Sunday, July 24, 2011

SKIDOO: You Gotta Be There!

The following was
written by North-
west Film Forum
program director
Adam Sekuler to
promote a
screening of this
under-seen gem.
I'm posting it
with his permis-
sion on the occa-
sion of the film's
long-awaited ar-
rival on DVD.


SKIDOO
(Otto Preminger, US, 1968, 97 mins.)


The best film screening the first week of SIFF is easily Skidoo. It's this
Sunday at 3pm at the Film Forum, not in the SIFF program actually, but is
a part of our Secret Sunday matinee series. We don't typically divulge the
feature, but this is just that rare and just that good. I can't recommend
this enough, and in my typically verbose way, here's why you HAVE to be
here for it. Its not available on DVD or VHS, and the film rarely plays!

Skidoo presents an unlikely domestic situation in which Jackie Gleason
plays a retired San Francisco hit man-turned-car wash owner and Carol
Channing
plays his daffy wife. Yes, Gleason and Channing as man and
wife; can you imagine them making love? Gleason soon finds himself on a
mission from God. Not the God of the Father-Son-and-Holy Spirit fame,
but the head of the local mob who is known as God. God is played by
Groucho Marx
, and if you can believe Groucho as a mafia chieftain…



Anyway, Gleason is ordered by God to get himself arrested and sent to
Alcatraz, where he is to do a hit on a former gangster who turned infor-
mer. Unfortunately for Gleason, this target (played by Mickey Rooney,
who seems to be reading his lines from cue cards) is in ultra-tight protec-
tive custody and is thus immune from unpleasant visitors carrying shanks.

Unable to fulfill his assignment and stuck in Alcatraz on a bogus
rap, Gleason finds an escape by accident: he shares a cell with
a draft-dodging writer (Austin Pendleton, in his film debut)
who laced the glue of his stationery envelopes with LSD.

Meanwhile,
Channing is
coping with the
news their
teenage daugh-
ter [Alexandra
Hay]
has fallen
in with a group
of hippies. The
mod mom hap-
pily embraces
the hippies
and brings
them into her
home. She
tries to get
to God by seducing a young mobster (Frankie Avalon; yes, that
Frankie Avalon). When that fails, she and the hippies commandeer a
small armada and sail off to God's yacht off the San Francisco coast.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

In 2009, the NWFF screened Model Shop as part of their 1969 series. Jacques
Demy's Los Angeles effort also features Alexandra Hay, the daughter in
Skidoo.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
***** *****

Meanwhile, Gleason spikes the soup in the Alcatraz commissar-
y with the LSD-laced envelopes and creates a makeshift balloon
out of garbage bags and a garbage can. He and his druggie cell-
mate fly off to God's yacht just as the hippie fleet arrives. After
much to-do, God and the acid-tripping writer abandon ship to-
gether and sail off into the sunset with a bountiful supply of acid.

Skidoo is such a wild assault on the senses that it's hard to im-
agine the film was ever made. Under Preminger's direction, LSD
is a liberating and empowering tool; it makes Gleason and Marx's
characters end their criminal ways in pursuit of a greater truth. It
also allows an astonishing number of guest stars in the Alcatraz
sequences (including Rooney, Peter Lawford, Richard Kiel,
Burgess Meredith
and Frank Gorshin) tripping on acid.

If that's not enough, the film is packed with other unlikely star
turns including Cesar Romero as Avalon's dad, George Raft
as the skipper of God's yacht, Arnold Stang as Gleason's stooge,
and the great character actor Fred Clark and singer Harry
Nilsson
(who wrote the music) as prison guards.

As for the acid
trips, Premin-
ger fills the
screen with
such imagery
as the Green
Bay Packers
mooning the
camera and
an elaborate
dance se-
quence with
women dressed in garbage cans doing a mock ballet under a
red light. Preminger reportedly experimented with Timothy
Leary
to get a feel for what one experiences on LSD, even
insisting that everyone try LSD before making the film!

Skidoo is one of the most wonderfully rude movies ever made. It is
so blatantly weird and in such marvelously bad taste that it feels as if
Preminger was prescient on the pending rise of underground counter-
culture comedy such as John Waters and Cheech and Chong.

It is a film where the druggies are the heroes and even criminals can
become angels if they just learn to chill with LSD. It is a movie where
Hollywood's icons happily ham it up while being under the narcotic in-
fluence and the closing shot, with Groucho Marx and Austin Pendleton
dressed as Hare Krishnas in a boat full of drugs is too funny to endure.

Okay, that's a hell of a lot about this film, but it's really the best
thing screening this week in Seattle, and you only have this one
chance to see it. Even if its 79 degrees on Sunday, don't miss out!

--Adam Sekuler, Wednesday, May 20, 2009



Endnote: Images from Talking Moviezzz and Paper.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Revenge is a dish best served… to the lions!

He Who Gets Slapped (1924)

Sunday July 17, 7:30pm, The Castro, San Francisco



A gifted scientist is betrayed by his mentor who discredits him, then steals his research, and his wife. Humiliated, Paul Beaumont (Lon Chaney) disappears into self-exile and the anonymity of life as a circus clown. He contently suffers for years until his nemesis re-appears and plots to corrupt the lovely young bareback rider Consuelo (Norma Shearer) with the help of her wretched father.

The first original Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production had to be spectacular and it was. Based on the play by Leonid Andreyev, He Who Gets Slapped (1924) was the second of nine Hollywood films directed by Swedish master Victor Sjöström. Ethereal images of clowns used thematically throughout the film are both hauntingly beautiful and horrifying. Chaney delivers a searing (and possibly his best) role as a broken, demoralized shell of a man, opposite a luminous Shearer, John Gilbert as Bezano her intended, Tully Marshall, Ford Sterling and of course, Leo.



The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Midnites for Maniacs present Lon Chaney in Victor Sjöström's MGM masterpiece, He Who Gets Slapped (1924) with live misical accompaniment performed returning artists, The Matti Bye Ensemble.

Life before von Sternberg

The Woman Men Yearn For (1928)

Saturday July 16, 8.30pm, The Castro, San Francisco



A prince of industry abandons his bride when his head is turned by a mysterious and beautiful woman. Catching a glimpse of Staacha (Marlene Dietrich) through a train window, Henri LeBlanc (Uno Henning) is instantly bewitched. His resolve crumbles as she pleads for his help to escape her sinister travelling companion Dr. Karoff (Fritz Kortner). She only reveals the truth after Henri is hopelessly under her spell.

