The Criterion Collection’s stunning new Blu-ray release of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman and Spite Marriage is loaded with bonus special features, including a new documentary Time Travelers I had the privilege of making with historian Marc Wanamaker and Oscar-nominated director Daniel Raim, to be covered soon in a future post. Also included is So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM, a 2004 documentary by Kevin Brownlow and Christopher Bird, poignantly hosted by Buster’s friend, the late actor James Karen.
As reported in my book Silent Echoes and in other posts, Buster traveled to New York to capture many authentic city street scenes for The Cameraman (co-star Marceline Day’s NYC apartment was HERE; Buster’s apartment was HERE), but the crowds and the remote logistics were challenging, so the balance of the movie was filmed at the MGM backlot. Above, matching former Yankee Stadium views by Mark E. Phillips, host of the fascinating NYC in Film movie locations blog.
Newspaper accounts report Buster spent his first day in town filming a tickertape parade for Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, and later filmed scenes of her greeted at City Hall Park by Hizzoner Mayor Jimmy Walker.
Indeed, as reported, opening scenes from The Cameraman (at left) depict Gertrude and Jimmy smiling side-by-side posing for the cameras. But is there more to Keaton’s brief NYC adventure? Of course – as reported in Brownlow’s documentary, a tourist filmed Buster busy at work (below), with massive crowds in the background watching him (notice the twin camera tripods beside the reflector).
Where was this? I wisely contacted New York pop culture locations expert Bob Egan (PopSpotNYC.com), who previously solved other The Cameraman Manhattan locations. Unaware of Gertrude’s connection, Bob quickly provided the answer – City Hall Park, collaborating the news accounts of Buster filming there. Although the background crowds watching Buster seem impressive, they were likely there to witness Gertrude being honored rather than to witness Buster himself.
This view from the tourist home movie looks north, showing the northern-most of the two subway kiosks there, and the west side of extant City Hall. The home movie cameraman then moved east near the west side of the City Hall steps to film scenes looking west at this same kiosk.
The same kiosk, viewed looking west towards the SW corner of Broadway and Murray (now a modern glass high-rise) from near the west side steps of City Hall. As the camera pans left during the full scene, the other kiosk across the way comes into view. The New York Public Library.
Click to enlarge – above, this northern view of City Hall shows the two adjacent subway kiosks, and the orientation of the tourist’s different camera angles. The view right shows both kiosks. Library of Congress.
Another view west past the two subway kiosks toward the corner of Broadway and Murray during a similar celebration for Amelia Earhart. The New York Public Library.
A final tidbit (no, not Keaton’s bum), this bus tracking shot from The Cameraman was filmed heading south down Hope Street past the 8th Street corner blade sign of the former Hotel Morgan (“HOTEL MO”). The corner blade sign also appears at back in this view west along 8th toward Hope. Noted biographer James Curtis, currently wrapping up his epic Keaton biography, inquired about this because the veracity of a certain source depended on whether this scene was either filmed in LA or New York. He didn’t tell me whether I had confirmed or disproved the source, but it was in LA! KCET.
Be sure to check out Criterion’s new The Cameraman release. So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM (C) 2004 Turner Entertainment Co.
Another recent post – Keaton filmed elaborate rain scenes for The Cameraman on the Santa Monica Pier, without revealing it was filmed on a pier, presumably for easy access to the ocean water.
Below – City Hall Park in Manhattan.