Buster Keaton will forever be remembered as one of the greatest cinematic talents in the history of the medium. His influence is omnipresent and everlasting, known for his unforgettable masterpieces such as The General and Sherlock Jr, among many others. His works have inspired several important artists, ranging from Salvador Dalí to Steven Spielberg.
Keaton’s body of work is a fantastic collection of towering cinematic achievements which beautifully addressed philosophical concerns that modern directors struggle with. Among his films, The General is the one that gets talked about the most since it is considered to be his magnum opus and Orson Welles even called it “the greatest comedy ever made”.
At a recent presentation of the cinema of Buster Keaton, Steven Spielberg chose his favourite film by Buster Keaton for the screening. Titled The Cameraman, it is truly a prescient commentary on voyeurism and the inherent problems with structuring subjective reality that has been exacerbated by social media.
Spielberg said: “Buster Keaton’s last feature film, The Cameraman, was arguably his best film. He saved his best for last. The pratfalls in his story about love and career as a tintype newsreel cameraman are just as graceful as they are madcap. And the infatuation story with Marceline Day is one of my favourite boy meets girl stories of all time.”
The Cameraman stars Keaton as a street photographer who is forced to work with rudimentary equipment due to the lack of funds. Determined to win the heart of a girl who works at MGM, he embarks on a wild journey to secure a job as a photojournalist while battling all kinds of obstacles that life throws in his way.
The most memorable scene from that film is Keaton rearranging reality during a gang war to suit the needs of the camera, something that has been replicated in various future projects such as Nightcrawler. The Cameraman is one of the greatest films ever made on the subject of cinematic voyeurism and it has even been cited as an influence by American Psycho director Mary Harron.
“It’s a wonderful snapshot of those early filmmaking days and it has great set pieces,” said Harron. “The whole scene of the tong wars in Chinatown felt so visceral and immediate. Keaton’s right in the midst in the action. You usually don’t experience so immediate a feeling with a silent movie but his films are magical, poetic and comic.”
Watch the entire film below.