One of the most influential, innovative, and important filmmakers of all time once drove a motorized handcar across Canada.
Always a fan of trains and railways, Buster Keaton filmed The Railrodder in 1964 for the National Film Board of Canada, his terminus being White Rock, BC.
Unfortunately I knew nothing of The Railrodder until my father handed me a collector magazine the other day.
The Railrodder is Keaton’s fitting valedictory to the world or iron, steam, speed and slapstick. The epic of man and machine is seen in microcosm, everything stripped down to bare essentials – one man, a small, motorized speeder railcar, and a clean trajectory across 4,000 miles of track.
Although he is older now, face gaunt and lined, Buster is truly himself one last time, attired in his familiar suit and pork-pie hat, sallying forth across a silent landscape with only his wits and ingenuity (and a delightful musical score from Eldon Rathburn) to survive a multitude of pratfalls and perils. [From Films in Review Magazine, article not online]
The entire film is only 24 minutes long but in that short time it becomes a tribute to a Canadian film making (Gerald Potterton being the NFB Director who convinced Keaton to come to Canada), and certainly an amazing throw back to the silent film era with a score that flows in time with the railway theme.
You can find some films on YouTube in pieces or you can buy “Buster Keaton Rides Again“, the NFB produced documentary on Keaton, which includes a The Railrodder – it’s also a great view of Canada, back in the 1960s.
More than anything though, this showcases an actor, filmmaker, comedian and director that is sometimes forgotten in the age of blockbusters and CGI. The fact that he ends his silent film career in White Rock, BC just makes it all that more precious to me, anyway.