Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Cameraman


This was the first film Buster Keaton made under contract to MGM, which means it was the first where he didn’t have complete creative control. Luckily, the iron fist of the biggest studio in Hollywood didn’t hammer him too hard on this one. That was to come later, when MGM’s idiotic idea of what audiences wanted to see clashed mightily with Buster’s comedic genius. I think it’s noteworthy that none of the great comics and comedy series of the silent era and early sound era came from the big studios. The producers of Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy (Hal Roach), the Keystone Kops and Charlie Chaplin (Mack Sennett) and others were all poverty row studios. That, or they ran their own productions, like Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and later Chaplin with United Artists. They were seat-of-the-pants productions, and not amenable to big studio regimentation. Studios stifled spontaneity, which was at the heart of these small, cheap masterpieces. It’s significant that the single funniest scene in The Cameraman is of Buster and another man trying to change from street clothes into bathing suits in a tiny dressing room. Keaton and Edward Brophy improvised it on the spot, in one take. Brophy wasn’t even in the script, he was Buster’s prop man, drafted because he looked right! Sadly, this is the last of Buster’s real masterpieces. After this, he was straitjacketed by the studio. Buster called his decision to sign with MGM as “The biggest mistake I ever made.” That, from a man who made a lot of them.