Buster Keaton MGM years were a toxic time for him and the studio. If you do not believe me, nor the great mans comment that it was the ‘worst mistake of my career’. Watch the excellent documentary So Funny It Hurt from 2004. Now lots has been said on the subject but never quite as clear eyed nor as controlled as here. They also make a very useful point for me. Keaton made some great films under pressure. THE CAMERAMAN is frankly the best.

When Tintype photographer and aspiring cameraman (Keaton) falls in love with a Secretary Sally (Marceline Day) at MGM news reels, he hopes to land a job there to woo her. However he has to pass a trial and that involves getting a fix on something everyone wants to see. So from fires, sports, planes and everywhere in between, he has to try his best to win the job and finally win the woman he loves. But life is never that it?

Ok. The film is brilliant. Filled with lovely set up, pay offs. Which you know. Then you have the physicality of Keaton and his exploits which coalesce into a dizzying haze. However you want the discussion on the extras.  First the transfer. 4K  Cineteca di Bologna. Sounds good. Well it is. Very good. Tonal washes are gone. Pops and fizz has been dampened (its still there mind) and the white outs are fixed to the most special degree. 

So all good there.  Then we must talk the extra film. Spite Marriage (1929). The two must been seen together (a case made by the excellent Glenn Mitchell. You see both are a product of the MGM time. They feel like the opposites of a whole. One is dynamic and the other devious. A comment of the experience of MGM (the name suggests a poke at the studio) but it is also heavy and less nimble. THE CAMERAMAN captured Keaton at his best. The scores find the old and then Timothy Brocks. Brocks is too on the nose for me. It fells unenlightened and lacks range. Glenn Mitchell commentary minds its manners but never misses a beat. For 70 minutes it goes over Keaton, MGM, the cast, the set ups and of course, what happened next. It has been walked over but worth exploring again. Time Travelers allows Daniel Raim time to ask questions and receive rather pointed answers on Keatons work and his range in MGM and later.  So Funny It Hurt is the best thing on the disc and no mistake. I say start and end here. James L. Neibaur interview adds a level of education to the pieces. He knows dates and times. He knows players but he is less engaging than I hoped. Still good enough to spend time with.

  • New 4K digital restoration undertaken by the Cineteca di Bologna, the Criterion Collection, and Warner Bros.
  • New score by composer Timothy Brock, conducted by Brock and performed by the orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna in 2020, presented in uncompressed stereo on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 2004 featuring Glenn Mitchell, author of A–Z of Silent Film Comedy: An Illustrated Companion
  • 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
  • New interview with James L. Neibaur, author of The Fall of Buster Keaton: His Films for MGM, Educational Pictures, and Columbia
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Imogen Sara Smith

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