26 January 2010

Buster Keaton and the era of imagination

On the weekend, some friends and I went to watch a silent movie "play-a-long" - the 1924 film Sherlock Jr accompanied by a mini-orchestra, with sound effects by the audience.

It was honestly one of the best things I've seen in ages. The play-a-long idea was brilliant, yes, but I'd never watched a full length silent movie before. It was quite simply mesmerising; the sheer invention and imagination of the film makers breathtaking. You've just got to watch this clip, which is from the main chase sequence of the film. (Iggy Pop didn't feature in the original version but I'm quite a fan, so I'll let it go.)

What struck me most was how much the kids in the audience loved it. They were absolutely enthralled from the word go. So enthralled, in fact, that there was barely a shake of a bell or squeeze of a balloon from them all the way through - the orchestra had to compensate for them - and every so often one of them would pipe up, "Mummy, how did he do that?" It was wonderful to see that something from a completely different era could still captivate a young audience.

On the way home, we all remarked upon how well the comedy translated. The kids obviously hadn't thought twice about the fact that there was no colour, or 3D, or CGI - they were quite happy watching a funny man on a bike, even in post-Avatar era. As were we. It was all in the timing, and the brilliance of Buster Keaton.

I don't know what this has to do with science communication really, but I just thought I'd share it... Perhaps it's a lesson in keeping things simple... Not even simple really, but, I guess, using your imagination and creativity over expensive stunts and effects.

Blimey, I sound old. Watch the film though.

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