Hereby I am participating in The Film Experience's 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' series. Nathaniel Rogers is probably my favorite blogger on the internet and I have enjoyed this series for a long time, so I thought I might as well take part in it. It's my first time, so keep that in mind. Enjoy.
I think it's an interesting debate, but it makes me a little sad that almost every time you bring up Chaplin or Keaton nowadays, the inevitable conversation about which one is better must take place. I personally like Keaton better. Something that began in me (as I think it did in many others) as a way of going against the masses that have established Chaplin as the more popular filmmaker. These days, however, knowing many more cinephiles than I did back when I was thirteen, I know that there is no such thing as an "underdog" in the battle between these two silent giants. The critical consensus probably favors Keaton now.
So, having grown up and matured a little, I have watched both Keaton's and Chapin's work in amore analytical and unbiased fashion and concluded that I loved them both, but Keaton's just better. I think 'The General' is right at the top of the best movies ever made (such a pity it didn't make Sight & Sound's top ten for this decade). Needless to say, re-watching 'Sherlock Jr.' was pure joy.
The 'HMWYBS' series is supposed to be about your favorite shot in a movie, but I couldn't help but go with a sequence that happens early on in the film and encapsulates one of the aspects that make me prefer Keaton. In the scene, our hero the film projectionist who dreams of being a detective (played by Buster Keaton) tries to impress the girl he's in love with by giving her a box of chocolates (of which he changes the price at the bottom of the box to say it cost 4 dollars instead of 1) and a ring with a minuscule stone.
Many talk about how Keaton is superior for using the camera in a more integral way to his story and exploring the medium more thoroughly than Chaplin, that's not the kind of thing that draws a young movie-lover to him. As a young one, it was all about Keaton's character, particularly, his interactions with girls.
You can see it in this scene, how he is stone-faced about the whole situation, timid and yet charming. Not unlike how I felt about myself (the timid part) and how I hoped I would be (the charming part, duh). I have always been delighted and sympathized with Chaplin's little tramp, but I could only identify as much as I did with this projectionist. Chaplin felt to me like a little puppy that wants you to love him too much, his movies are too sentimental. Keaton, is like a cat, that goes after what he wants and gives you just the right amount of charming comedy as he does in this scene.
You see? Not even I, who begrudges it so much, could escape the debate of the silent clowns. For what it's worth, I do have another favorite shot of the movie. The projectionist sleeps, and in a dream, watches his lover with another man in the movie he's projecting. Look at it and tell me it doesn't tell you just too much about the life of a cinephile.
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