Smile for a Saturday
In times of crisis, anxiety, and uncertainty, people need to find moments of escape, if possible. And for much of my lifetime, one major source of relief from the troubles of the real world was to go to the movies.
During the Great Depression, World War II, the social unrest of the 1960s, and the decades since, movie theaters have been places where we could gather with others to let go of our preoccupations and travel somewhere else. They also offered mental escape to us as individuals. In the theater, movies could comfort us, challenge us, frighten us, or make us laugh.
In recent years, with the proliferation of at-home entertainment options, movie theaters have become one of the many struggling legacy businesses hurt by the changing dynamics of the way we live. And with that change has come new business realities around which movies get made (a proliferation of big-budget action and superhero sequels), and which do not (more modest comedies and dramas).
Change is not in itself inherently good or bad. The same technological innovations that have hurt movie theaters have led to an explosion of high-quality television content — a veritable “golden age,” to use a phrase that is overused, but used for a reason. Indeed, the offerings on broadcast, cable, and streaming services are a wonderfully diverse bazaar where one can find all manner of entertainment and artistic expression. Increasingly, you can also find fare from around the world. During the pandemic, Jean and I have watched series from several different countries that previously we would never have been able to view. And there is also much more diversity portrayed on screen, compared to past eras.
But for me, there will always be something special about going to a theater and sitting amid a shared experience with others. When the lights dim, there is always a moment of anticipation, of magic. I have had so many special experiences watching projected light dance across the big screen. And they range the gamut from evenings at grand old movie palaces with not a seat to be found, to a small neighborhood theater on a stolen afternoon with just a few others in attendance.
Of course, the pandemic turned gathering in a crowded theater into a risky endeavor. And now the question of “Have you seen anything good lately?” is almost exclusively a discussion of television. But I hope that a basic human yearning for gathering in person can lead to a renaissance for movie theaters, even if the experience has to evolve to better match the times.
As we honor the cinema this Saturday, we thought we would reach back in time to the first golden age of film — even before the talkies. This is so long ago, it is before even my time. But when we came across an examination of the genius of the physical comedian Buster Keaton, we couldn’t resist sharing it with all of you.
It’s a reminder that while we are many universes away from Keaton’s age in terms of the technical capabilities of film, the most basic magic remains. It is the ability of a performer to tell a story using the power of the moving image.
We hope it brings a smile to you this Saturday. And for those up for a deeper dive into the genius of Keaton, we have also shared a colorized version of the movie short The Goat from 1921. It’s more than 100 years old, and though archaic in its presentation, still has something urgent and compelling at its core.
Here is an examination of the Keaton genius…
And here is the film The Goat…