By Michael Aushenker
“The Cameraman” may star Buster Keaton, but the camera’s eye will be on Venice Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. when the Venice Historical Society will host a screening of the 1928 feature at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC).
Documentarian and historian Elaina Archer, who recently hosted a robust evening introducing several Laurel & Hardy shorts with ties to the coastal community, will return to the historical society’s monthly meeting to present the 1928 feature.
“Sadly, it’s the first and last time Buster Keaton ever had control over his own films at MGM,” Archer told The Argonaut.
“The Cameraman” tells the tale of a photographer (Keaton) who becomes an MGM newsreel camera operator in an attempt to woo a woman (Marceline Day). Technically, it was the last feature film Keaton had any control over as a filmmaker.
After Keaton independently produced such classics as “The General” and “Seven Chances,” “The Camerman,” shot almost entirely in New York City by Edward Sedgwick and an uncredited Keaton, features two fleeting scenes set in Venice. They include a long-gone site that senior members of the Westside community may remember as the Venice Plunge. Apparently, there were no messy guilds or unions to deal with back then: the men appearing as lifeguards in these scenes were actual Venice lifeguards.
One half of A & F Productions (with creative partner Todd Friedrichsen), Archer has created documentaries on personages Clara Bow, Mary Pickford and Marion Davies for outlets such as Turner Movie Classics. So early superstar Keaton is in her wheelhouse of expertise.
“By the time he got to New York, the production was a mess,” Archer said of Keaton and “Cameraman.” The script was scrapped. Much of it was improvised on Manhattan’s streets.
Ultimately, “Cameraman” proved to be Keaton’s final film before the depressed actor became an alcoholic.
Nevertheless, Keaton and director Sedgwick managed to overcome obstacles on “Cameraman.”
“They worked together to make this absolutely beautiful film,” Archer said.
MGM “wore down their print” screening the movie “to everyone from the Marx Bros. to Abbott and Costello, she said. Prints of “Cameraman” went missing in action for years until a print was discovered in Paris in 1968. After that, another “incomplete but nice copy was found (and) today’s version is a combination of the two,” she said.
Archer considers “The Cameraman” her favorite Keaton comedy.
“I love this industry, and I love when it spoofs itself,” she said.
“The Cameraman” will screen at SPARC, 685 Venice Blvd., Venice. Free admission for Venice Historical Society members, or $5 for non-members. Snacks available. Free parking east of the building or street parking. Information, (310) 967-5170; venicehistoricalsociety.org.
Buster Keaton’s ‘Cameraman’ trains its lens on Venice: Venice Historical Society to present the 1928 MGM movie
By Michael Aushenker