The Railrodder

Canadians don’t know themselves, or they’re keeping it a secret. Michael Powell might have landed on another world when he came to shoot 49th Parallel. Buster Keaton rides a workman’s car (self-propelled) right across Canada, east to west, for most of these 24 minutes.

That much is Potterton’s idea. His next act of genius was to let Keaton work it out on location. It’s essentially a silent film with music and some sounds, as for instance a very accurately registered bird call early in the morning after a pause in the midwestern provinces, and thunder rolling around the sky farther west. These are small poems evoking a whole region in a few moments, there’s nothing idle about this travelogue.

Some of these gags are too subtle for the audience thus far, like the large plate camera set up for a landscape but snapping a tunnel. Keaton deserved this picture, he got a poor reception for it.

The pure technique is at work on a bridge during a malfunction, he makes repairs while it rotates to let a boat pass. The camera position shows the world careering wildly as he works, oblivious, it comes around in time for him to proceed.