anything he ever did. Buster Keaton’s films taught us to never underestimate the silence – when it comes to comedy it can most certainly be golden.