The Cameraman

The Cameraman ★★★★

1928's The Cameraman, unfortunately, marked the beginning of the end for Buster Keaton. He plays a portrait photographer who decides to change from photography to moving images to get the attention of Sally Richards (Marceline Day), a secretary working at the news service for MGM Newsreels.

There's a looseness about the film as it follows a series of mishaps that occur as he attempts to get a job as one of MGM's cameramen, repeatedly attempting and being thwarted in trying to prove to Sally and himself that he's got what it takes to make it. It was the first film under a new contract with MGM, following a string of incredible films created in an atmosphere of complete freedom. The move quickly resulted in a series of well-known production troubles and disagreements that resulted in the studio finally wrestling all creative control from the comedian. 

Of course, Buster himself is terrific, and there are undeniably some excellent parts that see him performing a few genuinely spectacular stunts. There's also a fair amount of cinematic self-awareness and film-making jokes, with numerous elements working to shatter the mystique of cinema. However, they cast a different and less enchanted tinge of magic than his 1924 classic Sherlock Jr.

The film reflects the contemporary rivalry in getting the best news footage as Buster delivers his usual balletic traits. He perfectly times his entrances and blunders together with casually leaping on and off several fast-moving vehicles—after this, MGM forced him to use a stunt double on subsequent pictures in a bid to protect their investment. There are indeed highlights, but Buster's art would become increasingly compromised by MGM, and it can already be noticeable.

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