Jump to content

Buster Keaton


Peter T Chattaway
 Share

Recommended Posts

We don't really have a thread for Buster Keaton yet, though a few posts in stef's Silents of Summer 2004 thread do touch on the guy. Anyway, this is just a heads-up regarding a fun essay on Keaton that was recently posted to the Mark Steyn website. Below it, on the same page, are similar essays on Robert Mitchum & Jimmy Stewart, and Alfred Hitchcock.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just a quick note to say that The General, in Detroit, with The Alloy Orchestra

-- and Rich -- were the highlights of my Easter, maybe even my Spring. Buster Keaton is absolutley incredible in this film. He is sly, athletic, and magical on the screen. It's a silent that will transfer to any crowd, ever. Seeing it on the big screen was well worth the six hour trip. And what great company to see it with. It was a perfect night.

If you ever have a chance to see The General, especially on the big screen, take hold of that opportunity and be enthralled. It breathes new meaning into the phrase "enjoyable film experience."

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

And he did many of his own stunts, even in this sunset film (but not his last film -- he made five more, with a final appearance in, of all things, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). There is a stunt in the first couple minutes of the film that probably wasn't him, I'm guessing.

I'm not sure if I saw a behind-the-scenes focusing on Keaton or this particular film, but somewhere (film school?) I did watch how they did that scene. He runs into a low-hanging tree limb, right? That particular gag was definitely done by a stunt guy with Keaton in close-ups. He was way to old to pull it off without injury.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No. In the beginning of this film, a man jumps off of bridge (in Amsterdam, I think), into the water. Not a big stunt, but given Keaton's age, I would think someone else would have done that particular shot. I don't know which film has the tree limb in it.

I think both scenes are in that film. If he had the double for the tree stunt, then I am sure (as you are) that he had a double for the more dangerous stuff.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The General is brilliant, as is Steamboat Bill. Samuel Beckett was obsessed by Keaton and made a film with him in the fifties (entitled FILM in true Beckettian style). He's also really good in Limelight when he comes on and plays a stage comedy scene with Chaplin (Limelight gets a bad press and is way sentimental but I have a soft spot for it.) I also love Chaplin and reckon that some of the critical love being given out to Keaton back in the seventies and eighties was by way of comparing him to Chaplin who'd become a complete critical bete noir at that point. Me, I love the two of them. Also Harold Lloyd.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The great thing about the Silent Film Society of Chicago is that not only does it show the greatest films in town, but it knows how to show film, period. It's in a gorgeous old theater, with the traditional, lavishly decorated cinema-vibe. Think of Cinema Paridiso, or Chicago people, think The Music Box (but bigger and cooler) and you're close. It has that whole Italian-40s-theater-thing happening, complete with a humongous balcony, stars on the ceiling and pillars and structures decorated all around the theater. Oh -- and the big red curtain that pulls away at the film's onset and an audience that responds with applause at the start of the show! Now how cool is that?!

And then to top it off, a six piece jazz band played for an hour before the movie even began. It wasn't my favorite style of music, but man, oh man, did it fit with the feel of the night. I was in love with Steamboat Bill Jr. before he ever even graced the screen. This is the way film is meant to be presented.

But wow. Buster Keaton stole the stage from everyone that preceded him that night.

I actually forgot where i was several times over the course of the film. As Bill Jr's dad marched around the train station asking "Any of you boys looking for a father?" (big laugh) we waited and waited and -- when Keaton finally did show up, once again, a huge applause bursted forth from the audience. Silent film doesn't get any better than watching it with a thousand other people that love it too.

His dad was clearly disappointed in him, in his size and in his mannerisms, and particularly when he saw Bill Jr. dancing for that little baby, he was utterly ashamed. I love the way that Keaton sets up the audience to feel sorry for him from the beginning, so that by the time he becomes the hero in the end of the film there is twice the level of appreciation.

But what is it they call him? The melancholic comic? I think that was it. And you can sense it. You always feel for him, always root for him, always laugh at him -- but you're never really laughing at him, as much as laughing because of him, and there's a huge difference. You can see in his comical actions a level of genius at work that makes you believe that in the end, by the time the final frame has rolled, he will make it out of whatever miserable situation you are currently laughing at him in. So it's almost like he's telling you, "Come on! Laugh with me now, because you'll believe in me later!"

