Zoom Salon - Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) 71 min | Mechanics' Institute

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Zoom Salon - Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) 71 min
November 2020: Comic Relief

Friday, November 6, 2020 - 6:00pm

CinemaLit Popcorn Pop-Up Salon: November -- Comic Relief

Hello Film Lovers,

Welcome back to CinemaLit! We have missed our Friday night gatherings. Laura, Pam, and I are excited to launch this new format for CinemaLit as we Shelter at Home. We will be viewing films on Kanopy and gathering online for a Popcorn Pop-Up Salon!

All you will need is either a Mechanics' Institute library card, or a San Francisco Public Library card, which will give you access to Kanopy and its treasure trove of movies. Make a reservation as usual via Eventbrite and watch the film on Kanopy at your leisure. You will receive a link to the Friday night CinemaLit salon on Zoom two days in advance. On the night of the salon click the Zoom link and join us.

If you do not receive a Zoom Link by the day of the event, contact Pam Troy at [email protected]


Mechanics’ Institute members can now sign up for FREE access to Kanopy, a wonderful film streaming service. To sign up:

1. Click on  THIS LINK.

2. Click on the large orange login button that reads, “Log in to milibrary.”

3. Enter the 14-digit bar code from your MI Library card

4. Set up your account following Kanopy’s instructions, including your email and a password.

5. Kanopy will send verification to your email address.

You’ll be able to choose from a wonderful selection of films, including classics, pre-code, foreign films, and documentaries, including the films we’ve scheduled this month for CinemaLit.

If you are not a Mechanics’ Institute member, consider membership and click  HERE  to join online:

Or, you can check with your public library to see if they are Kanopy members. If so, you may use your public library card to set up a Kanopy account.

 Matthew Kennedy, curator and host

CinemaLit Film Series

November 2020 – "Comic Relief!"

In acknowledging the profound anxieties of our time, we present "Comic Relief!" for November films at CinemaLit. If the selections this month succeed in transporting us to another time and place with laughter, well, isn't that what we could use right now?

"Comic Relief!" features Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1943), and Ball of Fire (1941). All are sterling products of Hollywood's studio era. Their directors - Buster Keaton, Preston Sturges, and Howard Hawks – loom large in film history. All three films are touchstones in American comedy, with each now inducted into the coveted National Film Registry.

Such high pedigree and dignified honors don't mean these are stuffy old relics. Far from it; they're bubbly delights. Join in the fun. As Ball of Fire's sassy slangy Sugarpuss O'Shea would say, "Hook on!"

November 6 – Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) – 71 minutes

Joseph Frank Keaton was born in Kansas in 1895 to vaudeville parents. Legend has it he was given the name "Buster" by Harry Houdini because of the toddler's remarkable ability to survive trips and falls. The validity of that story is iffy, but it's consistent with the death-defying funnyman Keaton would become.

Through most of the 1920s, Keaton had his own production company under film executive Joseph M. Schenck. He churned out one great comedy after another: Our Hospitality, The Navigator, Sherlock, Jr., Seven Chances, and The General. Steamboat Bill, Jr. was the last film of Keaton's career peak period, arriving at the tail end of the Silent Era. His large-scale set-ups went over budget, and his films were not failsafe at the box office. Though now regarded as one of his best, Steamboat Bill, Jr. was indifferently reviewed and lost money. In a decision Keaton later rued, he signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1928, where his genius was stifled by a lack of creative control.

In Steamboat Bill, Jr., Buster plays an effete college student reuniting with his father, burly captain of a dilapidated paddle steamer. The plot thickens when Buster falls in love with the daughter of a competing riverboat captain. He seeks the affection of plucky Kitty King (winsome Marion Byron) and the respect of Bill, Sr. (imposing Ernest Torrence).

Keaton infuses Steamboat Bill, Jr. with one fantastic sight gag after another. Many of them are not just passing amusements, but eye-popping feats of ambitious comedy. Ninety-two years haven't dimmed the sheer astonishment of Steamboat Bill, Jr.'s storm sequence. If anything, it's more impressive when held against the computer generated "wizardry" of today, where actors are mere lumps on a screen to be smothered in post-production digital effects. Steamboat Bill, Jr. includes one of the most famous shots in all of cinema - a two-story house façade falling toward Keaton (and us), with an open window leaving him unscathed. That stunt, and dozens more in this and other Keaton films, could have killed him by a miscalculation of three inches. Who would take that chance today in the service of delivering thrills? Computer images have become redundant and mundane, but Buster Keaton hasn't.


Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies. 

I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."

Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”

Register with Eventbrite below.

If the green TICKET button is not immediately visible, scroll down on the right in the Eventbrite window until it appears


CinemaLit Films

Members Free
Public Sliding Scale Free to $10
Register now ›
Pam Troy - 415-393-0116
Register now by using the form below or calling .

Future CinemaLit Films

Oct 23 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon of The Bigamist (1953) 80 min
October 2020: Women of Noir

Oct 30 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon of The Naked Kiss (1964) 90 min
October 2020: Women of Noir

Nov 13 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1943) 99 min
November 2020: Comic Relief

Nov 20 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Ball of Fire (1941) 111 min
November 2020: Comic Relief

Dec 4 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Charade (1963) 113 min
December 2020: CinemaLit Season Finale