Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)


Director: Charles Reisner & Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Tom McGuire, Ernest Torrence
Genre: Silent film, comedy

The Film Forum in NYC ran all day screenings of Buster Keaton silent films on labor day monday so you know I had to get out to see at least a few of his gems! What really added to the appeal of this event was the live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner on all of the films! It was a real treat to hear Sterner set the mood scene by scene upon his tempo and style of play! The experience of watching a silent film with live music definitely gave it a retro vibe. I’ve been a Buster Keaton fan since the 1980’s when Jackie Chan mentioned that Keaton’s physical comedy is what really influenced him to incorporate self deprecating slapstick with unbelievable stunts to his own peking opera-kung fu background! From then on, I hopped on the B-Train as I began to discover what a genious, Buster Keaton was as an artist, performer, & director!

Steamboat Bill Jr. was one of the features that I saw at the Film Forum and it can easily be marked as one of my favorites! There were plenty of scenes in that movie that still amazes me to this day! Buster plays a college kid on school break enroute to meet his father (Ernest Torrence), a captain of a paddle wheel boat known as the Stonewall Jackson which makes its daily rounds on the Mississippi river. The problem is that he hasn’t seen his boy since he was a baby so he has no clue what he looks like. All Bill Sr. knows when he picks up Jr (Buster Keaton) at the train station is that he is wearing a white carnation. Unfortunately, every young lad seemed to be donning a white carnation at the station! This will lead to a whole host of chuckles! They would eventually cross paths, though! The diminuitive Bill Jr tugs along his ukelele while sporting a french style hat as opposed to the usual ‘pork pie’ look that we all are accustomed to seeing him in. This is not exactly the son that the big rough & tough man of the mississipi pictured his son to be. Jr also has a fancy for a young lady that happens to be the daughter of the owner of a competing luxury boat targeting to put the Stonewall out of business! The two fathers will most certainly have conflicts! Sr goes berzerk and soon finds himself behind bars! The events that follow will prove that Bill Jr is not just any ordinary clumsy fool. He’s a fool with integrity who possesses great luck & skill defying newton’s laws of gravity! Some outstanding stunts/scenes from the movie includes the crazy storm sequence that teared down houses like they were toys as Buster was swept away! The scene that everyone links to Keaton is when the whole front side of a building falls down on him but fortunately the glass-less window frame lands exactly where he was standing! Classic! The jailhouse skit was also insane! The hat and more hats scene was hilarious as well.

This was the 1st time that I’ve actually seen a Buster Keaton film on the big screen and with the added live piano accompaniment, it really made for a great way to appreciate the master at work! The balls of laughter coming from the audience including children and senior citizens really proves that his movies are timeless! I was bummed that THE GENERAL screening was sold out that day as that also has some amazing stunts of Buster on a train! He seemed to have this uncanny ability to bring inanimate objects to life! It was a pleasure to watch one of Jackie Chan’s mentors resurface on the screen again! Thank you Buster!


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