Criterion Collection Releases June 2020
This June, Elem Klimov's long-unavailable masterpiece Come and See, will join the Criterion Collection in a new 2K restoration, along with one of the most acclaimed films of 2019 Céline Sciamma's, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which appears on home video for the first time. There's also Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman making its Blu-ray debut, and Kon Ichikawa's documentary, Tokyo Olympiad, appearing on Blu-ray in a 4K restoration. As great as these films are, I am most excited about the addition of a Buster Keaton film that should have been added to the Criterion shelves a long time ago: The Cameraman. The 1928 riotous farce finds the silent-screen legend at the peak of his slapstick powers a landmark 4K restoration. A just application of the latest technology to a cinematic masterpiece.
Buster Keaton was at the peak of his comedic powers when Joseph M. Schenck sold his contract to MGM. The Cameraman was the first film Keaton made after signing with the mega studio. It is considered his last great masterpiece due in large part to the fact it was the final work over which he maintained total creative control. He would make just one more silent feature before the sound era arrived. His hardships in his professional (and private) life took their toll, culminating in a dependence on alcohol, and sometimes violent and erratic behavior. Sadly, when he became depressed, penniless, and out of control, he was fired by MGM in 1933.
The comedic master's final triumph is a clever farce with him playing a hapless newsreel cameraman. In a desperate attempt to impress his employer and his romantic interest, he runs all over Manhattan trying to find unusual situations that will entertain movie audiences. Along the way he becomes embroiled in a Chinatown Tong War, and teams up with a memorable monkey sidekick (the famous Josephine characterized in the movie's posters). The setup of a film-within-a-film allows Keaton's imagination to run wild, yielding both sly insights into the travails of moviemaking and an emotional payoff of disarming poignancy.
Special Edition Features include a new 4K digital restoration undertaken collectively by the Cineteca di Bologna (a film archive in Bologna, Italy founded in 1962), Warner Bros., and the Criterion Collection. A new score by composer Timothy Brock (known for his work on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Last Laugh and The Show-Off ), performed by the orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna in 2020, which is presented in uncompressed stereo on the Blu-ray. There's also an audio commentary from 2004 featuring Glenn Mitchell, author of A-Z of Silent Film Comedy: An Illustrated Companion. Also included is Spite Marriage, another feature film by the "Great Stone Face". The Keaton 1929 followup feature includes a new 2K restoration, with a 2004 commentary by film historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance. In addition, there is a new documentary, Time Travelers by Daniel Raim, features interviews with Bengtson and film historian Marc Wanamaker, and another documentary from 2004, So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM, by film historians Kevin Brownlow (Honorary Oscar winner) and Christopher Bird. And finally, the special Criterion addition has a new interview with James L. Neibaur, author of The Fall of Buster Keaton: His Films for MGM.
If you're a fan of Buster Keaton, or of great Silent Comedies, then this special release is a must have for your collection. If you should be unfamiliar with the "Great Stone Face" then this is an excellent way in which to introduce yourself to one of the greatest artists of the genre.