The cinematic treasure that is the Edinburgh Filmhouse, where I must have spent half my student days (but it was a media course so it counted as research, not bunking off, honest), is paying tribute to one of the funniest and most inventive film-makers in cinema history and also one of my personal favourites: Buster Keaton.
I’ve loved Keaton’s silent films since I was a boy – it was clear to me even then that the people who drew the Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry cartoons that I loved had grown up inspired by people like Keaton. I preferred him to Chaplin and rated him up there with the early film comedians like Harold Lloyd and good old Laurel and Hardy. As I got older I came to admire the incredible craft he put into these movies from the very early days of cinema, when men in boater hats turned hand-cranked cameras, and the astonishing stunts he would perform. The fact there were few effects, that most of this was done for real (like the building falling on him in Steamboat Bill Jr) is amazing – cinema has since staged some incredible stunt sequences and yet most of today’s stunfolks would still tip their hat to Buster as he performed his stunts, all with his trademark deadpan face.
The Filmhouse is showing The General (with the famous scene where an old Western train goes over a wooden bridge which collapses under it – and like most Keaton stunts this is done for real, no model work here! A real train under steam on a collapsing bridge!) and a number of shorts starting this Friday. I am so there!
On a more contemporary filmic note though, if you love hoary old creature features, especially those wonderfully hokey 50s ones, then catch Slither. It is a pure B movie horror-SF film which knows what it is and revels in it, drawing on the Blob, Romero, Heinlein and numerous other flicks, like Tremors or Eight Legged Freaks, mixing gross-out scenes with sick humour. Add in Firefly and Buffy‘s Nathan Fillion with his deadpan expression and voice (he must be a Keaton fan too!) as the local police chief fighting the alien menace which arrives in a meteor to infect a small Southern US town in the time honoured fashion. If you prefer a genuinely creepy horror though, check out Silent Hill – it is one of those rare things, a computer game to movie adaptation which is actually good. It mostly avoids splatter and goes for creepy, brooding Southern Gothic atmosphere, with disturbing imagery, although some of that is clearly drawn from early Clive Barker.