An era before film ratings. Ahh...a breath of fresh air. There's not a thing objectionable about this movie, so feel free to watch with Grandma and the kids.
DIRECTORS: Chas F. Reisner and Buster Keaton
Chaplin I have down. The Marx Brothers I crush with. Harold Lloyd I have a firm grasp on. Buster Keaton is my weak spot. I never watched him. I don't know how I managed to avoid his movies for so long, but I did. That probably makes me a bad person, so I apologize for that. Although I really want to sit down and watch the rest of his movies in one sitting. Okay, that's a bit extreme.
I don't want to pigeonhole this movie because I do believe that Keaton has his own voice from the rest of the era. I can't help but make comparisons to Chaplin's Tramp character. They share many of the same qualities in terms of physical humor and depending on an archetype. But Keaton holds his own narrative and his own commentary. Not really attacking the political landscape as Chaplin does, Keaton instead focuses on the hardships of family. Like many stories, Steamboat Bill Jr. builds its foundation on the Romeo and Juliet trope. The first half of the movie is sweet and romantic and typical. Keaton plays the abandoned son of a steamboat captain. I think I might be most attacked for how many base and low brow comparisons I make, but I can't help but see Jim Varney and the influence this movie makes on the Ernest franchise.
But maybe that's what this film blog is all about: the abandonment of snobbery. The trope of estranged and disappointed father plays well here. Back in the day, Steamboat Bill Jr. probably wasn't viewed as some artistic triumph. This is just a fun movie with hilarious physical gags, much like Ernest P. Worrell presented to me. I don't know why the jokes really land significantly better in an old timey setting. Perhaps it is the lack of winking at the camera which gives these kinds of movies an atmosphere of class, but every joke pretty much lands.
The second half of the movie is what astonishes me. The budget on this movie must have been astronomical. For an era that mass produced movies on the cheap, the hurricane hitting the town is absolutely impressive. On top of that, I keep thinking that Keaton probably almost really died a dozen times. After finishing Strangers on a Train with the class and discovering that the merry-go-round operator was actually in danger the entire time, there is no doubt in my mind that the stunts pulled were without precaution and probably extremely dangerous. And yet, the stunts kept coming. Keaton almost died on screen and then he came back and did it again.
The movie is pretty fantastic. It doesn't get as heart-wrenching as The Kid because the family relationship is played for laughs, but there is something genuinely touching here. Maybe this movie isn't perfect, but it has me straight up Jonesing to watch Sherlock Jr.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.