Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending two double feature screenings consisting of Buster Keaton’s silent films at a local cinema. In retrospect, serendipitous is the word I would use to describe that entire weekend, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, too. I was just starting to really get into watching Buster’s filmography then, so you can imagine the joy I felt when I found out that there would be an opportunity to view some of his films as projections nearby. However, since it has been a while (why I didn’t bother to immediately write everything down in detail afterwards is beyond me), this post will touch more on the realm of my personal experience and sentiments rather than discussing the films in depth.
Friday, March 13th: The Navigator & Seven Chances
I can vividly remember the car ride over. My friends, in good fun, started to tease me with the most dreadful question:
“If all the reels of Buster’s films were burning in a fire, and you only had ONE movie to save, which would it be?”
“NO! How could you say that?!”
“You gotta pick one! Quick!”
I sat back, silent and wide-eyed with horror. I couldn’t do it. My mind was reeling in deep thought, even as we walked towards the charming little movie theater as it came into view. It was at this time that I would later regret not taking a photo of the marquee before it changed its display for tomorrow—let that be a lesson to my future self. Once inside, I snapped out of my reverie and began to look around, feeling the excitement palpably building as moviegoers started to fill almost every seat.
The series commenced with The Navigator (1924), which was my very first time seeing it. The audience got a kick out of the scene where Buster’s character drove right across the street to his sweetheart’s house, only to loop back around after she rejected his sudden marriage proposal. Laughter continued all throughout the film, and again at the scene where Buster accidentally tied a small cannon to his ankle, which always aimed at him whenever he tried to escape it.
A 35mm screening of Seven Chances (1925) followed after intermission. The film celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, which I still cannot fully wrap my mind around. It was my second time seeing this film, and I could definitely see a crystal clear difference in viewing it on the big screen. To me and my untrained eye for projected film, it seemed so crisp. It really enhanced the cinematography that I am always so mesmerized by in his films, and seeing both features in their intended projection was beyond visually appealing. Throughout this particular screening, laughter erupted and built up towards the ending, especially during the memorable chase and tumbling boulder scenes, which were incredibly impressive to watch.
Saturday, March 14th: Sherlock, Jr. & The Cameraman
This time, I was on my own for tonight. I arrived pretty early, picked out a seat somewhere closer to the front, and brought a book to read while waiting for the lights to dim. I couldn’t get past a single page as I kept looking up to view my surroundings, clearly eager to see another set of Buster’s films.
Sherlock, Jr. (1924) is the film that started it all for me, so seeing it on the big screen that evening was really something special. It felt so right to watch this movie as a projection, given that Buster’s character is a projectionist in the film, and it features all those surrealistic scenes of him stepping in and out of a movie. It only made me wish that Buster himself would pop out of the screen and tumble into this world.
Up next was The Cameraman (1928), which I had not seen prior to this screening. Needless to say, it quickly became another one of my favorites. Can this man be any more ethereal and adorable? I honestly wish I could remember every detail from my memory, but let me just say how wonderful it is to be in a movie theater with fellow fans of Buster, collectively watching his films, and tuning in to hear how everyone reacts at certain parts. It certainly is unforgettable, and doesn’t even compare to watching movies by yourself at home.
I must also mention the live music accompaniment performed by Cliff Retallick, which was flawless. I couldn’t help but think all throughout the screenings that the music seemed to fit sophisticatedly well. While silent films were not filmed with a soundtrack in mind, I’m still very particular about how music and film go together, so it’s interesting to hear different musical interpretations accompanying the same film, and even better when they seem to be a perfect match.
There is, without a doubt, so much more to be said about each of these films, but I will see to it that I revisit them in (perhaps) a series of posts someday. While I was unable to make it to the last two screenings—which consisted of The Scarecrow (1920) and Go West (1925)—making it to two out of three days ain’t half bad at all.