Based on Max Brod's original novel, The Woman Men Yearn For (1929) stars Dietrich the year before her breakout film The Blue Angel in a largely forgotten and surprisingly substantial role as the femme fatale with a twist. Excellent use of miniatures, industrial montage, spectacular costumes and the furious New Years Eve party are memorable.
Director Curtis Bernhardt immigrated to Hollywood in 1940, establishing himself as a women's director in films starring Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and many others.



The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Film Noir Foundation, the Goethe-Institut San Francisco and German Consulate of San Francisco present The Women Men Yearn For (1929) with live musical accompaniment performed for returning artists, The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Mother isn't quite herself today."

The Goose Woman (1925)

Saturday July 16, 4pm, The Castro, San Francisco



A bitter old woman drowns her sorrows in gin and recalls her career as a great opera singer that ended with the illegitimate birth of her child. Long forgotten, the great Marie de Nardi (Louise Dresser) is known as Mary Holmes, the "Goose Woman" to her village, until detectives discover her past while investigating a murder. In an attempt to regain her lost fame she fabricates an eyewitness account of the crime which implicates her son.

Produced by Universal Pictures and directed by Clarence Brown, The Goose Woman (1925) begins as a beautifully stylized and modest character piece, but develops into a sensational morality play with a compelling performance by Miss Dresser as the title character. The supporting cast includes Gustav von Seyfertitz as Mr. Vogel, the States Attorney, Jack Pickford (inexplicably with top billing) as Mary's son Gerald Holmes and lovely young Constance Bennett as his fiancée Hazel Woods.


The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and San Francisco Opera present Louise Dresser in The Goose Woman (1925), with live musical accompaniment performed by returning pianist Stephen Horne.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Chump from Oxford

Mr. Fix-It (1918)

Saturday July 16, 6.30pm, The Castro, San Francisco



An American at Oxford sends his "happy-go-lucky" roommate home in his place to fix looming family problems. Reginald (Leslie Stuart) hasn't been to the states in fifteen years, so his sister, aunts and uncle are clueless when Remington (Douglas Fairbanks) shows up and turns their blue-nosed, stogy lives upside down. Before long, marriage engagements are broken, the house is filled with playful orphans and "Mr. Fix-It" is climbing the stairs on his hands.

Written and directed by Hollywood legend and Fairbanks favorite Allan Dwan, Mr. Fix-It (1918) is a shining example of the light comedy and physical gymnastics that made "Doug" a Broadway star. His dinner table tricks, antics with the kids and a spectacular mid-picture brawl are worthy of particular note. Mr. Fix-It was also released in April 1918 only days after Fairbanks, Charles Chaplin and Mary Pickford appeared before thousands at rallies promoting the third Liberty Loan drive.


The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Wells Fargo present Douglas Fairbanks in Mr. Fix-It (1918), presented with live musical accompaniment performed by returning organist Dennis James at the Castro's 4/21 Wurlitzer.


Chaplin and Fairbanks on Wall Street, April 8, 1918

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Boyz wilb Boyz



Huckleberry Finn (1920)
Friday July 15, 2pm, The Castro, San Francisco


An old maid adopts motherless Huckleberry Finn to "sivilize" his coarse, free-spirited behavior. Her plans are thwarted when the boy is kidnapped by his father, the abusive town drunk. Huck escapes by faking his own murder and befriends a runaway slave. Their tranquil life of rafting on the river is interrupted by two seedy con-men who sell Jim and involve Huck in fraud, while he masquerades as his best friend Tom Sawyer and falls in love.

Missing the satirical bite and social consciousness of Mark Twain's 1885 novel, director William Desmond Taylor's Huckleberry Finn (1920) displays a sentimental fondness for the story in a production that typifies the consistent quality associated with Taylor and Paramount Pictures. Huckleberry Finn is also noteworthy as the first theatrical film version of the book and for Esther Ralston's oldest surviving performance in a feature film, as the object of Huck's affection Mary Jane Wilkes.


The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the California Historical Society present William Desmond Taylor's Huckleberry Finn (1920), with live musical accompaniment performed by returning pianist Donald Sosin.

Sons of an Apple Polisher


An Adult's Picture Book View - I Was Born, But… (1932)
Friday July 15, 4.15pm, The Castro, San Francisco


Two brothers move to a new town and learn that the ways of the schoolyard and the ways of adulthood are not so different. Keiji and Ryoichi play hooky to avoid a bully, are shamed by their father's subservience to his boss, and challenge authority while relying on each other.

An idyllic portrait of suburban life and emerging adolescence in pre-war Japan, I Was Born, But… (1932) is a well-suited introduction to the great director of social commentary, Yasujiro Ozu. Never was so much value placed on a sparrow's egg, so much pragmatism on a pair of unsharpened pencils or so much love conveyed in the eyes of a parent. I Was Born But… survives with a handful Ozu's silent films as the work of an emerging master. Unassumingly hilarious, modestly sentimental and uniquely Ozu, I was Born, But… ultimately transcends its cultural boundaries as a universal celebration of childhood.


The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Center for Asian American Media present Yasujiro Ozu's silent masterpiece, I Was Born, But… (1932), with live musical accompaniment performed by returning pianist Stephen Horne.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"...the boy in the horn-rimmed glasses."


Grandma's Boy (1922)
Friday July 8, 7.30pm, Kenyon Hall, Seattle


Of all his films, Harold Lloyd considered Grandma's Boy (1922) his personal favorite. The second of eleven silent features starring Lloyd, it was the story of a kind-hearted boy, convinced of his own cowardice, but driven by his determination to marry the girl he loves. He suffers humiliation at the hands of his rival, played by long-time Lloyd and Roach regular Charles Stevenson, and a brutish hobo who terrorizes the town. Harold lives with his adorable old Grandma (Anna Townsend), who dotes on the boy and laments his failures, "Poor Sonny – There ought to be some way to help him." In the end, she does find a way, giving Harold the confidence to battle his demons with hilarious and spectacular results. Never reluctant to be upstaged for the sake of a good picture, even by babies or animals, Harold shares the screen with a colorful cast of local townsfolk, and a generous compliment of cows, chickens, horses, pigs, puppies and kittens, all put to good use in a well developed sequence of sentimental and humorous scenes. Mildred Davis, in her thirteenth of fifteen films with Lloyd, plays the girl, a bundle of blond curls and lace, sweet on the boy and not afraid to show it. When Harold comes calling she plays the family organ, but its merely an excuse to sing, "I love you – I love you – I love you." This film may best exploit the "candy box prettiness" biographer Tom Dardis described in the future Mrs. Lloyd. Grandma's Boy includes the standard Lloyd fare: break-neck chases (by any means), a colossal fight, and wonderfully entertaining intertiles from the always-undervalued H. M. "Beany" Walker. Careful notice of The Rolling Stone character, a malevolent hobo played by Dick Sutherland, reveal the obvious influence on a popular green troll seen in current animated features. Other beautifully added touches to the film include, a kicking mule in a punchbowl, a frightened goose peeking around a corner, mothballs inadvertently placed in a box of candy, a litter of kittens menaced by a china dog, and Grandma's brief but priceless celebration jig.

