Monday, January 06, 2014

Seven Chances

1925, US, directed by Buster Keaton

Almost like two different films welded together -- the first an often very subtle romantic farce, the second an all-out chase sequence that seeks constantly to top itself -- Seven Chances again showcases the range of Keaton's talent: compare, for instance, the brief early sequence where he completes a marriage proposal by casually throwing a card to a woman seated in a gallery only to have the pieces flutter back down to him, to the epic, occasionally injury-defying, plunge down a steep hill as Keaton is threatened by rolling boulders and furious maids. It's not clear which of these is more terrifying to Keaton: he seems more adept at handling any physical harm. What makes the film more troubling, though, is the vein of race humour that sits very uncomfortably now -- while it's possible to construct some narrative around each of the individual incidents involving a black character as though to absolve Keaton the director, in the aggregate it's hard to see them as anything other than unpleasant even if perhaps only too characteristic of their time. Far more difficult to explain away, though, is the use of blackface by white performers; Keaton seems to have been a particular aficionado of the genre, at least based on his interviews.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States