Silent movies weren't really silent when people went to see them waaaay back when, of course. If you got lucky, an organist would play. Last night, it was Christian Elliot on the keys, trying his best to keep up with Keaton performing all those astonishing stunts.
The movie dates back to 1928; the (beautifully restored) Orpheum opened in 1926; and the theater's Wurlitzer was installed in 1928. Mr. Elliot, considerably younger than any of those elements, played with passion and precision. The print was good and it all came together on a magical night that ended in a lot of cheering.
"One must remember that silent comedies need an audience," says film historian Jeffrey Vance. "With a crowd, they come to life."
Vance made the observation in Warner/TCM Archives' "Buster Keaton Collection," which I reviewed a while back. It contains three films -- "The Cameraman" (1928), "Spite Marriage" (1929) and the talkie musical "Free and Easy" (1930).
Of the trio, only "The Cameraman" belongs with Keaton's best. This DVD set, however, has lots to offer. It doesn't flinch in telling the comic's often-tragic life story and ably positions these films as transitional works that led from indie freedom to years of shameful neglect from the studio system. The docu title says it: "So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton at MGM."
History aside, "The Cameraman" is great fun -- hilarious, quite romantic, with lots of location shots of old Manhattan -- a must for Keaton fans.
Step this way to read the full review of the Buster Keaton DVD set.