The scene that nails us in Steamboat Bill Jr. is where the house nearly lands on him and he only survives because of an open window -- and i guess in real life, the beast nearly did land on him. It's been reported that the opening only cleared Buster's head and shoulders by a mere three inches, and that the structure weighed over a ton! Much like the scenes in The General when Keaton is flipping and diving all over a moving train, until finally the whole train goes over a bridge and crashes into a river (no CGI friends -- none.), you are gutted in your seat thinking of how real these scenes were and what went into the making of them.

It's scenes like these that make me agree with Kevin Brownlow when he makes a statement like, "The silent era was the richest in cinema's history...." and Buster Keaton was certainly one of the greatest portions of this rich era.

And i don't even like most comedies.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Another great reason to live in the Chicago area:

Gene Siskel Film Center - Coming Attractions - December 2004 - Buster Keaton!

Featuring The Navigator (1924), Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Seven Chances (1925), The General (1926), and more.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 6 months later...

Raising the dead...

I just saw The Cameraman on Monday and The General tonight. Both were superb films. After seeing some of the marvellous camerawork in The General, I now have a full appreciation for the idea that the advent of talkies set the art of cinematography back 50 years.

I blame Bertolucci for this revival of silents in my daily film consumption, since the "Keaton vs. Chaplin" discussion in The Dreamers caused me to make a concerted effort to see the films of each star. So far I've only seen Chaplin's 1942 version of The Gold Rush (and loved it), but I liked both Keaton films better than that one.

I've got two more Keaton films and about 14 more Chaplin flims on hand. If they're all as good as this last bunch, I may explode. Call me a Keaton fan, I guess.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You're gonna love KModern Times. Funny as heck with a death defying stunt or two. On roller skates!

There's always something to enjoy even with "lesser" Keaton. My fave is The Seven Chances.

"During the contest trial, the Coleman team presented evidence of a further 6500 absentees that it felt deserved to be included under the process that had produced the prior 933 [submitted by Franken, rk]. The three judges finally defined what constituted a 'legal' absentee ballot. Countable ballots, for instance, had to contain the signature of the voter, complete registration information, and proper witness credentials.

But the panel only applied the standards going forward, severely reducing the universe of additional basentees the Coleman team could hope to have included. In the end, the three judges allowed about 350 additional absentees to be counted. The panel also did nothing about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of absentees that have already been legally included, yet are now 'illegal' according to the panel's own ex-post definition."

The Wall Street Journal editorial, April 18, 2009 concerning the Franken Coleman decision in the Minnesota U.S. Senate race of 2008.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 11 months later...

I'm doing a minor Keaton fest this weekend. Since The Cameraman made the national Film Registry this year, I thought I'd look at it. (And it is in a 2 disc set, so I have to watch other things too. Oh darn.) I really like the swimming pool sequence in The Cameraman -- especially the changing room. Also like how the plot manages to weave together a lot of different subplots in such a way that it's not just a bunch of short stories (although subplot works well as it's own short story).

I remember watching Keaton (with sound) on Saturday mornings when I was a kid. Old goat that I am since my birthday, I think the world would be much better with that on instead of some of the cartoons that kids watch now.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ah, this reminds me, Mark Steyn posted something on Keaton a few days ago -- it might be more-or-less the same essay I posted in this thread's first post, but it's got a Brokeback Mountain reference, so who knows ...

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just watched Seven Chances with the kids, and wow, I have now officially decided that Keaton is the greatest.

No denying Chaplin's genius, and nobody's a bigger fan of Harold Lloyd than I am. But film for film no one can match the consistent excellence of Keaton's body of work.

It doesn't hurt that I'm a huge fan of stuntwork and daredevil acrobatics, and Keaton's work is practically at Douglas Fairbanks caliber in that department. (Fairbanks's work is also consistently excellent, though Keaton was more prolific.)

The last act of Seven Chances is absolutely vintage Keaton, nearly the equal of the last act of Steamboat Bill, Jr. -- and much more integrated to the rest of the film.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ditto the high praise for Seven Chances - that last act is an utter hoot and physically astonishing. My whole family and I watched this a couple of months ago and loved it. Of the handful of Keaton films I've seen so far, it's a close tie with The General for my favorite. Then again, we've enjoyed all of his films - his flat expression, flat little hat, and ridiculous predicaments are quite endearing.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmm, I'd have to put the Keaton films I've seen an order of preference that doesn't really favor Seven Chances. They're all consistently excellent, as has been mentioned, but Seven Chances just didn't have a lot to it.

