Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Navigator (Pordenone Opening Night Special Event Ciné-Concert)

(Metro Pictures Corp./Buster Keaton Productions, US 1924) D: Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp; P: Joseph M. Schenck; SC: Clyde Bruckman, Joseph Mitchell, Jean Havez; DP: Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley; tech. dir: Fred Gabourie; electrician: Denver Harmon; cast: Buster Keaton (Rollo Treadway), Kathryn McGuire (Betsy O’Brien), Frederick Vroom ( John O’Brien), Clarence Burton, H.N. Clugston (spies), Noble Johnson (Cannibal Chief); filmed: SS Buford (Avalon Bay), Lake Tahoe; released: 13.10.1924; orig. l: 5,600 ft.; DigiBeta, 60'; Park Circus, Glasgow. Viewed at Cinema Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in Italian, 2 Oct 2010

Cinema concert performed by: European Silent Screen virtuosi (Günter A. Buchwald: leader, piano, violino, vocal; Frank Bockius: drums; Lee Mottram: clarinet; Richard Williams: cornet; Romano Todesco: double-bass).

From the GCM Catalogue: "Keaton’s second 1924 film, The Navigator, was inspired by a single prop – though a large one. While looking for old four-masted schooners for Frank Lloyd’s The Sea Hawk, Keaton’s technical wizard Fred Gabourie came across a 500-foot passenger liner, due for scrapping. It was leased for $25,000. “Well, we got our start. Our start was a pip…” The S.S. Buford had a sinister recent history: it was used in1919 to deport Emma Goldman and some 250 other resident aliens in one of the most notorious incidents of the antileftist “Palmer Raids”.
Jean Havez’s story reflects none of this dark past. A rich young couple, who have never had to learn to look after their own needs, find themselves adrift together on a deserted liner, where the ordinary difficulties of existence are magnified by the fact that all the amenities are intended not for individual use, but to cater for five hundred people. Buster’s character of the young millionaire (“Rollo Treadway – heir to the Treadway fortune – a living proof that every family tree must have its sap”) is a variation of the characters of Bertie in The Saphead and Alfred Butler in Battling Butler. While Bertie belongs in the tradition of the comic idiot who wins through in the end by luck and miracle, however, both Rollo and Alfred are extended by the circumstances into which the story puts them. From being effete, ineffectual, and totally reliant on servants (Rollo even takes his car and chauffeur when he wants to cross the road), they develop out of themselves resources of energy and ingenuity. Miracles only play a minor role. The whole range of Keaton’s talents is on display. The battle with the cannibals contains some of his finest comic falls. The gags are so densely packed and so tightly interwoven that it is often hard to keep up with them or to recall their sequence. At the same time it is all organized with total dramatic skill, and the character of Rollo is developed with logic and integrity.
At the technical and mechanical level The Navigator is one of Keaton’s most elaborate films. He describes, in Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By, the difficulties of filming the underwater scenes, shot in Lake Tahoe after a swimming pool had been destroyed and the sea at Catalina proved to be fogged on account of the fishes’ mating habits. At the same time as he was performing, Keaton himself had to manipulate the sunken two-man camera-box, cooled inside with ice to prevent the windows fogging. “1 could only stay down there about thirty minutes because the cold water goes through into your kidneys. After about a half hour you begin to go numb. You want to get up and get out of there. I was one month shooting that scene.”
The diving-suit proved an exceptionally fruitful prop. There is never a moment’s doubt as to who it is moving about in it, on short, jerky little legs and with stiff, busy arms sticking out slightly at an angle.
Christopher Bishop has pointed out Keaton’s remarkable power of visualization in making us – even though we are already familiar with Rollo’s diving-suit – see it with the same fresh shock that the primitive tribesmen experience.
Of all Keaton’s heroines, Kathryn McGuire in The Navigator and Marion Mack in The General have the most positive roles. The stories demand from them a greater participation, in that hero and heroine are thrown together in isolation; and in any case the two girls are unusually charming and funny. Kathryn McGuire has the same sweet dizziness as Marion Mack: when the castaways want to attract the attention of a passing ship, she runs up the prettiest flag she can see, which happens to be the quarantine signal. The musical accompaniment is by the European Silent Screen virtuosi, an improvisational group which first came together at the 2010 Bristol Slapstick Festival. – DAVID ROBINSON."

Günter Buchwald's music interpretation was inspired by the song that appears during the film on the phonograph aboard: "Asleep In The Deep". As a prelude to the screening, Günter sang the song. - An inspired jazzy cinema concert with funnily obvious themes such as "Stormy Weather". - Revisited Buster Keaton's comic masterpiece which gets better every time. Amazingly, there was no 35 mm print available, which is why The Navigator was screened on DigiBeta.

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