You Must Remember This: The Cameraman starring Buster Keaton


I do a variety of exercises to try and stay in shape, and one is the use of my home rowing machine. That probably summons up a picture of some sleek, electronic wonder. Not quite. There is no “immersive crystal-clear display” as one bike company advertises. There is no display at all, immersive or otherwise. No display means no “workouts led by expert Athletes and Olympians” as promised by another manufacturer, nor is there an “advanced PM5 Performance Monitor,” unless me watching the clock counts. In other words, it in no way meets the Newport standard of a rowing machine, but I can’t complain. While the “Newport” versions can cost in the thousands, mine cost $25 at the used athletic equipment store on Harbor Boulevard. For that price you get the basic: a sliding seat, handles and footrests.

No electronics on the machine means no programmed workouts, and just sitting there rowing, looking at the walls is not “so much fun its addictive.” It’s BORING, so to help the workout go better I turn on the TV – loud because if my machine has a flywheel it doesn’t seem “designed for smooth movement with minimal noise.” Rather it makes quite a din, which means I have to be rather selective in what I watch. About the only sport I follow is tennis, so if there’s a tennis match on, perfect. I know enough about the game that I don’t need an announcer to tell me what’s going on. The same with cooking shows. I’ve spent enough time in the kitchen to figure most things out. Movies can be a challenge, though. Jason Statham movies aren’t too bad because it’s sort of like watching an athletic event – the dialog, what there is of it, is inconsequential, but any film with a lot of exchanges between characters, comedy or drama, is difficult because I miss so many lines due to the dang machine’s noise. Imagine my delight the other day. I had the machine out and was flicking through channels, trying to find the best workout fare, and there it was on TCM: a silent movie. Perfect!

The Cameraman stars Buster Keaton as, what else, an aspiring cameraman. This being a Keaton movie, he’s not having much luck either with landing a job or the girl, as he survives one mishap after another. As in all his films, the stunts are amazing, particularly when you can see he’s not using a double. Watching, I wondered how this quiet man with the doleful expression could pull these stunts off, and then there’s a segment that takes place at a swimming pool where he loses his suit. You look at his build, his very lean, very athletic build, and you begin to understand.

So anyway I’m rowing along, and we’re getting to the latter parts of the movie. He and the young woman he’s wooing are in a little motor boat, and they drive by the – I stopped rowing. Wait. That looks just like, no, it is the Pavilion – our Pavilion – the one on the bay, and not just the Pavilion. Almost the entire rest of the movie takes place in the harbor, mostly in the channel mouth, mostly focused on the Corona del Mar side.

I forgot all about the workout as I watched rapt, to see what we looked like in 1928. As a whole we looked quiet and empty. There were no houses or cars along what today is Bayside Drive. The bluffs above had no buildings except for the Palisades Hotel. Things were so au naturel, that it was hard at times to figure out the specific location, but I knew exactly where we were when the camera focused on the CdM breakwater and the rocks behind it. This formed a splendid backdrop for the boat overturning – our hero rescuing the fair maiden, a dastardly upstart claiming credit for the rescue and almost winning the maiden’s hand (spoiler alert) only to be exposed, leading to Keaton and his leading lady together for a happy ending.

Such serendipity.If I hadn’t decided to work out at that particular time, if I owned a splendid electronically equipped rowing machine instead of my noisy clunker, if I’d landed on a Jason Statham film first  I would never have seen this 10 minute visual history of our city in 1928. Anyone with an interest in our early days will enjoy it: The Cameraman starring Buster Keaton.


Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, long-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.


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