“What are you all standing around for? This is the beginning of the world! Think of it. All of those people goin’ to see the pictures … and a lot of them can’t even talk American! But then they don’t have to because … pictures are a language that everybody understands … it’s like music … for the eyes … and if you’re good, if you’re really good, then maybe what you’re doin’ is, you’re givin’ ‘em little tiny pieces of time that they never forget.”
I’ll admit, I’m not big fan of out-and-out slapstick comedy, and when I realised how jam-packed with such stuff this movie was gonna be, I thought I might be in for a rather cringing couple of hours. I’m no expert on silent film comedy – I’ve still not even touched on the work of, say, Buster Keaton let alone Harold Lloyd and who knows who else – but I think Peter Bogdanovich pulls just about every classic/cliché gag there is out of the book in this homage to the beginnings of cinema and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get slightly tiresome once or twice.
However, I really watched it for Tatum O’Neal – I wouldn’t have even heard of the movie were it not for the nice things she said about it in her great autobiography “A Paper Life” (sure, as a member of the cast she’d be biased, lol; but I trusted her comments) – and in that regard I wasn’t disappointed, she’s such a spark it gets me every time. As in Bad News Bears she kind of waits in the wings for a long while at the start of the movie which is good for me as it forces me to get into the other aspects of the story. It’s kind of a like a silent period Bowfinger, the little guys fighting against the Patent company to get a slice of the glorious new form of entertainment, and the small family feel of the thing reminded me very much of the Steve Martin movie, which I love.
As in Noises Off…, I’m awed by how much Bogdanovich is able to juggle at once within the scene – at one point, Tatum O’Neal drives a truck piled high with the cast barely missing a steamtrain over which is flying a hot air balloon, followed by the train (and its passengers) being doused by the contents spraying from a water tower – seriously lol, how much did this thing cost?!; another has the camera pan past a series of period movie sets (within the period of the movie itself lol); all the while people are popping on and off the screen with their own concerns; I’m always astounded by how these kinds of movies get put together, I barely have the patience when I’m trying to just write relatively simple stuff of my own lol.
The movie is shot by Laszlo Kovacs in that long lost way only Seventies period movies were shot. I don’t know why, but to me the costumes and set design, everything, always seems so much more authentic in these productions than even the best of recent times – it always feels more “lived in” or something. Ryan O’Neal, Burt Reynolds, and particularly John Ritter are fantastic fun. It’s certainly as special as Tatum says it is, and I imagine it could grow into a personal favourite of mine sometime. At 2 hours it could frankly be even longer, such is the warm feeling it fills me with. It could even be my long awaited gateway to watching more of the real deal silent stuff, ‘cos it’s that kind of movie that fills you with nostalgia even if you didn’t even witness the stuff you’re feeling nostalgic for. The line I started with above, spoken by Brian Keith (I think?) at the end as the camera tracks in on him is so perfect; again, I’m back to what I said the other day about the Oscars, it’s a celebration of the power of cinema, its importance. I don’t know if this movie would appeal to anyone who isn’t so enamoured of the medium … but it certainly got me.