Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Steamboat Bill Jr. # 77 of 101 Great Films

A good friend and I
 A note before i start # 77,  On april 27, my home town was hit by a F4 tornado killing 43 and causing massive destruction, and for awhile a self- indulgent blog....
Now my city is getting better, still has a ways to go but I have no doubt Tuscaloosa will be fine.
So back to my .........

Movies are just plain cool!
 Even bad ones are pretty cool-
think about it- 
 Your at home laying around on the couch watching  the 1931 version of Dracula,  something made 80 years ago, everyone that was involved in the making of that film is gone,
but here you are watching it- just like it was made yesterday! that's just cool.

Even cooler is watching Satyajit Ray's  Pather Panchali in the comfort of my Alabama home, knowing I probality will not visit India in my life time, but by watching this wonderful film, in a small way I just did. that's cool!

Barbara and I at Devil's tower
I think I understand films, and I think I know why I like something, but I’m not a critic, or an academic just a movie fan,  So here is my list;  Of course if I did this list next year it might be totally different that’s why its  self- indulgent.

A scene from D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation

When I had originally started this list I had at # 77 Birth of a Nation, but  after going back and forth and watching it again, I decided to remove it from this list
because I just can not get over the horrible racism of the movie,  there is no question that Griffith is a master of storytelling, and that Nation, created  dramatic close up, tracking shots, and maybe most importantly crosscutting and other editing techniques, I don't think its trite to say that modern movie own as much to Griffith as any other film maker. 
BUT- explicit racism through the film I can't overlook. 
Some critics use the umbrella of "during those times" we can not place our values on something created almost 100 years ago, so I lets don't, but how about what some were saying in 1915?
The film was protested by the NAACP, at several major city movie houses the film sparked riots, and more importantly  the criticism at the time was so intense that Griffith, felt the need to respond, which basically the plot of his next movie Intolerance.

If you would like to read more about the release and the protest of Birth of a nation check out;
Thomas Cripps' "Slow fade to black, The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942"  

At # 77 is Buster Keaton's 1928 Steamboat Bill Jr. 
Keaton was as much a revolutionary figure in the early days of cinema as Griffith, his camera placement, scene step ups were cutting edge, and his way of screwing around with masculine and its role as a hero is pretty interesting  Plus  it's just damn funny.
Keaton, who will have a few more films on this list, was a master of the slapstick style of comedy and his aerobatic stunts would've make cirque du soleil very proud. 
 He certainly was admired by some of the worlds great filmmakers, Chuck Jones, Luis Buniuel, Federico Garcia Lorca all claim Keaton as an inspiration

Steamboat Bill Jr. made in 1928 for United Artist( a Charles Chaplin creation) studios maybe Keaton's last great film.  Disputes with his new studio MGM, which Joseph Schenck talked him into joining and Chaplin and Harold Lloyd tried to talk him out of signing with MGM. At MGM Keaton had to fight over every little detail, it was a constant  battle  with studio people.  
Keaton later is quoted as saying:
"In 1928, I made the worst mistake of my career. Against my better judgment I let Joe Schenck talk me into giving up my own studio to make pictures at the booming Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot in Culver City. "

Keaton's treatment at MGM is right up there with Orson Welles Hollywood treatment, but  before he went to MGM- Keaton made Steamboat Bill Jr. and it is a classic film and totally Keaton.

The film is available via the web and dvd so check it out, and if you've never seen a Buster Keaton Film you might wont to get some Depends cause you just might need them!  
Its just that funny and amazing  
and watch out for falling houses!  


  1. Keaton roolz!

    Glad to see you advocate for Buster, Taylor.

    Sorry to nitpick (hey, it's what film academics do!), but the Keaton photo is from SHERLOCK JR, not STEAMBOAT BILL JR.

    The two greatest "junior" films ever made!

  2. Keaton, and Lloyd, two of my favorite actors!
    Also nice video montage