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#98. Steamboat Bill Jr. - Review

Steamboat Bill Jr. film posterBuster Keaton made films for the YouTube and Twitter audiences. With set-ups and gags that fit nicely within the five to ten minute structure of an Internet clip, the silent auteur’s Steamboat Bill Jr. forgoes complicated plot for clever stunts and the anticipation of blood. Title cards of no more than 170 characters prove the director’s primal intuition of the forthcoming Twitter phenomenon. If he was making films today, ol’ “Stone Face” Keaton would be an online sensation, no doubt devoting all of his efforts into a personal crusade to receive a million of hits on his YouTube page.  

A crusade it would be too. Films like Steamboat Bill Jr. and the esteemed The General are perfect examples of Keaton’s complete dedication to his craft. He risked life and limb, challenged gravity, and defied Mother Nature, all in the hopes for a laugh. A master of comedy, Keaton understood it wasn’t the terrible situations his characters found themselves in; like sailing through the air clutching a tree during a hurricane, but how those characters reacted to their situations. My biggest laughs came from Keaton’s face, not whatever near-death experience he just survived. His eyes rarely express panic, barely even concern. Usually his Bill Canfield Jr. appears slightly irritated by his many obstacles throughout Steamboat Bill Jr. These obstacles very from minor inconveniences like finding a hat that both he and his father could agree on (my biggest laugh of the film), to committing felonies and fighting for his life dodging flying houses. No matter the unbelievable disadvantages blocking Bill getting the girl, or the impossible challenge of gaining the respect of his father, Keaton’s titular character is as dedicated as the director himself. Watching the lovesick graduate struggle to reach his goals is often uncomfortable, sometimes exciting, and always entertaining. 


Here is the hat shopping sequence I mentioned


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