West Seattle's Kenyon Hall presents Harold Lloyd in Grandma's Boy (1922), with live musical accompaniment performed by returning pianist Donald Sosin at the Chickering grand.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lady of the Flies

CRACKS
(Jordan Scott,
UK/Ireland/
Spain, 2009,
unrated,
104 mins.)



"The most im-
portant thing
in life is desire."

--Miss Gribben
(Eva Green)



From the trail-
er for Cracks,
the first feat-
ure from Rid-
ley Scott's
daughter, Jordan, I expected a cross between 1931's Mädchen in Uni-
form
and 1975's Picnic at Hanging Rock. That's not quite what I got.

The casting of Eva Green (The Dreamers, Casino Royale) and Juno
Temple
(Atonement, Kaboom) added to my curiosity, not just because
they're actresses drawn to sexually provocative material, but because all
three have famous parents: Algerian-born French actress Marlène Jobert
in the case of Green and British director Julien Temple in the case of Juno.

Like many of Sir Ridley's films, though, Jordan's adaptation of Sheila Koh-
ler's novel focuses more on power than sex (not that the two are unrelat-
ed). In this case, an exotic figure enters a regimented scene, and every-
one feels powerless, though the interloper isn't as powerful as they think,
and the more presumptions they make, the more powerless she becomes.

Filmed in Ireland, the story takes place on Stanley Island in 1934. Green
plays Miss Gribben, whom the girls call Miss G, a glamorous and free-spir-
ited physical education teacher at a remote boarding school for girls. Noti-
ceably younger than the other instructors, she wears trousers and sneaks
smokes in private with Temple's Di (Sinéad Cusack plays headmistress).



From the way Di looks at Miss G, she appears to adore her. From the way Miss G looks at Di, she appreciates the adoration. If Di, the head girl of her section, worships her teacher, she can be cruel to the other girls. Miss G also loans her banned books. "I don't think it's wrong to want to know about the real world," Di tells a friend. "We can't stay pure forever."

Then, the school admits Fiamma (María Valverde), a Catholic student
from an aristocratic Spanish family. The other girls, who harbor strange
superstitions about Catholics, are less than welcoming, while Di is down-
right unpleasant, but Fiamma takes it in stride. Despite her asthma, she
impresses Miss G with her diving skills, which makes Di resent her more.

As winter gives way to spring, everyone but Di warms towards Fiamma,
while Miss G looks at the dark-haired girl the way Di used to look at her
(she also hides a few of Fiamma's belongings in her room). Though they
share stories of their travels, the tide turns when Fiamma discovers that
Miss G likes to embellish her past--and may have never left the island.

Soon, the teacher also sees her as a threat, and pushes her too hard during diving practice, knowing she should take care with an asthmatic. (Miss G also takes the girls skinny-dipping in a scene more suggestive than explicit, though Green and Temple have done nude scenes before.)

The title comes from the cracks that develop in Miss G's composure. Self-assured at the outset, she becomes paranoid once Fiamma finds her out, at which point Di steps up her campaign, which upsets Fiamma. The cracks, in other words, take on a life of their own, though Fiamma has done nothing to cause them. The struggle continues throughout the film.

Just when things can't get much worse, they get better, but it's the calm
before the storm. The way D.P. John Mathieson (several Ridley films, in-
cluding Gladiator), shoots the surrounding water and the way Miss G ob-
sesses about diving as an end in itself--she has no interest in competition--
creates the impression that someone will drown (or suffocate) before this
claustrophobic tale is through, and when one of the women oversteps her
bounds, tensions reach a boiling point. Something has to give, and it does.

Cracks isn't as much of a genre classic as Mädchen, and some critics are likely to dismiss it as casually as they did Notes on a Scandal and Asylum, melodramas which share a similar hyper-feminine, hothouse atmosphere. Except for a few quick cuts at the beginning, Scott's directing is fluid, and all tech credits, as one would expect from a Scott heir, are first-rate.

Assuming you buy the story, and
I was willing to go with it, that
leaves the acting, an area where
Scott seems likely to improve
with experience. The actresses
aren't bad, but no one went as deep as they could (Temple and Imogen Poots, who plays Poppy, have been better in other films).

In the end, it all comes down to
Green, who shows more range
than before, but her performance
rests largely on the surface,
though she deserves credit for
taking on such a challenging role.

With her looks, she could make
a lot of easy money, but since
The Dreamers
, she's avoided
rote rom-coms and expendable girlfriend roles for movies like the dys-
topian drama Perfect Sense from Asylum director David Mackenzie.

If the ending arrives as a foregone conclusion, Cracks kept me riveted
from start to finish, and Scott handles the thriller-like final act well, even if
the calm, cool, and collected epilogue feels anti-climactic in comparison.

So, I didn't get the Mädchen or Hanging Rock I was expecting, as the film
plays instead more like a cross between The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
and The Virgin Suicides (as Noel Murray notes in his AV Club review, Koh-
ler also wrote her book in first-person plural). And I'm okay with that.



Cracks plays the Varsity Theatre (4329 University Way NE) through Thurs., 6/30. For more information, please click here. Images from IFC.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

SIFF Dispatch #5

Click here for
SIFF Dispatch #4


The 33rd
Seattle In-
ternational
Film Festi-
val
conclud-
es tonight at
6:00pm with
Kevin Mac-
donald's Life
in a Day
at the Cinerama. Produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, Macdon-
ald constructed the 90-minute documentary from 5,000 hours worth of
YouTube-submitted footage. Editor Joe Walker will be in attendance.

