Saturday, February 23, 2013

Steamboat Bill Jr. and The Navigator. A

The thing about Buster Keaton is you see one of his films and you immediately want to see another one. A Keaton film pretty much guarantees that you will witness something amazing, something that defies what one expects silent cinema is capable of. I sat down to Steamboat Bill Jr. and The Navigator and found the two of them beguiling. They make a great double feature because Keaton is really playing the same character in each and because they're both heavily influenced by large boats. Steamboat Bill Jr. is slightly more compelling dramatically in that it actually has something good to say about fathers and sons and career pursuits. The Navigator, on the other hand, while definitely a romance, is almost entirely focused on comedy. And what energy it has. It's not worth describing the details but to say that it has more comic energy than anything I've seen. Keaton's ideas for slapstick comedy seem endless. He gives us an ingenious gag and then keeps toping it up until the film is over. To watch a Keaton film is to be in awe of what is happening in the present, to be in wonder over what he'll come up with next, and to to be euphoric in that he never disappoints. As far as preference I think I may have enjoyed The Navigator more merely because of its perpetual invention. Steamboat Bill Jr. isn't quite as funny (and also, Keaton doesn't also steal the show, as his character's father, played by Ernest Torrence, accounts for much of the film's greatness), focused a bit more on drama (though, unlike Chaplin, it never manipulates) and astonishing special effects during the famous storm finale. But again, don't pick one or the other. See them both!

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