Musing On Seeing The Cameraman on the Big Screen
In the town next to mine is a Lutheran church with an organist on its staff. Nothing unusual about that. However, in this case, the organist is Walt Strony, a well-known musician in silent film society circles. Recently, he joined up his two worlds to host a screening of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman at the church where he has his day job.
When I saw this event listed in the local paper, all I knew about The Cameraman I got from Azrael’s four-star review in Musings on Movies. I looked forward to checking out this full-length silent comedy on the big screen.
The event took place on a lovely summer evening. I didn’t expect to see much of a crowd, so I was surprised to find the parking lot nearly full; my first thought was that probably another church event was also happening. However, when I got to the hall, it was packed.
The storyline of the film is as simple as can be: Buster is a street photographer trying to break into the MGM newsreel business while also trying to start a romance with the young woman working at the front desk. The atmosphere of the film is enhanced by on-location Manhattan scenes, such as a double-decker bus, public swimming pool, and Chinatown street. Within this framework the film delivers wave after wave of comedy sequences that build up tsunami-like with perfect timing. Again, I suggest Azrael’s review for his insights on how come the film works so well and why it deserves acclaim and renown.
What is interesting to me is that I saw the film in a manner as closely as possibly to how the filmmaker/artist must have originally envisioned — live audience! live music! big screen!—and my experience of the film has now been fused with the actual showing that I saw.
In a real way — or should I say “reel way”? — I felt as if I was attending an evening of live theater. The infectious nature of people’s laughter was a priceless value added to the the film itself. It felt good to join in with the fun; to be surrounded by 200 people reacting uproariously to the cascading humorous predicaments befalling dauntless Buster.
Walt Strony’s pipe organ accompaniment was smoothly arranged and synced perfectly with the film’s scenes and emotions. When it was over, Walt got up from his organ bench to a standing ovation. After all, he had just entertained a packed hall with his nonstop 80-minute performance.
Walt said a few words, that royalties for this public performance of The Cameraman were $250, and folks were reminded this was a fundraiser for a new church organ, so make a donation at the door if you can.
He also announced plans for a follow-up silent film organ performance in October, most likely Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. I know I won’t want to miss that one.