One of my co-workers signed a release form, so she's hoping her video
made the cut, but won't know until she sees the final result (she's a fine
photographer, so I wish her the best). As with The First Grader, Life
is a product of Nat Geo Movies, a logical extension of the enduring print
publication (they also released SIFF '10's Oscar-nominated Restrepo).



I was unable to attend the press screening, which took place two weeks
ago, but my friend Kevin says it's worth the price of admission, and I've
enjoyed Macdonald's other films, including Touching the Void, The Last
King of Scotland
, and the underrated State of Play, his feature-film ver-
sion of the BBC miniseries (I still haven't seen One Day in September, for
which he won the Academy Award). John Hartl also gave Life a rave in
The Seattle Times
. The closing night party follows the film at 8:00pm
at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Life in a Day opens nationwide on July 24.

Other closing day highlights include Belgium's Illegal, which plays Pacific
Place at 7:00pm, and Japan's Norwegian Wood, which plays the Egyp-
tian at 3:30pm. I attended last week's press screening for Vietnam-born
filmmaker Tran Anh Hung's Haruki Murakami adaptation, but decided to
leave once I realized the digital projection would not include subtitles.



A few hardy souls remained, one of whom, Brent McKnight, wrote a piece
about the experience. McKnight says that there isn't much dialogue, so he
could still appreciate the 133-minute feature, but I found that option less
than ideal, especially since I just read the 1987 book a few months ago.

Although I missed the Paris-based director's last film, I Come with the
Rain
, I found his Vietnamese trilogy enchanting. That said, Norwegian
Wood
features music from Can and Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, which
sounds appealing, but no such music appears in Murakami's semi-autobio-
graphical novel. He intends that title literally: it's all Beatles, all the time.



Sadly, the same thing happened when I returned to Pacific Place two
days later for another 10am press screening, this time for South Korean
blockbuster The Yellow Sea. Once again: no subtitles. That was bad
enough, but in both cases, the films continued to play and staffers made
no announcements. It was hard to figure out what was going on or why.

Fortunately, SIFF rescheduled a press screening, which went off with-
out a hitch. Though longer than necessary, I found Na Hong-Jin's thril-
ler riveting. No exact date has been set, but it opens in Seattle this fall.



Here are five other selections opening in the next few months: The Last
Mountain
(July 8), Winnie the Pooh (July 15), Tabloid and If a Tree
Falls: A Story of the ELF
(July 22), and Another Earth (August).

I caught the final screening
of Errol Morris's Tabloid, and
would definitely recommend it,
though I haven't met a Morris
film yet that I didn't like (I re-
viewed his 2008 Abu Ghraib
documentary, Standard Op-
erating Procedure
, here).

At its worst, his latest is slightly
less substantial than the rest,
but that just makes it more en-
tertaining, since comely sub-
ject Joyce McKinney, former
beauty queen and S&M prac-
titioner, is a hoot and a half.

Morris, who won an Oscar for
the similarly-structured Fog of
War: Eleven Lessons from the
Life of Robert S. McNamara
, never states definitively that McKinney real-
ly kidnapped Mormon missionary Kirk Anderson, and the object of her ob-
session declined to appear in the film, but the facts speak for themselves.

Though McKinney agreed to participate in the Showtime project, she's
since been protesting it with every fiber of her considerable being and
even showed up after Thursday's screening with one of her cloned dogs
in tow (I managed to miss this spectacle). She claims that Morris lied a-
bout his intentions and edited the documentary to make her look bad.

Watch for yourself and decide, or better yet, read the statement "truth-
teller," likely McKinney herself, posted on the SIFF website. In the film,
the tabloid sensation states, "You can tell a lie for long enough that you
believe it." She isn't talking about herself--but maybe she should be.

Endnote: Images from Screen Daily and The L Magazine.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

SIFF Dispatch #4

Click here for
SIFF Dispatch #3


The Seattle
Internation-
al Film Fes-
tival
has been
underway for
over two weeks
now, and I've
gotten my sec-
ond wind. I
don't tend to
see as many films as your average full series pass holder, but it's still a chal-
lenge to balance the fest with a trio of freelance/part-time gigs.

Other than a couple of interviews that fell through, though, things
have been going pretty well, and to be on the safe side, I've decid-
ed not to request any others, though it might've been fun to speak
with Magic Trip's Alex Gibney or Bellflower's Evan Glodell.

There are no more screenings of Bellflower, a high-octane,
blood-drenched road-trip romance that feels like an instant cult
classic, but Glodell's debut found a distributor in Adam Yauch's
Oscilloscope Labratories, and opens in limited release on 8/5.



In the Beastie Boys, Yauch goes by Ad Rock, and Santigold guests on the
trio's new record. Considering that Bellflower was shot over three years
for approximately $17,000, I was surprised to find her songs listed in the
credits. I'm guessing that Yauch pulled a string or two to keep the music
costs down. At the Q&A, Glodell, who plays passive-aggressive Mad Max
fan Woodrow, says that Oscilloscope will also be releasing a soundtrack.

As for Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place, there's one
screening left on Sat., June 4, at the Egyptian. An Oscar winner for Taxi
to the Dark Side
, Gibney has also made films about Enron (The Smartest
Guys in the Room
), Hunter S. Thompson (Gonzo: The Life and Work of
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
), Jack Abramoff (Casino Jack & the United Stat-
es of Money
), and Eliot Spitzer (Client 9), all of which are worth a look.

I had hoped to make it to the Magic Trip press screening, but I was up
late the night before after watching The Last Circus (Balada Triste de
Trompeta), and had too much work to do the next day. Unfortunately,
there are no more screenings of this Álex de la Iglesia horror movie
mash-up, which references everything from Freaks to Pan's Labyrinth.



Granted, I always end up missing a few films, but that's hard to avoid,
unless you can afford to take time off work. In the 1990s, I approach-
ed the fest that way, but as a freelancer, it's no longer an option...not
as long as I want to pay the rent. A short list of other SIFF '11 misses
include Mika Kaurismäki’s Mama Africa (about the late Miriam Make-
ba); Michael Winterbottom's The Trip (with Steve Coogan and Rob Bry-
don); Sophie Fiennes' Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow; The Night
of Counting the Years
; Bill Morrison's Spark of Being; and Kevin
Macdonald's Life in a Day, the closing night selection, which screen-
ed for the press on Friday. The Trip opens 6/17 at the Harvard Exit.