However, the only film I thought he really didn't hit the right chords on was College.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 months later...

Watched The General last night. Some of you proclaim this as the high point of Keaton, but I dunno. It certainly is good. But I much preferred The Cameraman and the stunts in Spite Marriage. What did I miss. (Maybe sound, since my DVD has no accompaniment.)

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

Tonight I took the family to a screening of Keaton's Seven Chances at a local retirement villa here in Santa Clarita. We had a blast. This was the first time my wife or stepkids had seen a silent movie. The evening was made extra special, because the movie was shown with live accompaniment by Bob Mitchell, who, at age 95, is thought to be the only remaining, living silent movie accompanist from the era to still be performing. Mitchell gave a brief talk before the film, recounting his days as an accompanist at the Strand Theatre in Pasadena, where he began his career at the age of 12! He has been playing piano from the age of three, and began playing pipe organs at the age of 9, when his feet could actually touch the pedals. After the end of the silent era, Bob founded the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir, which was the subject of the Oscar nominated short film Forty Boys and a Song (1940). He hasn't lost his touch, and a wonderful time was had by all.

Bob Mitchell will be in Newhall, CA on April 4th, playing to Harold Lloyd's Safety Last at the Saugus Train Station at Heritage Junction. If you're in the area, I encourage you to come out and relive a piece of movie history.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bob's great. I got to see him play in L.A. two months ago when the Silent Movie Theatre held a screening of Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. The guy is still an incredibly agile musician, and afteward the audience gave him a standing ovation.

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

Twitter     Letterboxd

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...

Every so often we need to rekindle this thread, just to remind ourselves to watch Keaton. I watched The Navigator today (along with shorts The Boat and The Love Nest). Not at the same level as The Cameraman or The General, but fun all the same.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

One can never go wrong with Keaton. Especially after a long day, what a great way to wind down. Always entertaining. Sheer genius. And so last night, while I was winding down to the work of this genius, watching Three Ages, you have to love that chariot race scene, something dawned on me. Has anyone else wondered if this film loosely inspired Hou Hsiao Hsien in the conception of his brilliant film Three Times? I wonder. Any thoughts? Obviously, they are completely different pieces in tone and place, but I bet there may be a tip of the hat in there from Hou to Buster.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One can never go wrong with Keaton. Especially after a long day, what a great way to wind down. Always entertaining. Sheer genius. And so last night, while I was winding down to the work of this genius, watching Three Ages, you have to love that chariot race scene, something dawned on me. Has anyone else wondered if this film loosely inspired Hou Hsiao Hsien in the conception of his brilliant film Three Times? I wonder. Any thoughts? Obviously, they are completely different pieces in tone and place, but I bet there may be a tip of the hat in there from Hou to Buster.

I'm pretty sure it was intended to be a farcical version of Intolerance... perhaps Three Times is inspired by the D.W. Griffith film as well? I should see both of those, come to think of it. Three Ages is a great classic, I love the ending.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 months later...
Saw One Week on holiday. Laughed my ass off (It was my first Keaton - odd since I love Laurel & Hardy so)

Since One Week was added to the National Film Registry a couple weeks ago, I got this from the library. This is what I would be like building a house. I thought the house in this probably was an inspiration to Frank Gehry.

It was on a dvd with The Saphead (his first feature film) which is more plot driven than stunt driven and High Sign which has another interesting house that you see Keaton and the bad guys in a wonderful chase scene.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 months later...

Sad news. Bob Mitchell, the silent movie accompanist whom I wrote about a few posts earlier in this thread, passed away on July 4th from pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Bob was 96, and was the last known working accompanist that had his start in the silent era. He last played in June, at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles, where Bob had been playing since 1992 and helped revive local interest in silent films. Bob was founder of the Mitchell Boys Choir, which was featured in over 100 films. He was also the original organist at Dodger Stadium.

My family and I were planning on seeing Bob perform this weekend at Heritage Junction in Newhall, where he was going to accompany their showing of Buster Keaton's The General.

This truly is the end of an era.

Full story here.

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...