My Thoughts On…Steamboat Bill Jr.
Like Keaton I feel out of step sometimes with the world around me. Not quite fitting in to the way the world is. Never more so than when watching a silent film, live scored, introduced by Jim Broadbent and being overcome with joy and escapism that I rarely get from modern cinema. Maybe I have to reclaim my mode of viewing, create opportunities and environments for sheer immersion. Maybe I don’t.
All I know is that I have never seen this full film, and last night experienced pure joy at the power and wonder of cinema, feeling blessed that Keaton existed, and exists forever on celluloid. This Romeo & Juliet tale is full of pathos, love, cheek and some of the most incredible physical action sequences ever.
Not just remarkable for 1928, but simply remarkable. No one has done anything like it since. Proof that CGI can never make up for the imagination of humanity, coupled with human application. Houses and buildings fall balletically, trees fly with a man attached, a man stands parallel to the ground in a hurricane. He slips, and bends in shapes computers would struggle to make look real.
We laugh, we gasp, we smile. We constantly smile.
A true work of genius.
I feel exactly the same, and I regret not having been at last night’s screening of Steamboat Bill. Jr at the BFI - it’s my favourite Buster Keaton film, even if it may not be his best (The General is objectively unsurpassable).
What Neil* describes here was my problem with Hugo: for all its efforts to show me the unadulterated joy of early cinema, it never ever came close to the genuine simplicity, emotion, and beauty of it. The things you always find in Buster’s work.
*a PS for film buffs: you should follow Neil’s tumblr Neither Fame Nor Fortune. He’s a filmmaker, a PhD student, and a teacher. He knows his stuff.