Friday, July 03, 2009


Here's an interesting book, especially if you live in L.A. and are a Keaton fan like I am. The book takes frame grabs from the films and puts them side by side with shots of the same backgrounds, made today. If you're like me, and thinking about shooting some outdoor footage yourself, you might be able to take away some interesting lessons from this book.

Here the composition in the frame grab (above, left) favors the people and not the building, and it's clearly funnier that way. Next time I'm shooting real people against a beautiful building, I'll remember this. The modern picture also seems too contrasty, and the cars are a distraction.

I can't stand walking down sun-drenched streets with no protection. I'm always glad for trees and awnings (above). Even so, the mansions have much more comedic impact in the treeless pictures at the top. There the starkness of the mansions is a potent symbol for power and wealth.

More mansion shots. The one on the top is so stark and sunny! I guess when you're filming in the real world you have to seek out the backgrounds that will look good on film, no matter hot and oppressive it is to film there.

I like the way the mansion reads like a simple shape in the top photo...the perfect backdrop for comedy.

Comparing the building photos in the upper left with the one on the lower right: boy, the lower one certainly seems tacky and overly contrasty. The awnings on the old buildings are also sorely missed. If your home or business doesn't have awnings, what are you waiting for? All buildings look better with awnings!

I love trees (above), but on filmed comedies they make the scene too busy.

What wretch tore down the buildings above?

By the way, this shot reminds me that a slightly high camera takes in more of the sidewalk and makes characters read better. A good idea is to shoot on an overcast day, which greys everything down, and wear a dark suit yourself.

I think The Stooges also used this corner (above) in one of their films. It's funniest when shot frontally and symmetrically like it is here.

Darkening the bottom (above) makes the building less funny.

Another case (above) where darkening the building takes the humor out. No doubt the crime in modern cities makes knee-high windows impractical. That's too bad. I love windows like that.

Above, one of the nice old buildings that used to abound in Los Angeles, and which Keaton used in one of his films. I want to know who tore these down, and if those people are still alive, so I can boot them in the pants. Note the beautiful awnings.


Lester Hunt said...


As I think I told you once, my dad used to say that a lot of LA "looks like it was built last night, in the dark." I'm gratified that this Bengtson fella could find so many of these buildings that are still standing!

Anonymous said...

Some of these structures may not have fared well in the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, which resulted in a revised building code that demanded reinforcement of free-standing brick.

thunderf33t said...

yuk yuk yuk
buildings are so funny!

Ken Mitchroney said...

Eddie!I love this book and have spent hours wondering the streets of L.A. and San Fransisco, looking for the footsteps and cameras of my favorite film maker.
I'm bringing a metal detector with me to Sacramento sometime soon and looking to see if i can find something left from the Steamboat Bill set. Crazy huh?

Kali Fontecchio said...

Ok so, so far you, Ken, and myself will be going on a Buster expedition soon? How about on his birthday? Sound like a plan???????


Ken Mitchroney said...

Chase Buster all day and end up at Lidos for dinner.Hmmmmmm.It has possibilities.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Ken, Kali: Sounds like it would make a great trip! Ken took me trainspotting once and I had a blast!

Lester, Anon: True, so true! Earthquakes and modernists are the bane of old architecture. Gee, the time is comming when we'll have to decide which mid-century buildings to save.

Ken Mitchroney said...

I found a few pixs from our Railfaning trip from back in the day Eddie.What a great time that was.