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DCA Archive

The Navigator

For each exhibition at DCA we ask the artist or curator to choose films to screen in the cinema to coincide with their show. Roman Signer’s work has often been compared to Buster Keaton’s: his installations and actions recall the wonder and delight at the heart of silent cinema.


Although he is now generally accepted to be the finest of all silent film comedians, one might still argue that Buster Keaton’s genius has still not been fully appreciated. Take his wonderful 1924 film, The Navigator, in which Keaton plays a millionaire who, along with his would-be fiancée, is cast adrift on the Pacific Ocean on a deserted cruise ship. Keaton uses this simple concept – two spoiled, rich people trying to run an enormous ship unassisted – to produce one of cinema’s most sustained and brilliant examinations of the theme of man versus technology. However, this is often overlooked, as Keaton presents all of his insights in the form of comedy.

Of course, the gags themselves are endlessly inventive and each one is immaculately timed (only Keaton could make opening a tin hilarious). The second half of the film shifts gears and features underwater sequences and a final battle with a tribe of cannibals. This section, with its narrative simplicity, its superb balance of humour and suspense, and its deathdefying stunt-work, is enough to make one realise that Keaton essentially invented the modern action movie (and all without the aid of computers). If only modern directors understood as much about camerawork and pacing as Keaton did. This is a movie with action scenes you can actually follow and stunts you can believe really happened. Moreover, at just over an hour, The Navigator is a marvel of economy and its one of the few films that leaves you crying for more.