Charter Books and the Jane Pickens Theater present: Dana Stevens, Slate film critic and author of Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century.

On Thursday, February 10 at 7:30, Dana Stevens discusses her new biography of Buster Keaton, followed by a film screening of Keaton’s most well-known film The General with live musical accompaniment by composer and keyboardist Jeff Rapsis. After the film, Dana Stevens will sit down for a conversation with Prof. Matt Ramsey, head of the Film department at Salve Regina University.

Newport’s newest independent bookstore is proud to present this unique event in partnership with the Jane Pickens Theater, where Buster Keaton’s silent films once played to local audiences.  

In her genre-defying work of cultural history, the chief film critic of Slate places comedy legend and acclaimed filmmaker Buster Keaton’s unique creative genius in the context of his time.

Born the same year as the film industry in 1895, Buster Keaton began his career as the child star of a family slapstick act reputed to be the most violent in vaudeville. Beginning in his early twenties, he enjoyed a decade-long stretch as the director, star, stuntman, editor, and all-around mastermind of some of the greatest silent comedies ever made, including Sherlock Jr., The General, and The Cameraman.

Even through his dark middle years as a severely depressed alcoholic finding work on the margins of show business, Keaton’s life had a way of reflecting the changes going on in the world around him. He found success in three different mediums at their creative peak: first vaudeville, then silent film, and finally the experimental early years of television. Over the course of his action-packed seventy years on earth, his life trajectory intersected with those of such influential figures as the escape artist Harry Houdini, the pioneering Black stage comedian Bert Williams, the television legend Lucille Ball, and literary innovators like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Samuel Beckett.

In Camera Man, film critic Dana Stevens pulls the lens out from Keaton’s life and work to look at concurrent developments in entertainment, journalism, law, technology, the political and social status of women, and the popular understanding of addiction. With erudition and sparkling humor, Stevens hopscotches among disciplines to bring us up to the present day, when Keaton’s breathtaking (and sometimes life-threatening) stunts remain more popular than ever as they circulate on the internet in the form of viral gifs. Far more than a biography or a work of film history, Camera Man is a wide-ranging meditation on modernity that paints a complex portrait of a one-of-a-kind artist.

Charter Books owner Steve Iwanski says, “This is exactly the kind of event we hoped to bring to Newport when we opened our store last year, and the Jane Pickens is the perfect venue for such a night of entertainment. After so many months locked inside streaming movies on our devices, the opportunity to see a classic film with live music and conversation really can’t be missed.”

Tickets can be purchased in advance at janepickens.com or at the door. There are two ticket types: admission plus a signed copy of Camera Man by Dana Stevens ($40) and admission only ($12). There will be an opportunity to purchase Camera Man and have it signed by Dana Stevens in the lobby after the film.

Dana Stevens is the film critic at Slate magazine and a regular on the magazine’s weekly cultural podcast, Culture Gabfest. She lives in New York City.

Dr. D. Matthew Ramsey is the chair of the English, Communications and Media Department at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI, where he is also in charge of the Film program.

Jeff Rapsis is a writer/editor, educator, and a composer and performer who specializes in creating live musical scores for silent film screenings. He’s also an award-winning journalist, newspaper publisher, and owner of multiple dogs. He lives in Concord, NH.

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