Fortunately, I've been able to see everything else that's attracted my
attention, either through press or public screenings. DVD screeners are
also available to the press corps, but since the publicity department now
requires writers to submit a credit card to check them out, I've decided to
opt out. It's not that I don't trust the staff or their system to keep my da-
ta safe, but that I disagree with this approach, and would rather miss a
film than hand over my card. I don't usually complain about SIFF's inner
workings, because I'm a longtime volunteer, contributor, and member. I
know how hard it is to put on a festival, but…growth comes at a price.



Frankly, I'd rather talk about the films. In reviewing the Tehran-set
Circumstance for Amazon, I wrote, "Filmed in Beirut, American-born
writer/director Maryam Keshavarz's feature-film debut is pitched some-
where between [Udayan Prasad's] My Son the Fanatic and [Bahman
Ghobadi's] No One Knows about Persian Cats. If less overtly political,
she's equally sympathetic towards her protagonists and just as critic-
al of the individuals and institutions that would stand in their way."

The beautifully shot entry stars Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy, and Re-
za Sixo Safai, all of whom are very good (and also quite beautiful). Kesh-
avarz and Safai are scheduled to attend the screenings at the Harvard
Exit on Sat., 6/4, at 6:30pm and the Egyptian on Mon., 6/6, at 4:15pm.

Britain's Andrew Haigh will also be in attendance at the 6/5 screening of
Weekend at SIFF Cinema at 4:30pm. The first took place yesterday at
the Harvard Exit. For Amazon, I wrote, "Most everyone has had the exper-
ience of meeting someone new and feeling an instant connection. Transfer-
ring that phenomenon to the big screen, however, tends to fall flat when
the cast and the script aren't up to the task. As in Richard Linklater's the-
matically similar Before Sunrise, director Haigh has no such problem."



Since the film is largely a two-hander, it helps that Tom Cullen and Chris
New work so well together. In addition to Sunrise, I was reminded of Brief
Encounter
, while a friend cited Friday Night. The comparison to David Lean
might seem a stretch, since Haigh's protagonists are neither heterosexual
nor married...but the climactic scene does take place at a train station.

Other recommendations include Christopher Munch's environmental-
ly-oriented Letters from the Big Man with Lily Rabe, the daughter
of Jill Clayburgh and David Rabe, and S.J. Clarkson's hilarious and
heartbreaking Toast with Oscar Kennedy and Helena Bonham Carter.

Munch, who directed The Hours
and Times
and Color of a Brisk
and Leaping Day
, will be in at-
tendance. I'm also fond of his
semi-autobiographical Sleepy Time Gal with Jacqueline Bisset.

Letters
plays SIFF Cinema on
Fri., 6/10, at 6:30pm and Sat.,
6/11, at 4:30pm, while Toast,
an adaptation of chef Nigel Slat-
er's memoir, plays the Neptune
on Sat., 6/11, at 6:30pm and
Sun., 6/12, at 11am. It's one
of my favorites of the festival.

In an echo of Sweeney Todd's
Mrs. Lovett, Bonham Carter is
expectedly great as Nigel's bras-
sy, manipulative stepmother, but
I believe young Mr. Kennedy gives one of the year's finest child perfor-
mances (Finding Neverland's Freddie Highmore, also good, plays the 16-
year-old version). Ken Stott, as his father, and Lark Rise to Candleford's
Victoria Hamilton, as his mother, are equally strong. Clarkson, who has
helmed episodes of Life on Mars and House, will be at the screenings.

Click here for SIFF Dispatch #5.


Endnote: Toast still from Iain Stott's The One-Line Review.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

SIFF Dispatch #3

Click here for
SIFF Dispatch #2


I've been at-
tending SIFF
for 23 years,
so it's fair to
say I'm a vet-
eran. For 11
years, I vol-
unteered for
the festival;
for eight
years, I've
written for
the program guide; and for six years, I've covered it for Amazon, in-
dieWIRE, Reel News, The Stranger, and other websites and weeklies.

Through all these years, a pattern has emerged. Come week two: I feel
burned out. After all, freelancers start writing for the guide in early April,
so by late May, I've been steeped in screeners and screenings for weeks.

This year, burn-out hit between days eight and nine, and that's par for the
course. It's not that I get tired of watching films, it's my year-round occu-
pation, but I start to miss the life that lies beyond dark screening rooms.

A morning at home, for instance, feels like a luxury. I can get up when
I want, make my own mocha, fix my own meals, read the news, write
reviews, and catch up with some of the folks unable to attend the fest.

Furthermore, the SIFF press department was unable to accommodate
my interview requests. I could be wrong, but I don't think that's ever
happened before. This year, I was hoping to interview directors Peter
Richardso
n and Mike Mills, whose films have now come and gone.



I caught Richardson's follow-up to Clear Cut - The Story of Philomath, Oregon last weekend, where he and several individuals featured in the new documentary, including Cody Curtis's family, participated in a Q&A.

In the film, which premiered on HBO last Thursday, Richardson profiles
Curtis, an engaging 54-year-old mother of two who suffered from stage
4 liver cancer, and others who've taken advantage of Oregon's death
with dignity law. He also documents the law's passage in Washington.

It's heartbreaking, but he recounts their experiences with a sure hand,
never overstaying his welcome or exploiting their emotions. The same
could be said of Mike Mills, who directed my favorite film of 2005, an
under-appreciated version of Walter Kirn's 1999 novel Thumbsucker.

For his second
feature, he
draws from his
life in depict-
ing an artist
(Ewan McGreg-
or) navigating
a relationship
with an actress
(Mélanie Laur-
ent) while mourning his
widowed father (Christopher Plummer), who announced he was gay be-
fore finding out he had terminal cancer. It's hardly as grim as it sounds.

If anything, I wish Mills had dug even deeper. I found Beginners charm-
ing, but not as moving as I expected. Still, I would recommend this deli-
cately directed film, which opens at the Harvard Exit on Friday, 6/10.

I had planned to interview Mills, who doubles as a documentarian
(Does Your Soul Have a Cold and Beautiful Losers with Treatment's
Joshua Leonard), for Sean Axmaker's site, Parallax View, where
he and other film critics have been covering the fest in fine style.



Lost interview opportunities aside, those were two highlights from the first
week of SIFF '11. The good news is that I only need a day to get back in-
to the swing of things. Fortunately, I have just three films on deck for this
weekend, including the Patty Schemel documentary, Hit So Hard, which
I caught last night. I was so tired, I almost skipped it, but I'm glad I went.

