Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Seattle Screens

Seattle Screens: Buster!

As much as I’ve enjoyed trying put together a weekly film page that looks for what’s interesting rather than what’s getting the biggest promotion, commitments have forced me to scale back contribution. So I’ll continue to offer a few notes and point you in the direction of other local coverage, but hopefully I can introduce you to some events you might not have known about.

Buster Keaton in ‘Steamboat Bill Jr.’

Into the Vaults: Celebrating the Library of Congress screens 10 classic films on archival 35mm prints over four days at The Uptown and the SIFF Film Center. Kicking off the series on Thursday, July 26, at The Uptown, are a pair of silent Buster Keaton classics with live accompaniment by Donald Sosin (a long time SIFF regular at festival silent screenings). Seven Chances (1925) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) are absolutely delightful silent comedies from my favorite silent comic of them all and they don’t come around on the big screen very often. I reviewed Seven Chances for Turner Classic Movies when it debuted on Blu-ray and Steamboat Bill, Jr. just may be my favorite of his film. I’m charmed by the heart and soul of it. Keaton transforms from a foppish college dandy into a mechanical genius with a Rube Goldberg bent while battling the elements in the funniest hurricane scene ever put to film.  The series moves to the Film Center for the final three days. Full schedule at SIFF Cinema here.


Apart from The Dark Knight Rises, which apparently is such a sacred text that negative reviews are treated as offenses against the faith by some, a couple of festival films return for a regular run.

Trishna, featured at SIFF 2012, is Michael Winterbottom’s take on “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” relocated to India, with Frida Pinto in the title role. John Hartl at The Seattle Times: “Winterbottom has taken a boldly feminist approach to the story of a tragic heroine whose inherent intelligence and sense of fate is misunderstood.” Opens at the Harvard Exit.

And The Well-Digger’s Daughter, which played the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series in March, is Daniel Auteuil’s adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s novel, and a return of sorts to the author who helped kick off his career via the films Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring. Richard Jameson reviewed the film back in March for Straight Shooting: “The tale is both elemental and rich, and in addition to giving a masterclass in screen acting as a patriarch at most one generation removed from peasantry, Auteuil is generous with opportunities for his fellow players….” Opens at the Varsity in the U-District.

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Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD

DVD/Blu-ray: ‘Seven Chances’

Seven Chances (1925), Buster Keaton’s fifth feature as a director, is a rare Keaton film based directly on another property, in this case a David Belasco stage play by Roi Cooper Megrue. But it’s safe to say that Keaton transformed the material into his own brand of humor: from stage farce to snappy cinematic slapstick, with Buster turning every verbal jokes into visual gags.

'Seven Chances': Buster and the brides

The script is built on the kind of impossible contrivances that have been driving comedies for centuries. Keaton is James Shannon, a meek, sincere young lawyer too timid to ask his girl (Ruth Dwyer) for her hand, a situation made abundantly clear in a prologue that takes his courtship through the seasons. Then, just as he and his partner are in a serious (but only vaguely explained) financial bind, he’s informed that his rich uncle died (as the cliché goes) and he’s to inherit $7 million. The catch: he has to marry by 7 o’clock on his 27th birthday. I’ll give you seven guesses as to what day on which this all occurs (hint: it’s the afternoon of his 27th birthday). And, wouldn’t you, after all that procrastinating, he trips over his non-proposal and ends up at the country club, where his business partner identifies the seven girls his know as James’ “seven chances.”

For all the sevens in this script, Keaton tosses the number aside as he builds momentum and James’ shyness and social insecurity is overcome with each rejection, steeling him to become more brazen with each proposal. Before the sequence is over, he’s asked every single girl in the place (including an unbilled, not-yet-famous Jean Arthur as the club receptionist; keep an eye out for the one who waves the ring on her finger in front of his face) and heads out to try his luck on the street.

This isn’t the kind of pratfall slapstick or creative tangle with technology that we associate with Keaton but a kind of comic dance where he slides from partner to partner, making his pitch, taking each rebuff in stride and moving to the next. Some of these bits are deliciously choreographed steps, others born of Keaton’s trademark earnest haplessness, overcoming his initial shyness and reticence and fear of humiliation as he soldiers on through variations on a theme. The purpose of the exercise is practically forgotten as James takes on the act of proposing itself as the challenge. Keaton the director pushes him into crazier situations and more brazen propositions and Keaton the screen performer meets them all with comic grace.

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