Steamboat Bill Jr. | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Steamboat Bill Jr.

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Buster Keaton was never one of Hollywood's biggest stars; even in his heyday he was eclipsed by Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, and his two greatest films, The General and Steamboat Bill Jr., both tanked at the box office. But the restoration of his silent classics for a series of video boxes in the mid-90s has spurred an explosion of interest in his work, and for the second year in a row the Silent Film Society of Chicago has chosen his work to open its annual summer festival. Keaton biographer Tom Dardis has aptly described Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928, 71 min.) as "a Tempest-like review of many of Buster's favorite themes," with its rich streak of small-town Americana, its maritime setting, and its conflict between a dandyish young man (Keaton) and his hulking father (Ernest Torrence), the captain of a dilapidated Mississippi riverboat. This series of Friday night programs, screened at the beautiful Gateway Theater with live musical accompaniment, continues with F.W. Murnau's vampire classic Nosferatu (July 30), John Ford's epic western The Iron Horse (August 6), Clara Bow in the flapper comedy It (August 13), Colleen Moore in the World War I romance Lilac Time (August 20), and Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand (August 27). For tonight's screening, Dennis Scott provides pipe-organ accompaniment, and the West End Jazz Band will also perform. Copernicus Center.

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