Afterward, I ran into Tom Kipp, a frequent presenter at the EMP Pop Con-
ference, who felt that there were a few too many scenes that lasted longer
than necessary. He has a point, but we agreed that the film is worth a look.

Raised in Marysville, Schemel went from drumming in local bands, like Doll
Squad, to membership in Hole. Along the way, she came out of the closet,
cavorted with Kurt and Courtney (intimate home-movie footage of the two
is likely to interest even non-fans), drank too much, took too many drugs,
and ended up homeless on the streets of Los Angeles before slowly mak-
ing her way back to sobriety, a second career, and a family of her own.

The second screening of Hit So Hard takes place on Sun., 5/29, at 4pm
at the Neptune. Schemel, director P. David Ebersole, and the producers
will be in attendance. Schemel's brother, Larry, showed up at the Egyptian
and said that he and Patty are making music again, just as they did in the
1980s (her brother provided much of the archival material in the film).

Next, I'm look-
ing forward to
Mahamat-Sal-
eh Haroun's A
Screaming
Man
(Un Hom-
me Qui Crie
)
which has a fin-
al screening at
Pacific Place on
Sun., 5/29, at
10am. In 2007,
SIFF program-
med his mag-
nificent Daratt, which I watched at a sadly underpopulated SIFF Cinema.

Considering the praise which greeted Bye Bye Africa and Abouna, Har-
oun's first features, I was saddened by Seattle's lack of interest in this
masterful filmmaker. By contrast, The Stranger's Charles Mudede has
been a Haroun supporter for awhile now. My friend, Bill, agrees with
him that Man marks another triumph for the Chad-based director, so
I hope the city shows more love this year, though the early-morning
start time will surely scare off a few punters. Plus, it plays opposite
SIFF's perennially popular Secret Festival (11am at the Egyptian).

I didn't get a chance to preview Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Mis-
adventure
, but Chris Estey provides an informed preview at Three Im-
aginary Girls. As Chris knows, I've been obsessed with the "Little Man"
phenomenon since I discovered it in the 1980s, and I've always wonder-
ed whatever happened to the booze-sozzled Bay Area bickerers, Peter
and Raymond, as well as the two gents who chronicled their exploits.

As someone who has lived with
and next door to couples who
have, at times, recalled Peter
and Raymond, I appreciate the
reminder that I'm not alone,
though I can't imagine actual-
ly recording conversations
and releasing transcripts.

Instead, I once wrote a short
story for a writing class about
my college roommate and her
boyfriend, but I made certain
to change their names. Separ-
ately, they were nice people. Together: disaster (they ended up dropping out). Shut Up Lit-
tle Man!
plays Sat., 5/28, at 10pm at the Neptune and Mon., 5/30, at 9pm at the Egyptian.

I attended Hit So Hard with Chris Burlingame who'll be interviewing Patty Schemel for his site, Another Rainy Saturday. Click here for his review of Shut Up Little Man! Burlingame has also contributed to Three Imaginary Girls and The KEXP Blog, where you can find even more SIFF coverage.

Click here for SIFF Dispatch #4.

Endnote: Images from indieWIRE, Chad Now, Film Move-
ment
, and Focus Features by way of AllMoviePhoto.com.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

SIFF Dispatch #2

Click here for
SIFF Dispatch #1


Because I have
three jobs, I
can’t attend
every press
screening, and
that’s fine, be-
cause I’d nev-
er have time to
cover them all.


Consequently, I’ve been concentrating on the films that interest me
the most. This method reduces the number of pleasant--and unpleas-
ant--surprises, but I can always catch up with the unexpectedly strong
selections during the festival proper, which began on Friday, May 20.

Or at least I can try. The great thing about SIFF is that it brings a lot of
worthy films to light. If you miss something during the festival, there’s always the possibility that you can catch it afterward through theatrical screenings, video, cable, network and public television, downloads, and streaming video. (The options appear to be multiplying by the minute.)

When it comes to documentaries, for instance, PBS’s Independent Lens
often snaps up some of the finer entries, most recently the Oscar-nomi-
nated Waste Land (disclosure: I work part-time at KCTS 9). There’s a
catch, though: you sometimes have to wait a year, if not longer. Mugabe
and the White African
(SIFF '10), for instance, doesn’t air until this July.

That said,
there’s noth-
ing like exper-
iencing a film
with an enthu-
siastic audi-
ence. I’ll al-
ways remem-
ber catching
Kinji Fukasa-
ku’s final film,
Battle Roy-
ale
, at the Cinerama. I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it on my computer or TV screen, but the reactions from the crowd added to the excitement.

I haven’t seen anything quite that exciting yet, but that’s no com-
plaint; Fukasaku set the bar impossibly high (at least within the
realm of dystopian action-adventure fare). So far, two documen-
taries have impressed me the most: James Marsh’s Project Nim
and Andrew Rossi’s Page One: Inside the New York Times.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

"It's the closest thing I can imagine to a walking J.G. Ballard
novel, a chilling story of mad science that would sound like
a bad TV movie adaptation of a Ray Bradbury short story."

-- Empire contributing editor Damon Wise on Project Nim

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Marsh, a British director who divides his time between fiction and non-
fiction films, has a mixed record with SIFF, but the tide should turn with
Nim
, which recounts the remarkable story of a remarkable creature.

Five years ago, the director brought the narrative feature The King to
town, which met with a fairly negative reaction. The film had its admir-
ers, such as KIRO’s Tom Tangney, but I had to look hard to find them.

Then, in 2008, SIFF screened Man on Wire, which met with an over-
whelmingly positive response, and won the best documentary Oscar. Time will tell if Nim can scale those heights. Due to a subject that has little to do with world affairs, a nomination seems unlikely, and that’s unfortunate. Then again, Man on Wire was a left-field entry that went the distance.

Further, Amir Bar-Lev’s impassioned Tillman Story (SIFF ’10), which
should’ve been a sure-fire Academy Award contender, didn’t even re-
ceive a nod (in a strong year for documentaries, it topped my list).



Following on the heels of the well received Red Riding trilogy--Marsh
directed 1980 with Paddy Considine--his new film covers three dec-
ades in the life of Nim Chimsky (a pun on the name of linguist Noam
Chomsky), who has inspired books, articles, and the movie Project X.

In 1973, Columbia University behavioral psychologist Herb Terrace, the
Black Hat of the piece, placed Nim with his former lover, psychology stu-
dent Stephanie LaFarge, and her Upper West Side family, who raised him
as one of their own; he romped with the kids, he romped with the cats.

Terrace aimed to prove that a chimp can learn to communicate using
American Sign Language (ASL). The narrative takes one harrowing turn
after another as Nim moves, literally, across the country. Just when it
seems things can’t get much worse, the most unlikely hero arrives to save
the day. Marsh raises any number of fascinating questions about nature
vs. nurture, making Nim a must-see for animal lovers of every kind.

Bonus: Former Tindersticks member Dickon Hinchliffe provides the
fabulous orchestral score (highly recommended to fans of the duo Air).

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

"The media is not the message. The message is the media."
--David Carr,
Page One: Inside the New York Times

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

While Rossi’s Page One, a completely different kind of document-
ary, adheres to a more conventional structure, media consumers are
likely to find it equally absorbing, if not more relevant, since the land-
scape keeps undergoing one metamorphic change after another.

In examining the relationship The New York Times has established
with entities like WikiLeaks, Rossi shows the Old Grey Lady embrac-
ing new media and looking beyond the borders of an insular environ-
ment to cut costs and remain relevant, but it's hardly a puff piece.



While he could’ve concentrated soley on Times staffers, like exec editor
Bill Keller and reporter Brian Stetler, who'll be in town to support the film,
he brings outside voices into play, including representatives from Gawker,
Vice, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Wikipedia. Former staffer Gay
Talese, author of The Kingdom and the Power: Behind the Scenes at the
New York Times
, helps to provide historical context, while Rossi also in-
corporates scandals involving reporters Jayson Blair and Judith Miller.

These are a lot of hyper-ar-
ticulate people, but that's par
for the course with the news
business. Then there's colum-
nist and former Carpetbagger
David Carr
. As a filmmaker,
Rossi is perceptive enough to
know that when it comes to a
guy this interesting: the more
screen time, the better. Of all
the Times staffers, he spends
the most time with the hoar-
se, hunched-up, ex-crack
addict and single father

Like Stetler and media editor
Bruce Headlam, Carr has help-
ed The Times transition into the
21st-century. Though it took him
a while to embrace Twitter, he now has 322,000+ followers. As Rossi depicts him, he's a witty, infuriating man with a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullshit--it's worth the price of admission alone to watch him put the Vice crew in their place.

Click here for SIFF Dispatch #3

Endnote: Bob Ingersoll, who appears in the film, will be at-
tending the Project Nim screenings. Images from Twitch and
IMP Awards. Page One opens in Seattle on July 1 (venue TBA).

Monday, May 16, 2011

SIFF Dispatch #1

"You have to
be crazy to pro-
duce a movie."
-- Mathieu Amal-
ric on his charac-
ter in On Tour


The 37th Seat-
tle Interna-
tional Film Festival
, which runs from May
19 – June 12, begins on Thursday with a gala screening of The First Grader. After that, the fest will screen 440 features and shorts from 74 countries over 24 days throughout Seattle, Renton, Everett, and Kirkland.

Unlike years past, I missed the screening of the opening night film, but it’s
worth noting that Justin Chadwick directed episodes of MI-5, The Other
Boleyn Girl
with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johannson, and the marve-
lous BBC/Masterpiece Classic adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.
His second full-length feature centers on the efforts of a former Mau Mau
fighter, 84-year-old Kimani (Oliver Litondo), to secure an education.

I’m quite fond of co-star Naomie Harris, who gave such spirited turns
in White Teeth, Small Island, and Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. I’m less
enamored by her work in the last two Pirates of the Caribbean entries,
but that endless series can suck the talent out of the hardiest of souls.

The screen-
ing of the
British/Ken-
yan co-prod-
uction takes
place at Seat-
tle Center’s
McCall Hall,
with a recep-
tion to follow
at the Cen-
ter’s Exhibi-
tion Hall. Sponsors include Don Q, Stella Artois, Cupcake Royale, Dil-
ettante, and Ivar’s, so expect plenty of booze, seafood, and sweets.

The First Grader opens May 27 at the Metro Cinemas (4500 9th Ave. NE).

Because I write for the program guide (this marked my eighth year),
I had already seen 13 films before press screenings began on May 2.
Of those selections, my favorites were actor/writer/director Mathieu
Amalric’s On Tour (Tournée), which I described as “joyous and gen-
erous,” and Sally Rowe’s A Matter of Taste - Serving up Paul
Liebrandt
, which I described as “suspenseful and revealing.”

Until I read up on the film, I had no idea that On Tour, which revol-
ves around an American burlesque troupe's tour through France, rep-
resented Amalric’s fourth film as director. Though I’m familiar with ma-
ny of the films in which he’s appeared, I’m unfamiliar with his other direc-
torial efforts. In reviewing the premiere at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Patrick Z. McGavin wrote, "The movie has a documentary realism and sharpness that carries it through the rough spots and dramatic lulls."

Though On
Tour
has e-
licited mixed
reviews, and
Amalric does-
n't always
combine the
cinéma véri-
té and fiction-
al elements
as elegantly
as he could,
he won the
best direc-
tor award at Cannes. Writes David Hudson, "The crowd pretty much
went wild when Jury President Tim Burton announced the decision."

On Tour plays the Admiral Theatre (2343 California Ave. SW) on May 28 at 9pm
and the Neptune (1303 NE 45th St.) on June 9 at 9:30pm and June 11 at 3:30pm.


Furthermore, I had never heard of Paul Liebrandt, but the chef has
spent most of his life working in the kinds of high-end eateries I could
never possibly afford. As Rowe proves, though, even superstars like
Liebrandt don’t always have the easiest time of it, and she documents
a decade of ups and downs until the tide finally turns in his direction.

Though I don't mention it in my blurb, I would recommend that vegetar-
ians think twice before attending A Matter of Taste. I may be an omni-
vore, but I draw the line at calf brains and foie gras. Still, I have nothing
but respect for Leibrandt's artistry, and Rowe does a fabulous job at pho-
tographing the chef's dishes as if they were--and they are--works of art.

A Matter of Taste plays SIFF Cinema (321 Mercer St.) on May 20 at 7:30pm
and the Admiral Theatre (2343 California Ave. SW) on May 22 at 1:00pm.


Other films I would recommend include Tom Tykwer’s Three (Drei), Robin Aubert’s Crying Out (À L'Origine d'un Cri), Mark Meily’s Donor, Philip Neel and David H. Jeffery’s Lesson Plan, Ryan Redford’s Oliver Sherman, Louise Alston’s Jucy, Alain Corneau’s Love Crime (Crime d'Amour), and the final film from Jean Becker, My Afternoons with Margueritte (La Tête en Friche).

Click here for SIFF Dispatch #2.



Endnote: Images from BBC Films, MUBI.com, and The Wall Street Journal (via Sally Rowe). For more information about SIFF '11, please click here.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lost in The Talkies...

... and old in The Can

Considered by many to be his best feature film, Buster Keaton's The Cameraman (1928) played New York's Capitol Theatre (Broadway and 51st) on September 21, 1928. Included on the bill was a personal appearance by Hal Roach's Hollywood rascals, Our Gang.


Free and Easy (1930)

On the third week of September 1928, Seattle newspapers were abuzz with "All singing, all talking, all dancing" and hokey, old-fashioned silent movies had already become rare as hen's teeth. Keaton's disappointing last silent film, Spite Marriage (1929) quickly came and went, followed by a huge reception for his next picture, The Hollywood Revue of 1929, in which Keaton played a insignificant, but obligatory part as an MGM contract player. The Hollywood Revue played at Seattle's new Fox Theatre (7th and Olive) for what seemed like months.

Keaton's next Seattle appearance was given second billing (most likely an earlier short) at the University District's Neptune Theatre, listed only as "Buster Keaton" on September 9, 1929.

Missing the boat…

Less than one week after Keaton's dreadful talkie Free and Easy (1930) (which also enjoyed a long run) opened at the Fox on Friday April 11, 1930, The Cameraman finally crept into the second-run 723 seat Winter Garden Theatre (1515 3rd Ave between Pike and Pine) for a short, inconspicuous visit, no doubt to wring what pennies MGM could from their investment, leaving Keaton's masterpiece virtually unknown in Seattle until revival fans discovered it decades later.


The Winter Garden ca.1937

STG Presents!

Seattle Theatre Group, Northwest Film Forum and Trader Joes present Silent Movie Mondays and Buster Keaton in The Cameraman with live musical accompaniment performed by organst Jim Riggs at the Paramount's original 4/20 Publix 1 Wurlitzer.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Buster Bliss

The Cameraman (1928)

Monday April 25, 7pm, The Paramount, Seattle



"I'm a photographer. Could I get a job here?" "Get a job here … with that cocktail shaker?"

The Cameraman marked Buster Keaton's move to MGM in 1928, and the loss of creative control that would lead to his eventual decline from stardom. In spite of this, it remains the ultimate refinement of Keaton's work in silent features, containing his best collection of comedy set pieces within a complex scenario. It was also the last time Keaton performed the reckless physical stunts he'd become famous for, which the studio saw as an unreasonable risk to their valuable star.

Buster wanders the city streets with camera and tripod making tintypes for ten cents. In the crush of a tickertape parade he spots lovely Sally (Marceline Day) and is instantly smitten.

Keaton possessed the charming ability to express romantic infatuation as though he was hypnotized. As he poses Sally for the photo, she stands head turned to the side while Buster gazes at her and loses himself in the moment. Later, as he waits in the office of the newsreel service where she works, he dreamily peers over his photos and bats his drowsy eyes at her while Sally looks back at him sweetly. His corny slight-of-hand coin trick to impress her seems to say "Oh that was nothing!" In Keaton's vernacular it becomes a beautifully expressed and touching sentiment. Throughout his career Keaton typically played modest characters, intent on winning the heart of a girl by the use of endearingly pathetic gestures and flourishes, while the actual 'gags' would be seen as accidents of circumstance, often with spectacular results. As Buster takes Sally on a date, they attempt to board a double-decker city bus, but are separated by the surging crowd separates the two, with Buster being forced to the upper level while Sally remains below. As it moves down the street and they find each other, Buster climbs down the outside of the bus and sits on a rear wheel fender to be near her. A big bump bounces Buster onto the street, he regains his wits, and chases after the bus, hopping once again onto the fender as they speed along. Keaton's character seems oblivious to any physical danger, blinded by his need to be with and please the girl. When in the end, he ultimately saves Sally from drowning, he never considers his own peril. His rival guiltily takes credit for the rescue, leaving Buster alone on the beach, heartbroken with only his camera and an organ grinder's monkey.

Among the brilliant comedy routines featured in this tour de force: A baseball game played in pantomime at Yankee Stadium with Buster playing every position, including the umpire! To pay for their date, Buster nearly demolishes his room cracking open a dime bank, then proceeds to scatter the fist full of coins when he removes them from his pocket. Sally's close-up reaction is priceless! After the bus ride, he takes her to a public swimming pool. Buster and another man attempt to disrobe in a three-by-three foot dressing room with hilarious results. "Will you keep out of my undershirt?" As she walks alongside the pool in her swimsuit, Sally is swarmed by overly attentive young men. When Buster finally emerges he has somehow been given absurdly over-sized swimwear. Forced to compete for her attention, he loses his suit when he jumps off the high dive; a routine repeated countless times by others after Keaton. Running gags throughout the film include constant collisions with the same beat cop who's convinced there is something wrong with Buster. "I'll try your reflexes to see of you're goofy." The monkey he appears to have accidentally killed springs back to life and clings to Buster throughout the rest of the picture. In one scene Buster cranks away on his camera, filming a Tong War in Chinatown, while the tiny monkey in a sailor suit cranks away on a machine gun! Keaton was also well known for his effective use of props in outrageous sight gags. The motorcycle in Sherlock Jr. (1924), the enormous ladder in Cops (1922) and the tiny gun in Go West (1925) are a few. In The Cameraman, Keaton's constant companion is the large and ungainly camera and tripod that virtually becomes another character with a mind of it's own. He stumbles over and into it, inadvertently knocks the cop unconscious with it, uses it to engage the girl and manages to break the same window with it repeatedly throughout the film.

Buster is a hopeless romantic, regardless of what it may cost him. His finances, social status and personal dignity are always on the table. And yet, he is shy and his desire is initially hidden from Sally, revealed only to the audience when she's not looking. Buster usually found a way to win the girl over by the final reel. Of course in Go West, the girl was a cow.


STG Presents!

Seattle Theatre Group, Northwest Film Forum and Trader Joes present Silent Movie Mondays and Buster Keaton in The Cameraman with live musical accompaniment performed by organist Jim Riggs at the Paramount's original 4/20 Publix 1 Wurlitzer.


Next: Lost in the Talkies...